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The Velvet Underground
Last Post 03 Mar 2007 09:01 AM by Peejay. 18 Replies.
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PeejayUser is Offline
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Peter Teehan

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23 Feb 2007 08:42 AM
    Hugely influential, but barely mentioned. Just wondering what the general consensus of this band is on the board.

    A quick run-down of the albums:


    The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

    The debut, made slap bang in the middle of Andy Warhols patronage of the band. Andy paired them up with the gorgeous (but cold) model Nico. Its a strange early twist in the bands history but Lou and John rose to the challenge. Some say it was out of their admiration/love for Andy, some say because Lou and John simply wanted to shag her. Maybe a bit of both. The two songwriters rose to the challenge and managed to not only write songs that suited Nico's atonal Bavarian voice but practically defining the sound of the bands first record.This album is considered their crowning glory. It contains dreamy 60's pop in Sunday Morning, Femme Fatale, I'll Be Your Mirror (though its pop in the Brill Building vein rather the Beatlesque), proto-punk/ garage rock & roll in I'm Waiting For the Man, There She Goes Again and Run, Run, Run. Avant-garde "noise collisions" and drones in All Tomorrows Parties , the Black Angels Death Song and European Son. And right in the middle, Heroin. An ode to the euphoric highs and skull-splitting come downs. All masterfully acheived with the meagerest of means.
    After listening to alot of albums from this period, I don't think anything like this existed up to that point (Zappa's debut from around the same time comes close). Influenced by Dylan, Warhol, S&M, New York City and God knows what else. Its a true original.

    White Light/White Heat (1968)

    The debut sold about forty copies, so I guess they (temporarily) gave up the ghost and decided to go all out with their second album. The brill building pop and Nico-pandering was out the window (Nico went solo in '67, Reed and Cale penned a few songs for her) and the avant-garage was brought to the fore. The album opens with the title track, probably the most straight-laced song on the six-track album, which is saying something. Its sort of in the I'm Waiting For the Man style, but doesn't quite get there. This one, and alot of other tracks from their career are best served on the live 1969 album. The following three tracks, mostly John Cales inception (or Reed doing a Cale) are about as weird as the band get. I won't dwell on them too much. Lady Godiva's Operation highlights a great rock & roll rhythm section, but not much else.
    The cherry on this cake is the final two tracks, I Heard Her Call My Name and Sister Ray. It's worth owning this album just for these twenty minutes alone. I think its the absolute pinnacle of the bands output. I Heard Her Call My Name just explodes out of the speakers as if the song was in full flight before they decided to hit the record button. Its loud, fast and visceral countered by the angelic backing vocals, Mo Tuckers primal drums and Sterling (or is it Lou??) head splitting guitar solos. Most of the lyrics sound largely made up on the spot ("gone gone gone, ready ready ready! etc...). I wouldn't change them for a second though. This is a rock & roll band at the height of their powers. Magic.
    Then Sister Ray. Another wall of guitars. I think that Brian Jonestown Massacre are mostly just ripping off Sister Ray, only with Byrds-ey 12-string guitars. But I like it. Sister Ray doesn't look good on paper. Three chords, over and over for 17+ minutes. It's one of the reasons I avoided the VU for a long time and it took me a long time to get into this song. Its hypnotic, when they get into that groove there's just no stopping them. I think Cale's organ really makes it but once the bass drops out about halfway through, the arse falls out of it. Still, its one of those songs that sums them up brilliantly.



    The Velvet Underground (1969)

    Third album. John Cale had left by this point and with his departure marked the second more conventional Velvet Underground. Attempts were made to keep the experimental-rock aesthetic, Murder Mystery. This was piss-poor compared to something like Run, Run, Run.
    Anyway, faux-arty Murder Mystery aside, its a pretty decent album. I sounds like the most professionally produced album of theirs so far. The debut sounds like it was made in a basement for about $50 and WL / WH sounds like they set everything to 11 and hit record. The problem I have with this album is the key tracks: What's Goes On, Pale Blue Eyes, Beginning To See the Light, Some Kinda Love were all better served on the live album, 1969. It leaves us with a couple of decent songs, Candy Says, Jesus. I don't reach for this album that much but it definitely has its fans.



