Why not listen to the Velvet Underground album while reading?
Give yourself the full effect while enjoying this deep-cut list of interesting facts about Andy Warhol’s banana artwork.
1. Warhol didn’t design the iconic “Peel and See” cover art for the Velvet Underground’s debut album.
The original cover featured an actual peel-away sticker that revealed a pink, upturned (you might say “erect”) banana.
Warhol sourced the banana painting of course, but the designer of the “Peel and See” album cover was actually Acy R. Lehman. The suggestive sticker was his idea. He designed over 500 covers for a huge range of famous artists at MGM and RCA.
Lehman applied the peel-away concept at a time when album covers were becoming much more than dust jackets. Album art was increasingly used as political manifestos, social critiques, and moral commentary.
Is the peel-away banana a sales gimmick? You might say that.
Is it also a phallic symbol? Certainly.
There’s definitely a sexually-charged vibe to the peeling…
There’s also a strong relationship between the banana and the Velvet Underground themes of drug abuse, prostitution, sadism and masochism, and sexual deviancy.
2. Warhol also made phallic album art for the Rolling Stones.
The working zipper on the album art for Sticky Fingers echoes the phallic Andy Warhol banana. The cover features a man wearing a pair of blue jeans. The zipper reveals a pair of white cotton briefs.
It seems unquestionable that the Andy Warhol banana has sexual overtones. But maybe it’s also a reference to a coinciding phenomenon…
3. Some people in the 1960s thought that smoking a banana peel could get you high.
Of course, it seems silly now. But you can imagine the appeal (ba-dum-tss) to millions of recreational drug users who thought their next “bananadine” high might be available at the grocery store for a few cents.
Apparently, the rumor started with the Berkeley Barb, a counter-cultural newspaper that printed a recipe for turning peels into a party. The recipes multiplied and found their way into several famous cookbooks.
They also found their way into song lyrics. For example, check out these Donovan lyrics on the 1966 track Mellow Yellow,
Is gonna be a sudden craze
Is bound to be the very next phase…”
4. A pristine version of the original “Peel and See” album is worth upwards of $4000.
Verve, the record label that produced the album, only made 30,000 copies with the peel-away sticker. During those first five years of production, the album sold terribly.
Funnily enough, musician Brian Eno stated in 1982,
“Everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”
Tracking sales before 1991 wasn’t always precise, but the album has probably sold about 558,000 times. That makes this rock & roll classic a gold album.
NPR did a segment on the world’s biggest collector of the Andy Warhol banana album cover. Mark Satlof owns more than 800 copies of the original album, all swimming in a sea of related memorabilia.
5. Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is a tribute to real-life characters from Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Did you know that Holly, Candy, Little Joe, and Sugar Plum Fairy were all real people? Lou Reed came into contact with them through Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia roadshow.
None of the music or lyrics from their debut album were about the constellation of people surrounding the Factory. By the time Andy discovered the Velvet Underground at Cafe Bazaar in 1965, the songs for the first album had already been created.
But Lou Reed certainly helped immortalize those characters in future songs.
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey babe,
Take a walk on the wild side.”
Jackie is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would have helped that dash
She said, “Hey babe,
Take a walk on the wild side.”
6. Warhol didn’t paint the banana.
According to close friends, Andy was more in the habit of scouring through what he already had rather than creating something novel for projects like album art.
He may have found the banana painting on a funky orange ashtray. Or both Warhol and the Japanese ashtray company may have sourced the image from the same pool of stock images.
No one knows for sure.
7. Warhol wasn’t really the producer for the album.
While he got a producer credit, Warhol didn’t know much about music production. It’s said he watched the blinking lights of the soundboard with “rapt fascination.” But it certainly helped from a sales perspective to credit him.
Of course, Andy was the manager for the Velvet Underground from 1965. Lou Reed also makes it clear that Andy played a pivotal role as the producer. However, it simply wasn’t an artistic role.
The story goes that Warhol would occasionally walk into the recording studio. The sound engineers would ask if he liked what he heard. He would simply nod in response.
In other words, the Velvet Underground was allowed pure artistic freedom. In that sense, Warhol played a very important role. His reputation served as an umbrella that allowed Velvet to create in peace.
Listen to Lou Reed talk more about working with Warhol in the video below.
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