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JukeBox is a blog for lovers of design and music in equal measure. All posts are written by experts who've been there and got the (band) t-shirt.

V1 — The Velvet Underground

V1 — The Velvet Underground

Did The Velvet Underground actually have a logo? It’s a moot point. You could argue that NYC’s proto-punk art rockers had three … or none at all.

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There was certainly some typographic continuity between the band’s second and third LPs, ‘White Light/Light Heat’ (1968) and the eponymous ‘Velvet Underground’ (1969). Both of these displayed the band name in the same ultra-light and tightly kerned rendering of Kabel. But other than that, the Velvets’ logotype was about as unsettled as their music.

Next up: Art direction on ‘White Light/White Heat’ is credited to Acy Lehman, with photography (you can just about make out a skull tattoo) by Billy Name. On ‘The Velvet Underground’, which spawned a much quieter, more contemplative sound, there’s a new design team of art directors Dick Smith and Vartan, along with designer Meire Murakami. But the skinny, white-out-of-black logo remains the same.

Next up: Art direction on ‘White Light/White Heat’ is credited to Acy Lehman, with photography (you can just about make out a skull tattoo) by Billy Name. On ‘The Velvet Underground’, which spawned a much quieter, more contemplative sound, there’s a new design team of art directors Dick Smith and Vartan, along with designer Meire Murakami. But the skinny, white-out-of-black logo remains the same.

However, it’s their extraordinary 1968 debut ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ (aka ‘The Banana Album’), that everyone best remembers — visually and sonically.

Famously, the suggestive banana artwork was provided by Andy Warhol, the band’s manager and co-producer on this LP. He even lent his signature, or ‘stamp’ (his name spelt out in in Coronet Bold), as if to give the release his blessing and a leg up by association. But the packaging as a whole was actually designed by Acy R Lehman, an influential art director who did time at MGM Records and RCA Records. It was notable (among other things) for being the first gatefold design to house only a single LP.

But of course, Warhol was more than happy to take the spotlight and the plaudits. For the first US pressing, you could have been forgiven for thinking that this was Andy’s album, because ‘Andy Warhol’ was the only name to appear on the front cover.

Sex a-peel: The original high-concept peel-your- own cover. Typically, Warhol appropriated the image from a promotional ashtray.

Sex a-peel: The original high-concept peel-your- own cover. Typically, Warhol appropriated the image from a promotional ashtray.

The now-iconic yellow banana took the form of a peel-off sticker (hand positioned by Andy’s acolytes), together with the instruction ‘peel slowly and see’. If you followed the instructions, you’d reveal the fruit’s naked flesh, coloured in a bright near-neon pink with an upward trajectory that left little to the imagination.

NB If you happen to come across one of these rare artefacts, hang on to it, and whatever you do, don’t peel off the sticker … it’s worth a mint.

Of course, the peel-off, gatefold version of the cover was too expensive and too outrageous to last the course and was soon replaced by a more modest version. There was also trouble over an unauthorised image of actor Eric Emerson, shown as a projection above the band on the back cover. Desperate for money after a drugs bust, Emerson sued the band and MGM were forced to recall copies of the album and stop further production.

About face: Eric Emerson’s law suit saw ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ being temporarily removed from the shelves. A black sticker was later placed over the offending part of the image, but by then, the album had lost its momentum.

About face: Eric Emerson’s law suit saw ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ being temporarily removed from the shelves. A black sticker was later placed over the offending part of the image, but by then, the album had lost its momentum.

The back cover also featured what might be considered the third contender for the Velvets’ logo — the band name spelled out in the font Othello (as designed by Lehman). This is the 1934 ATF version of Othello, cut by Morris Fuller Benton and based on Gustave F Schroeder’s late 1800s type of the same name for the Central Type Foundry. But despite its vintage, the chunky, exaggerated font has a suitably 60s psychedelic vibe to it.

Moor type: difficult to believe that this impossibly groovy Fuller Benton font was based on an earlier version from the 1800s.

Moor type: difficult to believe that this impossibly groovy Fuller Benton font was based on an earlier version from the 1800s.

On the original sleeve artwork, this was set across one line, with the words ‘produced by ANDY WARHOL’ underneath it. But on later versions, it was promoted to the front cover, where it took pride of place alongside the banana, and was set across three lines.

Second skin: The later standard-issue sleeve artwork complete with band name, which could be considered the original logo.

Second skin: The later standard-issue sleeve artwork complete with band name, which could be considered the original logo.

So which is the most likely? At BandLogoJukebox, we’re bending towards the banana. And it seems the band agree with us. In 2012, they took legal action against the Andy Warhol Foundation over licencing rights to the banana, claiming it as a Velvet Underground trademark. The slightly ugly dispute was finally settled out of court in 2013.

Further reading:

All Yesterday’s Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print, 1966-1971, by Paul Bass

The Dead Straight Guide to Velvet Underground, by Peter Horgan

‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know, Rolling Stone article

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