    Loaded (1970)

    Cale replacement Doug Yule is now firmly in the picture and with this the direction goes even more in the conventional rock & roll sound. Not necessarily a bad thing. It may be a million miles from the black shades and sulky pusses of 1967 but Reeds songwriting was really starting to mature and this attempt at mainstream acclaim was a strong effort. I don't know exactly how well it was received at the time, maybe someone could comment. If there's any justice Rock & Roll or Sweet Jane got more airplay that maudlin Beatle tracks Let It Be or Long & Winding Road but there's rarely justice in the pop charts!

    I like this album, its very accomplished and its a fun listen. Sometimes you don't always want your head pummelled with guitars distorted within an inch of their life. The pysch and country pastiches are....well, let me put it this way, if I was to recommend some VU to someone, these are the LAST songs I'd mention. Sweet Jane, Cool It Down, Head Held High, Train Round the Bend and especially Rock & Roll are brilliant rock & roll stompers. For all the criticism that this album has received, I bet Reed wishes he could write another one of these. That guitar break in Rock & Roll is brilliant but so effortless sounding. Oh! Sweet Nuthin' is another highlight. An absolute beaut in a tender doo-wop stylee. This album is often cited as a good starter and the new remastered version comes with an extra disc of goodies.

    The problem I have with this one is Yules voice. I don't know why Reed deemed it necessary to let Doug sing on some of these tracks. Their voices are so similar and yet Dougs is just so empty and lifeless compared to Lou's.


    Anyway, they're the officially released albums during the Velvets' brief five year life-span (we won't go into the whole 70's Stars In your Eyes incarnation). There's also the live 1969 album, which I think was released sometime in the mid-70's. Might get onto that later. If I got my facts wrong, then please correct me.

    Any opinions, preferences, dislikes? I'd love to hear them.

    UnicronUser is Offline
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    Ian Wright

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    23 Feb 2007 09:08 AM
    Better than the Beatles if only for the first record.
    DaraghUser is Offline
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    Daragh Murray

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    23 Feb 2007 09:21 AM
    I love em,they have amazing range, any band that can write "Rock and Roll" "Im Waiting For the Man" "Heroin" and "Sister Ray" has to be good.

    Sister Ray is one of my all time favourites
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    Altona

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    23 Feb 2007 02:23 PM
    Posted By Unicron on 23 Feb 2007 11:08 AM
    Better than the Beatles if only for the first record.




    Have you ever thought about being a music journalist :-)
    GarretUser is Offline
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    Garret Cleland

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    23 Feb 2007 02:41 PM
    the debut is an all time favourite of mine

    just picked up the third album today

    A band so great that they could have two self title albums :p
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    The_Pen15

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    23 Feb 2007 04:49 PM
    EMMM

    THIS IS FOR ALL U GUYZ

    xxxx

    http://www.rte.ie/lyricfm/  
    PeejayUser is Offline
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    Peter Teehan

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    28 Feb 2007 03:50 AM
    Bloody hell, is that it? No offence to those who posted, but Im sorry I bothered.
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    Daragh Murray

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    28 Feb 2007 04:11 AM
    would you prefer a paragraph on favourite songs? or how John Cale was such a wild influence?

    or maybe an in-depth discourse on what "suckin on a ding dong" really is?
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    Peter Teehan

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    28 Feb 2007 04:34 AM
    Sure. I don't want people to feel like they have to, but anything that's worth discussing.
    Even people who hate the VU could join in. Thats why I thought it would be a good topic, they weren't infallable like the Beatles, they did some awful s**te as well as some good stuff. Plenty to discuss.



