Work in progress..... I need to do the three serious/major Velvet Underground albums, and I need to revisit all the albums, particularly Lou Reed's, because it looks like I've been rather harsh with my scores....
I first experienced The Velvet Underground when I was 14 or 15, and acquired The Velvet Underground & Nico as that was a popular album among my circle of hippy friends, and on hearing it I was immediately drawn in. I still have the album - in a bit of a tatty state now, and a European issue, so not a valuable one, but I love it to bits. For me that album is one of the pinnacles of human achievement, like the moon landing, the four minute mile, democracy, the pyramids, Romeo & Juliet, and Starry Night. I also love Lou Reed and feel that his solo album Transformer is another pinnacle. For someone to have created two of, not only the greatest albums of all time, but greatest works of art of all time, is quite staggering. I have dipped into and out of Lou Reed's career, liking some of stuff, and being unsure of other. I thought Songs for Drella, where he worked again with John Cale of the Velvets, was another stunning moment, but on the whole he never quite matched the perfection of Transformer or the significance of The Velvet Underground & Nico.
I was aware that the Velvets had made other albums, but I never really paid them much attention. For me (and I think for most of my friends) the Velvets had made one brilliant album and that was that. When at university, I went through a younger friend's tape collection. He mostly had punk albums and U2 albums, and some stuff by Prince, but he also had a really good collection of VU albums. I must ask him one day why he had these albums by a fairly unknown and quite arty band from before his time. But anyway, he had the albums, and I went through the, On the whole they confirmed my feeling that after the first album the band didn't do anything significant, but there were some pleasant and quirky songs along the way that I put together onto a compilation tape. And that's where I left it.
But the other day something caught my eye about the second Velvet's album, that it is being reassessed as something important and influential, and that Lou Reed and the band thought themselves that it was a significant album. I listened again, and still find it harsh and noisy. But I started listening again to the other albums and found myself falling in love with the third album Velvet Underground. So I think iot might be worth doing a deeper study of this fascinating band.
The band were formed by Reed and Cale in 1965; Cale leaving in 1968 and Reed in 1970, though the band continued briefly after that with Doug Yule who released an album under the Velvet's name in 1973, with none of the original members. Reed had a successful solo career. I saw him at the Rainbow in 1974 - oddly I had wanted to go to the preceding concert which was John Cale, Eno and Nico, but that famous concert was sold out, so I bought tickets for Lou Reed instead! The Velvets briefly reformed in 1993 and did a few concerts in the UK, including at The Forum and Wembley Arena that I wanted to go to, but I was struggling financially as a mature student in Swansea, and couldn't justify the travelling costs to London. Aw well, that's one of my life's little regrets.....
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
White Light/White Heat (1968)
The Velvet Underground (1969)
Live at Max's Kansas City (1972)
1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1974)
Let's get the crap out of the way.
This has nothing to do with The Velvet Underground, other than the name. It consist of Doug Yule compositions sung and performed by him with the assistance of Ian Paice of Deep Purple as hired hand on drums. It had poor distribution, terrible reviews, sold poorly, and was deleted from the record companies lists fairly quickly - Yule himself not even getting a copy according to him. It acquired a reputation as one of the worse albums ever made, It was reissued (apparently without permission) in 2012 on the Kismet label, after which its reputation was reappraised from one of the worst albums ever, to simply a dull album of mediocre songs. And that's about right. There's some sense that Yule has been influenced by some of Reed's songs, but not quite enough. It's boring. A remastered version came out in 2013 which gives it a better sound, but it's still boring.
