In late 1966, “Sunday Morning” was the final song to be recorded for The Velvet Underground & Nico. It was requested by Tom Wilson, who thought the album needed another song with lead vocals by Nico with the potential to be a successful single. The final master tape of side one of the album shows “Sunday Morning” only penciled in before “I’m Waiting for the Man”.
In November 1966, Wilson brought the band into Mayfair Recording Studios in Manhattan. The song was written with Nico’s voice in mind by Lou Reed and John Cale on a Sunday morning. The band previously performed it live with Nico singing lead, but when it came time to record it, Lou Reed sang the lead vocal. Nico would instead sing backing vocals on the song.
Aiming to create a hit for the album, “Sunday Morning” features noticeably more lush and professional production than the rest of the songs on the album. The song’s prominent use of celesta was the idea of John Cale, who noticed the instrument in the studio and decided to use it for the song. He also played viola and piano via overdubs and Sterling Morrison, normally the secondary guitarist, played bass, despite his dislike of the instrument.
According to Reed, the song’s theme was suggested by Andy Warhol. “Andy said, ‘Why don’t you just make it a song about paranoia?’ I thought that was great so I came up with ‘Watch out, the world’s behind you, there’s always someone watching you,’ which I feel is the ultimate paranoid statement in that the world cares enough to watch you.”
Lou Reed – lead vocals, lead guitar
John Cale – celesta, viola, piano
Sterling Morrison – bass guitar
Maureen Tucker – percussion
Nico – backing vocals