by Kara Platoni
Saturn Records in Oakland has one heck of a bargain bin find up on eBay right now -- they're calling it "arguably the rarest & most important rock 'n' roll and pop-art artifact in the world." That's right, it's the Velvet Underground's "first real record," a 1966 actetate LP recording of The Velvet Underground & Nico. The acetate features an earlier track order and different takes and mixes of most of the tracks that ended up on the finished Verve release, including "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Venus in Furs," and "Heroin."
If you look closely you'll see the phrase "Attn: N. Dolph" on the label -- Norman Dolph was a sales representative at Columbia Records. According to the current issue of Goldmine Magazine, in which Eric Isaacson details the history of the acetate, Andy Warhol had cut a deal with Dolph to jump-start the careers of his protege group: in exchange for a painting, Dolph would "ghost-produce" the VU's first recording session and give Columbia first crack at the finished album. Warhol supposedly wanted to have a fully produced album ready to shop, in the hopes that it would discourage record companies from tinkering with either the music or its frank lyrics about sex and drugs. After a four-day recording session at Scepter Studios, Dolph allegedly then had the acetate made on Columbia's in-house pressing plant after hours. "This acetate," notes the Goldmine article, "which is possibly the only surviving copy, represents the first Velvet Underground album as Andy Warhol intended it to be released."
But Columbia passed on the record, and Dolph returned the acetate either to Warhol or John Cale. When the VU's debut album was released, it contained very different mixes of these originals, and rumors abounded about what had become of the original Scepter sessions tapes. "It was said by some that the master tapes had burned in a fire, by others that all of those recordings ended up being on the released album, and still by others that the only existing copy of that material was on an acetate owned by David Bowie, and that he was known to tout it as his most prized possession," Isaacson writes.
But none of those turned out to be the case -- the acetate was unearthed in 2002 in a Chelsea record shop and snapped up for a mere seventy-five cents. Now Oakland's Saturn Records is hosting the sale on eBay, where bidding is currently up to $128,700. The auction ends on Friday -- better look under the couch for some spare change.
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