This is not really a Velvet's album, it's a Lou Reed album. There's little difference between the songs here and the songs on Reed's solo albums. What ever it was that made the Velvets the Velvets, is missing here. Cale is not here, and that shows. Mo Tucker is not there, and that also shows. It's pleasant and likeable stuff, but fairly throwaway. It starts with some kind of sweet Beatles pastiche, "Who Loves The Sun", then moves into Lou Reed's classic chugging pop style with "Sweet Jane", and continues with that odd blend of pastiche and pop. The pop is well crafted, and I like some of it, but it's all quite throwaway, it's not cutting edge, it's not art, and it's nothing like the pinnacle of human achievement that is the Velvet's first album. It reminds me of the Sally Can't Dance album (though that, at least, had "Kill Your Sons"). The record company wanted hits, wanted the album to be "loaded" with hits. That bare commercialism shines through, and Reed's experience as a Pickwick Records pastiche song writer stands him in good stead here, though neither the individual songs nor the album were the hit that Atlantic wanted (though "Sweet Jane" is, apparently, today a popular song on American radio). Essentially the album is throwaway crap, but being as it's Lou Reed, it's interesting as there are little edges here and there. Listening to stuff like "I Found A Reason" it's possible Reed was playing a private joke on the record company. But it's also possible he really was trying to write hit records, and perhaps he was tired of being rebellious and arty and broke, and all this is a genuine attempt to write commercial pop/rock songs, though - just so he could back out of it later - it is also possible he had his tongue in his cheek as he was doing it. Whatever - I can imagine lots of people would like this, though not many would regard it as being anything meaningful - other than another curious twist in the Velvet's story.
Doug Yule's account of making the album. Yule takes a major role on Loaded, playing most of the guitar (Morrison apparently wasn't that interested) - he is lead guitar and vocals on "Oh! Sweet Nothin'", and lead vocals on "New Age", "Lonesome Cowboy Bill", and "I Found A Reason".
AllMusic; Lenny Kaye at Rolling Stone 1970; Uncut 2015; The Observer 2015; Pitchfork 2015;
The live stuff
I'm interested in how the Velvets were live, and some of the live recordings are interesting, but little of it is actually good because the recording quality is poor. With modern technology some of it has been cleaned up, but even then it still sounds like it has been recorded down a plug hole. As such the live recordings are curiosities of historical and academic interest, but are not aesthetically pleasing, and are not works of art.
|Live at Max's Kansas City (1972)|
Released when the band were officially still a band (led by Yule) under contract to Atlantic, this is a terrible cassette recording of Reed's last Velvet's gig at Max's Kansas City in August 1970 before he left the band. Mo Tucker was in late pregnancy so a substitute drummer was used for the Max's residency. Atlantic were not keen on the Yule version of the band, so released this mess, thinking it would be more commercially viable. It sounds awful, and even in the edited original version crowd conversation is heard while the Velvets play in the murky far distance. Jim Carroll can be heard loudly chatting about drinks and drugs rather than paying attention to the band. The full tape, electronically remastered, was released in 2004, but is not an improvement.
This is an interesting curiosity, and in a sense from this you can understand why Reed left the band. The audience are not into it at all, and the band are simply plodding there way through the songs. The sound is awful, but even worse is that the band don't seem to care about what they are doing.
|1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1974)|
Vol 1 Vol 2
A double album of two separate performances from Oct and Nov 1969 which were the only professional recordings made of the band live. The sound is good, and the performances are solid - sometimes excellent
|Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (2001)|
Cassette tapes made by a fan of several 1969 performances, compiled and transferred onto tape by him, then released by Polydor in 2001 as a triple CD album.
The serious albums
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
White Light/White Heat (1968)
The Velvet Underground (1969)
All different recordings/versions are shown, but different mixes are not. All songs written by Lou Reed (sometimes with contributions from other band members) apart from "Winter Song" from Nico's album Chelsea Girl, which was by John Cale.
"Little Sister" NICO
"Winter Song"* NICO
"It Was a Pleasure Then" NICO
"Chelsea Girls" NICO
"Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" NICO
"I'll Keep It With Mine" NICO / Bootleg - Feb 66 Filmakers
"White Light/White Heat" WL/WH / 1969 / MAX2 / Q / MXM
"The Gift" WL/WH / MXM
"Lady Godiva's Operation" WL/WH
"Here She Comes Now" WL/WH
"I Heard Her Call My Name" WL/WH / MXM
"Sister Ray" WL/WH / Q
"Candy Says" TVU / MAX2
"What Goes On" TVU / 1969 / Q / PEEL?