    (at least I thought so)
    DaraghUser is Offline
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    Daragh Murray

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    28 Feb 2007 04:50 AM
    It's hard to find the time/knowledge too though.

    I love the underground, but they're one of the few bands that I like that I konw absolutely nothing about. I reckon a lot of people would be in the same boat, my knowledge extends to Warhol, heroin, Lester Bangs and Lou Reed going from great to well, gone.

    Is there any DVD's or anything you'd recommend? Seeing the players is usually a good judge, like the Band one of the reasons I got so interested in em was seeing what characters they were on The Last Waltz and the Classic Albums bio.

    Reckon they're better than the Beatles, whatever about the velvets!
    PeejayUser is Offline
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    Peter Teehan

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    28 Feb 2007 05:11 AM

    Is there any DVD's or anything you'd recommend? Seeing the players is usually a good judge, like the Band one of the reasons I got so interested in em was seeing what characters they were on The Last Waltz and the Classic Albums bio.


    There is and there isn't. Warhol took alot of footage of them in the early years, sadly most of this was done on handheld and has no sound (still veiwable on youtube* though). There are documentaries on Cale and Reed which delve into the VU years, but I don't know if they're available on DVD.

    There's also a book by Gerard Malanga, one of Warhol's Factory guys, on the band. It's a fairly in-depth read. Well worth tracking down.

    http://www.musicroom.com/se/ID_No/026317/details.html

    I don't know, the fact that there's hardly any live footage from the period sort of heightens their mystique, you know? The pictures from those Plastic Exploding Inevitable shows looks crazy.


    *If you're surfing YouTube for VU clips, avoid at all costs the 90's reunion. Really cringeworthy stuff.
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    Rev Jules

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    28 Feb 2007 08:36 AM
    As a lifelong fan of Lou Reed and the VUs, try the following

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Velvet-Underground-Live-MCMXCIII/dp/B000765IAO/ref=pd_bowtega_1/203-2755552-2383127?ie=UTF8&s=dvd

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Uptight-Story-Velvet-Underground-Classic/dp/0711991707/ref=sr_1_16/203-2755552-2383127?ie=UTF8&s=books

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/All-Yesterdays-Parties-Underground-1966-1971/dp/0306813653/ref=sr_1_2/203-2755552-2383127?ie=UTF8&s=books

    http://www.amazon.com/Velvet-Underground-Michael-Leigh/dp/1871592283/sr=1-25/qid=1172684179/ref=sr_1_25/102-9320121-1964937?ie=UTF8&s=books
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    Protein biscuit

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    28 Feb 2007 08:50 AM
    Posted By Unicron on 23 Feb 2007 11:08 AM
    Better than the Beatles if only for the first record.




    Uh-uh. Better debut album than The Beatles' debut for sure but there ain't no separating them at best.
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    Aidan Curran

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    28 Feb 2007 09:34 AM
    Posted By Peejay on 28 Feb 2007 5:50 AM
    Bloody hell, is that it? No offence to those who posted, but Im sorry I bothered.





    Yikes!!! Sorry, but it's just not a controversial subject of debate!! I mean, I love the first VU album, the others are fine records too.... and that's it! I think most fans of indie/alt music love the first VU album. Also, it was a long post, and I have a short span of attent.......

    Peejay, your original post was well-written so why not submit articles to CLUAS? Then let people take up your article on the Discussion Board?

    BTW, for anyone who loves the first VU album I really recommend a French/English album that I mentioned on the French Letter column a while back: "La Ballade d'O" by Vanessa and the O's, featuring James Iha on guitars. It recreates that whole dreamy first-VU-album 60s alt-pop sound (there's even a tribute song to Lou Reed, with whom Vanessa is now recording) and the first song, "Bagatelle" is just brilliant catchy guitar-pop.
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    Peter Teehan

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    01 Mar 2007 01:15 AM
    Yikes!!! Sorry, but it's just not a controversial subject of debate!! I mean, I love the first VU album, the others are fine records too.... and that's it!


