Velvet Underground and Nico: original 1966 acetate

There seems to be a general consensus that the most valuable record in existence is the original acetate copy of the first Velvet Underground album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, from 1966. This acetate was originally presented to Columbia Records, who rejected it. (The album was released by the Verve label in 1967). Earlier this decade, the acetate was purchased at a yard sale in New York for 75 cents, and was sold on eBay for a whopping $25,000! The full story is here. The fragile acetate is now reportedly stored in a safe place. But, thanks to this blog entry by New York indie radio station WFMU (91.1 FM), the rest of us can listen to it online.

The acetate contained rougher mixes of 9 of the album’s 11 tracks. (“Sunday Morning” and “There She Goes Again” are absent). One thing that is odd is the sequence of the tracks, which is virtually in reverse order from that of the finished album. Placing the bizarre “European Son” at the beginning was an ill-advised idea, and it probably made a bad first impression on the folks at Columbia. This version of “European Son” is noticeably easier on the ears than the released version, even though the mostly instrumental track is no less strange. Nico’s voice sounds closer in the acetate's mix of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, and it sounds more distant on “I’ll Be Your Mirror”. She muffed one of her lines on the latter song – or did she? An entirely different take of “Heroin” was used; it has a demo-like quality, but it does build up to an impressively intense climax. An entirely different take is also used for “Venus In Furs”; it mostly lacks the hallucinogenic mood of the released version. The acetate's take of “I’m Waiting For The Man” also sounds like a demo, but it does have a rugged live-in-the-studio type of appeal. Still, it’s easy to understand why the people at Columbia were probably not charmed by Lou Reed’s vocal on this version. The differences in the other three tracks (“Run Run Run”, “Femme Fatale”, and “Black Angel’s Death Song”) are audible but insignificant.

This acetate does not contain any startling revelations, but it is still fascinating to listen to the rough draft of this classic, influential, and ground-breaking album.

Update 12/16/12: On October 30, 2012, two special editions of the Velvet Underground and Nico album were issued to mark the album's 45th anniversary: a 2-CD "Deluxe Edition" and a 6-CD "Super Deluxe Edition". Both editions contained the nine acetate recordings as bonus tracks.

Update 3/16/13: On November 23, 2012, the acetate recordings were released on a vinyl LP titled Scepter Studios Sessions. Copies from the first Record Store Day printing were gold foil stamped with individual numbers. A green vinyl version is set to be released on Record Store Day in April 2013.

Update 5/24/14: The original acetate of the album was auctioned in July 2014 by Shuga Records in Chicago, on behalf of the acetate's owner.

Update 11/12/14: After months of being listed on eBay, first as an auction and then as a Buy It Now item, the acetate was reportedly sold for $48,750 as of November 5, 2014.

Update 12/21/14: On December 20th, 2014, I took another look at the ended eBay listing. It now appears to say that the acetate sold for $65,000.

Velvet Underground and Nico: original 1966 acetate (Scepter Studio XTV-122402) 1966

Track listing and sequence:

1. European Son
2. Black Angel’s Death Song
3. All Tomorrow’s Parties
4. I’ll Be Your Mirror
5. Heroin
6. Femme Fatale
7. Venus In Furs
8. I’m Waiting For The Man
9. Run Run Run