"Some Kinda Love" TVU / 1969 / MAX2 / Q / MXM
"Pale Blue Eyes" TVU / MAX / 1969 / MXM
"Beginning to See the Light" TVU / MAX / 1969 / MXM
"I'm Set Free" TVU / MAX2
"That's the Story of My Life" TVU
"The Murder Mystery" TVU
"After Hours" TVU / MAX / Q / MXM
"Who Loves the Sun" L / MAX2
"Sweet Jane" L / MAX / 1969 / MAX2 / MXM
"Rock & Roll" L / 1969 / AV / Q / MXM
"Cool It Down" L
"New Age" L / MAX / 1969 / Q
"Head Held High" L
"Lonesome Cowboy Bill" L / MAX / MAX2
"I Found a Reason" L
"Train Round the Bend" L
"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" L
"Lisa Says" 1969 / / VU / LOU
"We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together" 1969 / AV / MXM
"Ocean" 1969 / VU / LOU
"Over You" 1969 / Q
"Sweet Bonnie Brown" 1969
"It's Just Too Much" 1969 / Q
"I Can't Stand It" VU / Q / MXM / LOU
"Stephanie Says" VU
"She's My Best Friend" VU
"Foggy Notion*" VU / Q
"Temptation Inside Your Heart" VU
"One of These Days" VU
"Andy's Chest" VU / TRAN
"I'm Sticking with You" VU / Q / MXM
"I'm Gonna Move Right In" AV
"Hey Mr. Rain (Version I & II)" AV / MXM
"Ride into the Sun" AV / Q
"Coney Island Steeplechase" AV
"Guess I'm Falling in Love" AV / MXM / April 67 Gym
"Ferryboat Bill" AV
"Velvet Nursery Rhyme" MXM
Unreleased songs available on bootleg tapes
"The Nothing Song" Nov 66 Valleydale /
"I'm Not a Young Man Anymore" March 67 Gym
Lou Reed albums
All the tracks had been performed by the Velvets, most are available on various recordings, so there is a distinct link between the end of the Velvets and the start of Reed's "solo" career. The album was recorded in the more sympathetic surroundings of a London studio with top quality musicians such as Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, but apparently Reed had lost his nerve, and struggled through the sessions. It's an album mostly overlooked. I can remember hearing it a few times shortly after Transformer was released, but not being impressed. Hearing it again now, and it's pleasant enough, but it's just like Sally Can't Dance, a bunch of OK songs that are worked through by competent musicians, but nowhere near the same level as the first Velvets album or Transformer or Songs For Drella. Reed is always better working with a very strong collaborator.
I bought this album when it came out, and found it then a consistent and solid album that I felt I would get into and enjoy, but I never did. It's an album I regarded as "good", and respected it, but it didn't have the great moments that made Transformer so special. Listening to it again now, and I'm getting the same feeling. I think this is an album that can and will yield up treasures for those patient enough to become familiar with it, but the overall sound is just a little too staid and sombre to invite folks to get that close.
Listening again, and I'm starting to get into it......
This was released the same year I saw him live at The Rainbow in London, and I had the album, but have never thought much of it. It's an adequate record of him live, though it's interesting that almost all the songs are Velvet Underground songs. There are some who regard this as the best live album ever. Yes, they do.
I've always liked this album, but I've never really admired it. I guess I feel the opposite about this than I do to Berlin. I don't feel this is a good album, but on a personal level I find it moderately likeable. It's about on the same level as the 1972 Lou Reed, but I am more familiar with it, so I give it a higher score. It has the sound and feel of the time, and there's echoes of Bowie on this, but it never quite cuts the mustard.
I don't recall this album. Listening to it now, I can see why it would have passed me by. Muddy sound, and a limp performance. This comes from the same recording as Rock 'n' Roll Animal, and I can see why these tracks were overlooked.