    Well, it mightn't be much of a subject for current debate (unlike the mp3 player thread) but there's still plenty to discuss. Why limit yourself to whatevers currently in the album charts?

    Also, the two main members of the VU have been in the news both as recent as this week. Ah never mind...a losing battle
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    Peter Teehan

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    01 Mar 2007 01:45 AM
    1967:
    VU & Nico vs Sergeant Pepper
    Both era defining records in their own way. Sergeant Pepper was very important at the time, but has dated badly compared to the VU's effort.

    1968:
    White Light White Heat vs The Beatles
    The White year. WLWH is patchy, but then so is the White album. The Beatles never approached the ferocity of Sister Ray but they probably came the closest on this album (Helter Skelter, Yer Blues). On the other hand The VU could never beat the Beatles in terms of versatility and sheer quality. At least not in 1968. Even if you shrank the white album down to a single album it would still beat WL/WH.

    1969:
    The Velvet Underground vs Abbey Road
    Both of these albums come with an extra layer of added sheen (in the VU's case, its their first layer!). Offputting to some. I think the VU are outmatched. The side-2 medley on Abbey Road is superb and the production on The VU's falls a little flat. At this stage the Beatles were old-pro's, three solo artists practically working side by side. Lou on the other hand had lost his songwriting partner and was steering he ship alone for the first time. It shows.


    1970:
    Loaded vs Let It Be
    Let It Be was made before Abbey Road, released a year later. Again there's a similarity. Both essentially regressing back to their good old rock & roll roots, with a touch of schmaltzy-ness from both. Let It Be is probably one of the Beatles weakest efforts. Its like a Neil Young album, rag-tag bits and bobs but even a weak Beatles album is far better than your average. Whereas the VU produced one of their most focused efforts.

    Well, in my opinion, its a tie! When you factor in everything the Beatles produced while Lou was still doing the ostrich, its a no-brainer. Beatles win hands-down. I wouldn't like to live without either band though.
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    Sig Doherty

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    01 Mar 2007 06:03 AM
    next, blur v oasis
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    Binokular

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    02 Mar 2007 03:28 PM
    Posted By Peejay on 01 Mar 2007 3:15 AM
    Yikes!!! Sorry, but it's just not a controversial subject of debate!! I mean, I love the first VU album, the others are fine records too.... and that's it!


    Well, it mightn't be much of a subject for current debate (unlike the mp3 player thread) but there's still plenty to discuss. Why limit yourself to whatevers currently in the album charts?




    There really isn't much to discuss, it's like me going on to one of the car enthusiast forums I frequent and saying "hey! does anyone else like Ferraris?" well er, yeah! Your not going to get much of an interesting discussion out of it, start claiming that you reckon the Skoda 130 rapid was one of the best cars ever and you'll get a more animated debate. I'm not saying start sensationalist threads for the hell of it, but people get bored covering the same ground. This thread is also kind of a one person discussion, you've simply regurgitated a load of velvets trivia and expect a discussion on it? C'mon man, at least start a thread about the velvets with a question or a fresh perspective, not a "collectors guide"

    Personally? I reckon while the Velvets were fantastic and hugely influential, the bands that took what they started and ran with it were actually far superior bands. e.g. Sonic Youth took avant noise and made it actually work, Galaxie 500 took the sound, made it even better, and had a solidity and consistency to their work that the Velvets never did.





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    Peter Teehan

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    03 Mar 2007 09:01 AM
    Not everyone likes Ferraris, they think they're overrated. So much so that they love to give their opinion whenever the car is mentioned. I think that's a good enough basis to have a discussion. Not a massive one, but something. I take your point though, the first post was a bit longwinded. I was bored in work and just spent a half an hour writing it. I thought I'd gave enough of my own opinion and preferences to balance the empty trivia but maybe not.
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