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Peel slowly and see, The Velvet Underground & Nico, courtesy of M. Satlof

How Andy Warhol inspired a collection of 1000 copies of the same album

Described as the original art-rock record, The Velvet Underground & Nico remains an emblem of counterculture cool. No wonder New York-based collector Mark Satlof has made it his mission to amass a near thousand-strong collection of the same album, infamous for its iconic, tongue in cheek cover by Andy Warhol.

The band’s debut in 1967 however was not an immediate success, taking more than a decade for its dark lyrics and haunting vocals to reach the cult status it holds today. When first released, The Velvet Underground & Nico was controversial and a critical and financial failure, banned from radio stations to record stores.

Spanning album sleeves still unopened and wrapped in the plastic to desecrated covers from all over the world, to now rare, early copies of the Warhol print – which invite the owner to ‘peel slowly and see,’ peeling back the yellow banana skin to reveal a flesh-coloured banana underneath – Satlof like many of us, remembers that first moment he knew The Velvet Underground & Nico struck a different chord.

“I was visiting a friend’s dorm at university in New York, which had panoramic views over Harlem,” explains Satlof when asked what first piqued his love for the album. “It was late, we were listening to records,” he explains. “I’d known about The Velvet Underground for a few years, but hearing the album that night, we were looking over Lexington and 125th Street while listening to Lou Reed sing about the same street, waiting for his dealer in I’m Waiting for the Man.”

I already knew it was a good record, but that night it was dark, the lights were low, there was just this atmosphere and it really hit me how great the record was. I’ve always been a collector of badges, coins and the like – it’s a mentality. Some years on from that night, I discovered that the album was very collectable, and that’s how it started for me.

Mark Satlof

For Satlof, a big draw was Warhol’s signature, provocative design, which has over the years been re-issued with countless variations. “If you’re into the whole collector world of grading and the stories behind the whole physicality of it, the fact is this album is an actual piece of art! It’s an Andy Warhol signed piece of art; his name is on the record!”

Satlof explains that the variations heighten its collectability. The physical banana on the cover peels off, lending itself to infinite variations. “Unless it’s brand new” he explains, “every copy has been manipulated by human hands in different ways. It’s been interacted with, picked or pulled off. It was revolutionary at the time. They had to make special machinery for the album to be made, and the only reason it was done was because Andy Warhol said, ‘it has to be my way’, it’s unique.”

With prices and popularity rising for the albums, Satlof has slowed down on the collection front, concentrating on quality now over quantity. I’m focusing on the interesting ones where people have drawn or written on them. Those are my favourites and tend to be cheaper because most people think they are the crappy versions lt’s these I’m most interested in,” he says.

If you had 100 records and they’re exactly the same, that’s boring for a collector. So it’s not about the numbers, it’s that each one is unique for different reasons. You don’t need another perfect copy – and the perfect copies are expensive! I’m looking for the ones that are interesting to me as an object.

And is he thinking of selling up? “I’ve never sold one thing, but you never know. If I ever sold, I’d want to sell it all to someone who would want it more as an art project, in its entirety, so watch this space!”

Below Mark has chosen eight of his favourite covers from his collection and shares his reasons why.

  1. The First pressing, torso sealed

    This is one of the crown jewels. It’s a factory sealed, first pressing, mono “torso” and as close to brand new as a 54-year-old album can be. I bought it in 2014 from a guy in Dallas who said he’d picked it up for a dollar in the late aughts at a thrift store. He was raising money to open a record store. I don’t know what happened to him after that. I never take it out. It’s in a box. No one’s allowed to even look at it.

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  2. The Andy Warhol

    I’m a sucker for anything signed by Velvet Underground members, or Andy Warhol. I have a good ten albums signed by Lou and Nico, a few Moe Tuckers and one or two signed by John Cale. I have a CD signed “to Mark” by Lou, three or four books signed by him, another by John Cale and a big coffee table photo and ephemera book with Lou, Moe and John signatures. I say “signed” but ultimately, I can’t be 100% sure, except for the handful where I was in the room.