I can't remember if I had this or listened to someone else's copy, but it's not an album you can play for long periods, nor want to play that often. I do remember that my friends and I were somewhat puzzled by it, and so where critics. It's not that the aim of the album was that alien - by 1975 we had had (No Pussyfooting) by Fripp and Eno, several albums by Kraftwerk, such as Ralf And Florian, the wonderful Faust Tapes, etc, so noise as music we were familiar with. But with the other albums we could see the intent, and enjoyed the ideas, but Metal Machine Music seemed somewhat limited in its scope and ambition, and seemed to lack musicality. It was as though Reed were either trying something out, such as ideas by Cale and Eno, but was more essentially a song writer rather than a composer, so couldn't structure music on that scale, or - as was doing this as some kind of joke or fuck off - and that became the more plausible and accepted theory.
This sounds like a typical Lou Reed album. It has the same sort of songs and delivery as the later Velvet's songs when the band was becoming more Lu Reed, and as his Lou Reed and Sally Can't Dance albums. It's OK, but there's nothing particularly compelling about any of the songs. A this point I know I had stopped buying and listening to new Lou Reed albums.
Follow The Leader Velvets live - Lou Reed
A Sheltered Life Velvets demo - Lou Reed
Beware of albums with covers of Reed wearing shades.
Ah, I've just read that the album is recorded using binaural recording technology which means it can only be heard properly through headphones. I've just popped on the headphones and, wow, it does sound a whole LOT better. I shall go through the album again.
Hmmm. Not sure about this. He's an odd one is Lou Reed. I'll come back later.
A live recording of Lou Reed off his head on speed ad-libbing egoistically all over the place. A curiosity, but not something to listen to again. An embarrassment really.
Genius. Madman. Egomaniac. Decent songwriter carried away by his own legend, which actually relies a lot on other people. Joker. Couldn't give a fuck.
Who knows how many of the above applies to Reed. But much of his output is difficult to listen to - sometimes it's worth the effort, but much of it isn't. The problem is working out which is which. It appears critics are as confused as everyone else. I am seriously struggling with this.
He seems to have settled down with this sparse single confessional song style. It has some interest, but is fairly limited. At this point he is more singer-songwriter than anything else.
Rolling Stone retrospective;
More singer songwriter stuff, but more musical this time. He's feeling his way into this phase of his career, and is getting there.
This starts like a throwback to Sally Can't Dance, a throwaway pop song I Love You Suzanne - likable but trivial. Mink DeVille and The Modern Lovers could do this stuff just as well. But then with "Endlessly Jealous" he goes back into his singer-songwriter mode carrying influences of John Lennon. There is a slick and meaningless Eighties pop production with the predictable drums up front, little bursts of the on trend funky jazz guitar. Around this stage Reed reminds me of Ray Davies who is also a clearly talented song writer with something of a chip on his shoulder who for years was trying so hard to prove himself as an artist and do something serious and meaningful instead of just relaxing into entertaining his audience and allowing the art to inform his music. Neither of them really seemed to have the confidence to do something truly new - both would borrow from either the latest trends or from their own past. In Reed's case it appears more and more that applause for his past is relying oin what others brought to the table - the great Velvet Underground stuff was always when Cale was in the band, and his truly great Lou Reed solo material was shaped by Bowie/Ronson or, ;later, by the return to collaborating with Cale. There's OK moments here, with - again - more hints toward Songs For Drella, but it lacks focus, and the whole is less than the parts.
More songs. Gee.
This is Reed's third great work after Transformer and the first Velvet album. It helps that he is working with John Cale, and that the focus of the piece is not himself, and that it's not a bitter diatribe against the world and how mean rock critics are to him. The songs are haunting, beautiful, considered, mature, tender, inciteful, and the music is not a copy of what's trendy, but appropriate musical sounds to help convey the feel of what is being done. This is streets ahead of pretty much all Reed's other solo work put together (with the exception of Transformer). This works. Wow!
