Norman Dolph had died. He was from Tulsa, OK and graduated from Yale with a degree in Electrical engineering. Pretty cool, huh? Then he headed to New York working for Columbia Records doing what sounds like helping with manufacture of records for indie labels using Columbia’s record pressing capacity.
In the 60s he palled around with Andy Warhol up at the Polish social center in St. Mark’s Place, that Andy eventually used for his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. It was Dolph, accordingly who came up with a name tweak - Andy was all for calling his evenings out the Erupting Plastic Inevitable.
At Andy’s behest, Norman produced the early Velvet Underground recordings, even partially funding them with his own money. It’s well documented that when he took the acetate of those initial recordings to Columbia, they were rejected out of hand. There’s a note to Norm from the label, “You’re out of your mind with this.” Damn who wouldn't kill for that kind of reaction right now. Actually any non-perfunctory reaction at all.
Of that tracks Norm had recorded at the Scepter Record studios in New York, "All Tomorrow’s Parties," "European Son," "Femme Fatale," "Run Run Run," "I’ll Be Your Mirror" and "The Black Angel’s Death Song" all ended up on the ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ LP eventually released on Verve, while "Heroin," "I’m Waiting For The Man" and "Venus In Furs" were re-recorded in Los Angeles with a different producer, and “Sunday Morning” arrived by another route entirely.
Norm’s acetate, rejected by Columbia and other major labels too, eventually sold for $25,000 making it one of the most expensively collectable discs in history.
By simply reporting on what they could see in their world, on songs like Heroin, Venus in Furs and I’m Waiting For My Man, the Velvet Underground’s debut LP fell victim the cancel culture of the age, with proscriptive radio station and record stores boycotts that contributed to ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ peak at only #171 on the charts. Despite or maybe because of purportedly selling only 30,000 copies at that time 'The Velvet Underground and Nico' retains its status, particularly in the UK, as the most influential record of all time. Brian Eno said, “Everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”
29,990+ of those bands were truly dreadful, the remainder, just average, although Norm and the Velvets cannot be held accountable for that. VU&N became a banana skin other some bands slipped up the ladder to success on, most just tripped up on. None matched the Velvets lyrical peccadillos, few shiny boots of leather emerged from the acolytes catalogs, nor was anything complemented so handily and dandily by the music.
There aren’t many 60s music producers whose death requires a press release and I’d like to thank Nick at Planetary media for drawing my attention to this and for planting the facts I’ve assimilated here. All credit to Nick for his important work. The rest you know, stepping out. Being cantankerous because the typer is in front of me and wondering how different life would be without Norm Dolph, without his contribution to Andy Warhol's art scene, an unheralded hand. Norm Dolph was a hearer and a seer.
Ancient Champion writes for OUTSIDELEFT, relentlessly records instrumental easy listening tracks, and is always completing the short story collection, Six Stories About Motoring Nowhere. More info at AncientChampion.com
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