I was in London two weeks ago when my daughter texted the sad news that Lou Reed had died. She was very upset, which was surprising as I never knew she was a fan. But the real surprise was how the rest of the world reacted.
As a huge Velvet Underground fan, I know how important Lou’s contribution to music was. He changed music forever. But it was absolutely stunning to see the amount of press generated–not just music press, but mainstream press–by the death of someone most people thought of as a cult figure. As a friend who had worked closely with Lou emailed, “you’d think he was John Lennon.”
I worked with Lou in the 90’s when he recorded for Sire/Reprise, and found him to be as portrayed in most of what I’ve read– hyper intelligent, complex, charming and sometimes difficult. When the Velvet Underground reformed in 1993 a few co-workers and I headed to Edinburgh for the first show. We went backstage before the show and for me it was a surreal experience. While I was a music business executive, first and foremost I was a Velvets fan. I couldn’t believe I was backstage with Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker, about to see them play. I’d listened to those records hundreds of times, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d get to see them live. Or meet them. Or work with them. I had them all sign my pass.
And when Lou got together with the absolutely wonderful Laurie Anderson, another Warner Bros. artist and soon the love of Lou’s life, I was fortunate to spend a bit of time with them together.
While I don’t have much to say about Lou that hasn’t been said, I can add to the discussion of the Velvets. As John Jurgensen wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Almost every obituary for Lou Reed has cited a variation of the same quote by composer and producer Brian Eno, who said that the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album didn’t sell many copies, but everyone who bought one started a band.”
In his article, Jurgensen identified the journalist Eno made the remark to, Kristine McKenna (an old friend, I had no idea !) and quoted Velvets lawyer Christopher Whent as saying the exact number of albums the Velvet Underground’s debut album sold is lost to time. Whent told him “My best guess as to pre-1984 domestic sales…is that the album sold perhaps 50,000 units. More is unlikely, and I would be surprised if it were as little as 10,000, but I cannot be accurate.”
Jurgensen contacted me, having heard that I might know the exact number, and in fact I do. Many years ago I purchased some documents that had been sent to Nico, including her royalty statement for that album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. In just under two years, it sold…drum roll… 58,476 copies in the U.S.
According to Wikipedia, the album was released March 12, 1967. The royalty statement is for sales through February 14, 1969. It lists sales of mono copies (V 5008) as 13,336 and stereo sales (V6 5008) as 45,140 (77% of copies sold were stereo.) Note that the Velvets received 29 cents for each mono and 36 cents for each stereo copy (plus songwriter’s income which would have been paid separately by the publisher.) In addition it notes royalty income paid by MGM’s affiliates in Germany, England, Canada and income for sales on tape (reel-to-reel, 8-Track) by the Ampex Corp. With complicated royalty rates and deductions, it’s impossible to know how many copies were sold in these countries and on tape.
Below is the royalty statement–the definitive solution to this long debated mystery. I hope Velvets Fans enjoy seeing this true piece of history.
And goodbye Lou. I’m sure you would have enjoyed all the tributes, and knowing how important your music was to so very many people. Myself very much included.
November 10, 2013