New York Times; UCR;
Another "worthy" album that I drift away from. I think Reed would benefit from believing a little less than he is an artist, and a little more that communication is two way. A little bit of quality control would go a long way. There is just too much self-indulgence. I will return to this one, but it's hard knowing with Reed if there is going to be a real reward for the effort of getting into an album. This just sounds so dreary and boring that I would rather spend the effort on both his and other people's potentially promising albums. Essentially, life is to short to play games with Lou Reed. He needs to make some of the effort now and again.
The opening song, "Egg Cream", is fun and promises well for the album, but isn't really a big advance on what he was doing with the Velvets. As John Cale said, Lou Reed just keeps writing the same songs. I like the sound of this album, and will return to explore further. The more I hear this the more I like it. It seems genuine. An honest set of songs without pretension.
Rolling Stone; History; Talking;
I associate the riffing of the opening track with the Stones, but they may have taken it from Lou Reed's work with the Velvets. Hmmm. Worth looking into that. This is a little too rawky for my taste, but there are interestimng moments so I'm tempted to come back to explore further. The album was released at a period when most Lou Reed albums were compilations, box sets, or live albums from throughout his history.
A work (originally called an "opera") which centres on the work of Poe. A number of folks are involved, including Reed's wife Laurie Anderson, Anthony from Anthony and The Johnsons, and David Bowie. Interesting and quirky with some good bits, but it is all over the place. Good idea, but too messy, inconsistent, and often plain bad to really enjoy.
Candy Says original - cover
Guardian; BBC; Pitchfork; AllMusic; Rolling Stone;
Available only as a bootleg for many years, this concert of Reed, Cale and Nico in the Bataclan club in Paris was officially released in 2004. There is an interesting tension here that is missing from Reed's solo work (well, there is plenty of tension in his live recordings, but that's more of a personal hostility and edginess rather than the fascinating musical tension here). While other Reed live albums are mostly posturings, this is the real deal. Art heard live - the poor recording, muddy sound, and microphone rumbling is part of the deal.
Pitchfork; AllMusic; Uncut;
Reed tries his hand at ambient music. I thought I wouldn't like this, but I do. Ambient music is not something that I listen to, but this is nicely done if a little simple. It's not Eno, and it's not Tangerine Dream, but it is gently pleasant. And quite forgettable. I doubt if many will listen to the whole album once, let alone twice.
Reed worked with two electronic musicians to create music based on his Metal Machine Music. No. It's not worth listening to. Life is too short.
Collaboration between Reed and Metallica. Universally hated. An absolute mess. If there's anything worth listening to in here someone else will have to discover it. Sometimes Reed's head is in a strange place, but, to be fair, lots of other musicians have tried out things that didn't work. I suppose it's just that Reed has been given his head to explore ideas that simply don't work more than any other artist; based, I suppose, on the notion that the Velvets were not appreciated at the time, but then were universally lauded as the greatest band in existence, so material not understood now may become important art in the future. That, and the fact that now and again, in amid the failures, he could produce material that sells.
Metal; Pitchfork; NME; NME; Metal Injection; MI; Guardian; Quietus; Telegraph; Sputnick;
And that's it. Lulu was Reed's last work. What an ending.....
* Lou Reed fan page
Lou Reed's pre-Velvet Underground recordings
Songs composed by Reed/Philips/Vance/Sims, except "I've Got A Tiger In My Hand" by Reed/Philips/Vance/Sims/Motta
The album contains copies of popular pop sounds such as the sound of Nashville, and the sound of Surfing - Reed is lead vocals and guitar on The Roughnecks - You're Driving Me Insane which is "The Sound of England".(The Yardbirds and other British Invasion bands) and on The Beachnuts - Cycle Annie, which is "The Sound of The Motorcycle" (in a sort of Beach Boys style). Both tracks are clearly Lou Reed, and wouldn't be out of place on a Velevts album or on a Lou Reed album. It seemed he was doing this stuff all his music career.
Probably the least important person in the Velvet Underground, and the one that didn't go on to make his own records. He left music and worked on tugboats for the rest of his life, going from deckhand to captain. Now and again he played on albums by other VU members, and joined the band for the 1993 tour.
