14 Classic Albums That Flopped When They Were Released

'Pet Sounds' and more iconic slow burners

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The Velvet Underground and Nico, 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' (1967)
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The Velvet Underground and Nico, 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' (1967)

By the time the celebrated New York act the Velvet Underground released their long-delayed debut album in March 1967, their downtown cool and off-kilter approach to rock had made them a curiosity of sorts. (A Village Voice ad that ran around the album's release claimed that it was "so underground, you'll get the bends.") But The Velvet Underground & Nico was barely received by the public at all at first, even though the album's peelable cover gave consumers a handy way to get their hands on an Andy Warhol original. As Richie Unterberger notes in his history of the band, White Light/White Heat, the band's label Verve gave the album a soft sell, and commercial radio had yet to have an opening for acts as mold-breaking. The Velvet Underground & Nico eked into the Billboard 200 at Number 199 in May 1967, peaking at Number 195. It re-entered the album chart that fall, slip-sliding around its lower reaches until it was recalled by Verve because of a lawsuit filed by reluctant back-cover subject Eric Emerson. The poor reception did, at least, occasion this notorious quote from a 1982 Brian Eno interview in Musician: "I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. The sales have picked up in the past few years, but I mean, that record was such an important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"

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