Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: You no doubt know of the recent eBay auction of a Velvet Underground LP acetate that sold for over $150,000.

I know this '60s band is often referred to as influential, but as far as I know they never had a Top 100 record, neither a single nor an album.

For a collector to fork over so much for a scratchy acetate with a few unreleased versions of their songs seems unlikely. Might the winner plan to recoup the investment by selling a CD of these tracks?
—Ronnie Welland, Princeton, N.J.

DEAR RONNIE: You are so close to being right about the Underground's sales that I hate to even point out the lone exception. But if I don't, I'll get mail about it.

So, for the record, a 1985 collection of previously unreleased tunes did barely sneak into the Top 100. The album “VU” peaked at No. 85. Otherwise, they were a non-factor on the charts.

The auctioned acetate to which you refer contains nine tracks made in April 1966 at Scepter Records studio in New York City, this being the group's first recording session.

One year later, either remixed or reworked versions of all nine cuts, plus two others, came out on the group's first LP, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” (Verve V-5008).

Specifically, the acetate versions of “European Son to Delmore Swartz”; “Heroin”; “Venus in Furs”; and “I'm Waiting for the Man” are completely different takes than heard on the Verve LP.

“I'll Be Your Mirror”; “Black Angel's Death Song”; “All Tomorrow's Parties”; “Femme Fatale”; and “Run Run Run” are the same takes as on the commercial release, but are mixed differently.

The two tracks added to the LP which are not on the acetate are “Sunday Morning” and “There She Goes Again.”

In the overall record production process, the cutting of acetates comes after the master tape recording is made but before making the finished records. This step is not much different than a writer's final proof-reading opportunity before submitting a piece for publication.

Unlike records, which are stamped, or “pressed,” acetates are usually cut with a lathe, one revolution at a time, into a plastic “blank.”

Often called “Reference Discs,” acetates play on ordinary turntables, providing a covenient and portable way for those involved in the recording project to sample the final product, or to make changes before pressing records.

Bidding in this 10-day auction began November 28, 2006 at $28.24, and closed 253 bids later on December 8 at a whopping $155,401.00.

I would be flabbergasted if these seminal songs do not become available on CD, especially since they can be issued by anyone in Europe 50 years after being recorded — April 2016 to be exact.

Crucial to the appeal of this acetate — scratches, skips, and warts notwithstanding — is knowing the master reel-to-reel tapes have long since been destroyed. This fragile, brittle disc, which can surely be restored digitally, may represent the only surviving source of this music.

Unconfirmed rumors of another copy still persist, but that may be just gossip.

As to any discrepancy between commercial success and being influential, UK rock star, Brian Eno, sums it up best:

“Even though hardly anyone bought the Velvet Underground's albums at the time they first appeared, almost everyone who “did” went on to form their own band!”

Referring to “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” Eno continues: “This remains one of the most influential records of all time, the ultimate art-rock album.”

Long before the auction, in an understated prophecy, the May 2005 edition of Britain's “Record Collector” magazine writes:

“It now seems possible that this record [Velvet Underground acetate] may be the most expensive ever sold in the USA … [perhaps] topping $40,000.”

Instead of “topping,” using “nearly quadrupling” would have really nailed it.

UPDATE: Columns are usually written about one month before appearing in newspaper syndication and being posted online.

Since early December, when originally transmitted, we have learned the winner in this auction has defaulted. When relisted, the reported winning bid was "only" $25,000.

With several runner-up bidders in the first auction offering amounts slightly below the winning amount, it seems likely one of those would have been a buyer; but apparently not. How could they all have vanished?

Though the amount is still quite significant, this event still leaves us with more questions than answers.

DEAR JERRY: Now that the Christmas season has passed, I am still wracking my brain to try to remember the name of a Christmas song the Monkees did at the close of one of their TV shows many years ago.

It was a beautiful a ccapella rendition of what sounded like a Spanish or Mexican Christmas tune, but I've never been able to find any recording of it anywhere by anyone.

Any clues?
—Al Correa, Milwaukee, Wisc.

DEAR AL: The Monkees performed this brief little number (1:30) on their second season Christmas show, which aired December 25, 1967.

Titled “Riu Chiu,” this is a 16th Century Spanish villancico that the quartet — Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork — recorded in August, though none of their fans knew of its existence until Christmas day.

There are at least two easily available Rhino videos of that Christmas show, and “Riu Chiu.”

For just that one episode, try “The Monkees 1966 Christmas Show.”

Of course the Christmas Show is also included in the 26-episode collection, “The Monkees: Season 2.”

IZ ZAT SO? Not mentioned above but truly noteworthy in the Velvet Underground acetate story is how its former owner, Montreal resident Warren Hill, came to own such an artifact.

While in Chelsea, New York browsing through a box of used albums put out in a yard sale, Hill selected two commercial LPs with which he was familiar, and this one pot luck acetate on which he was willing to take a chance.

The price of each? Only 75-cents!

It is not yet known whether or not the seller has any idea what they let slip through their hands for mere pennies.

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page