* Fan website
Nico was an essential part of the sound and image of the band on their first album and during their concerts at the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, though there is some uncertainty as to if she is accorded a full place in the band. Warhol was the band's manager, and he had her join the band, but Lou Reed insisted that their debut album be credited to The Velvet Underground "and" Nico, which has led to confusion as to her official status.
Her first recording was the single "I'm not Stayin'" in 1965, which is quite 60's lush pop, but with her distinctive and attractive voice.
I've had this on in the background while I've been doing some work, and I quite like it as background m,usic. I don't think it's something that I would play close attention to for a sustained period, but Nico's wailing, along with Cale's screeching viola, and a bit of mournful flute are attractive in the way that sea coast noises are attractive.
Quite arty, and containing elements of drone and ambient music, with a bleakness and sombreness about it that is off putting and chilled both critics and public, this is a difficult, fragile, and potentially beautiful album. It takes the sound of Chelsea Girls a further, and is both the better and the worse for it. Interesting to come to at a later date.
She's found a sound and is sticking to it. Given that the drone sound is one of John Cale's things, and that he has produced all her albums so far, I wonder how much this is Nico's sound, and how much it is Cale's. I quite like the sound, but a little goes a long way, and the album would benefit from a little more movement, and proper lyrics.
While this continues the collaboration with Cale, and has a similar sound to her previous albums, there is an extra edge here, almost certainly as a result of the involvement of Brian Eno, who had performed with her at The Rainbow in June during a live performance of the Door's song The End. This is the best of her albums so far.
Two versions of the album were released, though the reasons why are a little unclear - apparently some disagreement between Nico and her management and the original record company. The second version sounds better. All in all both versions are somewhat livelier than the Cale produced albums, though not quite up to repeated listenings. As with her earlier albums there is more a sense of listening out of a sense of curiosity and hope than genuine pleasure, though all the albums have something about them that puts them apart from mainstream albums.
Maureen Tucker dropped out of music after leaving the Velvets. She concentrated on bringing up her five children. After her divorce she returned to music, mainly singing and playing guitar. She is surprisingly right wing in her political views. I have her as a Facebook friend, and am quite often disappointed by what she posts.
Muddy recording, and muddy performances. All covers, and none of them are good. This wouldn't be of any interest is it wasn't by the ex-drummer of the Velvet Underground. It's a home recording in which Tucker plays all the instruments, overdubbing each one. This is something your neighbour might put together for a laugh, but they wouldn't ever let alone listen to it. .
She wrote most of the songs on this one, and got proper musicians, including Lou Reed, to help out. Gee. This kind of reminds me of Frank Zappa recording Wild Man Fischer. Its a little freaky, and its also a bit of an embarrassment.
A punk album in 1991 - well, why not? And with the aid of fellow Velvets members there's also a return to the sound of the Velvet's second album. A bit of fun then, but little more than that. However, this is the most attractive and cohesive Tucker album so far. Decent production, and a tight band.
Likeable. There's nothing really wrong with the album - I love the Bo Diddly opener - good time, finger snapping music. But it's just homely stuff - you'll get more of the same from your local band down the pub, and by the time you get to Danny Boy you've had more than enough. Critics almost universally ignored it. AllMusic list it, but there's no review.
She's released some live albums and a few EPs, but I think I have a good enough idea of the quality of her work not to bother seeking them out.
John Cale albums
Kicked out of the Velvets, this is Cale's first album released without them (other than the production work on Nico's albums) - though he had recorded the collaboration with Terry Riley before making this album. It's a collection of pleasant enough singer-songwriter songs. Nothing really stand out. Listenable, but I don't see this as something that many are going to reach for again. Fairly meaningless really.
Christgau; Rolling Stone; AllMusic;
This is more of what I expected from John Cale. This is a collaboration with Terry Riley, who had made A Rainbow In Curved Air a couple of years earlier. Interesting. A little too jazzy in places for me, but I like what's going on. Interesting.
Hmmmm. Interesting, but not my thing.
* Velvet Underground Webpage