    This is one of three I have with Andy Warhol signatures. I’ve got a solid case with this one. The story goes that the “Paul” to whom this one is inscribed to (what forger would inscribe something?) went to a Warhol book signing in 1975 at Pickwick Books in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Andy was in a good mood that day and signed books, albums, Campbell’s soup cans and more. This all checks out with the copy that’s been signed, a mid-70s printed banana gatefold pressing, and there’s an online reference to the signing too.

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  3. The first Lou Reed signature

    This is my first original pressing. I was working in a loft building on the corner of Canal and West Broadway, at the edge of Tribeca, Manhattan. Canal Street at the time in the late 80s was a bit run down and faded, with a hodgepodge of business. A few doors down from my office was an indoor flea market and inside were a half dozen dealers. In the far back corner was a record dealer, an older man in a small square stall with his primo stuff on the walls. I think he specialised in bootlegs.

    The Velvet Underground and Nico album was a hundred bucks. I’d visit it regularly, trying to get my courage and finances up to make an offer. Finally, I bought it for a little discount but basically coughed up. The dealer told me the signature was Andy Warhol’s. It took me ten or 15 years to figure out that it was Lou’s signature, not Andy’s. Pre-internet it was way harder to figure things out!

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  4. The Cesar Diaz “To Mike, Best of Luck, Lou Reed”

    Right after Lou Reed died in October 2013, I started noticing Velvet Underground albums for sale by their original owners. Sometimes it was explicit in the listing; other times I could read between the lines. I bought as many as I could, and when I did I asked for a bit of the owner’s story. I think I have seven or so.

    Mostly they’d had been college kids and came across the Velvets while hanging out in a dorm room, or they’d been sucked in by the Andy Warhol connection. This copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico was sold to me by the original owner’s widow. It’s signed “Mike, Best of Luck! Lou Reed.” Mike’s wife said he’d been best friends with Cesar Diaz, known as “The Amp Doctor,” who knew Lou and who got Mike the autograph. The blue scribble pen is from Cesar’s young son Alex.

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  5. The Geoff Tatum

    After word got out that I was the Velvet Underground guy, I started getting contacted by people from around the world. “Is this an original pressing?”, “The banana is intact but there’s a sliver of pink banana showing, is that normal?”, “What do you think this is worth?” About a year ago, within the space of three weeks, I heard from three different men who wanted to sell me their own copies bought in the late 60s. One of them had a mint copy and wanted more than I was ready to pay. The second guy had a beat-up copy, and he had a photo, album in hand, of him getting it as a Christmas gift. Again, an inflated price.

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  6. Geoff Tatum story continued!

    Then Geoff Tatum from Plymouth, England sent me a message. He had a copy. “Would you be interested in buying it to add to your collection. He said “A DJ named John Peel had a very late night show on BBC Radio. He would regularly play Heroin and Waiting for my Man.” Geoff and his pals got the name of “a certain record shop in London” where they could order Velvet’s imports. His copy is a true ‘Emerson’ first pressing so I must imagine it hadn’t been pressed in the UK yet. I asked if he remembered peeling the banana, and the answer is what I’ve hoped: “I was a young man, having a great time in the London of the swinging 60s. I was probably drunk with some friends and curiosity got the better of me.”

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  7. The Most Messed With

    My favourite copies are the ones that are the most messed with. I am always thinking of the journey of these albums. Andy sent them out into the world with his instructions, ‘Peel Slowly and See’ on the cover. Most people did. This one is beat up. It’s been played! The person listened a hundred times, they could not get enough. Every The Velvet Underground & Nico album has a story but it’s the messed-up ones that have the best story.

    courtesy of M. Satlof

  8. The Whitney

    Out of the blue in 2018, I got a query from a curator at the Whitney Museum in New York. He was working on a major Andy Warhol exhibition and asked if I wanted to lend an album. I wasn’t all that excited, but my son had become interested in modern art, so after I confirmed I could attend the parties and get a VIP tour with him, I said yes. I offered to show them one of my sealed copies, but they didn’t want that. They were looking for one that presented as great, but also didn’t look too perfect. They wanted a little wear to be visible.

    I brought a half dozen copies down one morning and let the curator pick. To you and me, the copy they chose would be mint but under the magnifying glass, they found every nick, dent and tiniest flaw. My copy was part of a display case of Warhol marginalia – some papers, another Warhol album cover or two.

    courtesy of M. Satlof