Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Velvet Underground 1967-1970

What can you say about the Velvet Underground? A remarkable band for their time, groundbreaking on several levels, and rather frustrating as well. Their four studio records were all completely different from each other, and also from almost anything being done at the time of their release, with the exception of Loaded 1970, which was noteworthy for its Classic Rock sound, itself a departure for such a cutting edge band.

The first album, The Velvet Underground And Nico, done with Nico singing vocals on half the tracks, was insanely eclectic, wildly experimental (both Lou Reed and John Cale were firing on all cylinders), and mind-blowing in 1967.

From Waiting For The Man, a tale of drug addiction, to the drone of Venus In Furs, to the chamber-folk of All Tomorrow's Parties, through the closing cacophony of Heroin, to the soft pop-folk of Sunday Morning and I'll Be Your Mirror. Head-spinning, and even if it's a difficult listen today, it is still quite an achievement.

To be followed by White Light/White Heat in 1968. Aggressive, noisy, distorted, dangerous and loud, it is easy to understand why it is considered an early punk/metal blueprint. It is also easy to understand why it didn't sell any better than the first one. If you can get through it, the 17-minute Sister Ray is a trip.

The Velvet Underground 1969 took an about face, and became the equivalent of their "unplugged" record. A quiet storm of a record, it stands today as their finest hour. Doug Yule replaced John Cale, and the result is a much more accessible record, while no less boundary-pushing in its own right.
The gorgeous ballads Candy Says, Jesus, and Pale Blue Eyes, the rollicking What Goes On and Beginning To See The Light,  the rocking magnificence of I'm Set Free, all simply constructed of feeling, rhythm, and nuance. It's a classic, and the most listenable today. This one is the blueprint for chill-out.

1970 saw Loaded, their most commercially successful record, released a few months after Reed quit, but not before he made one of the best, and most commercial, records of his career. Side one with Who Loves The Sun, Sweet Jane, Rock And Roll, Cool It Down, and New Age is all but perfect. Side two doesn't live up to the first side, but Head Held High and Oh! Sweet Nothing come through. 

The first two are remarkable documents of an exciting time in New York and in music history, but they're not that easy to listen to today. They are both important to rock's later developments, and as such, are years ahead of their time. The fourth is a fine record, with Sweet Jane and Rock And Roll easily worth the price of admission. 1969's The Velvet Underground is a remarkable record, even today, after 42 years. Reed finds a niche he never returned to even though it is some of his finest work. I suggest serving with a glass of dry red wine. Candles would be nice.

No comments:

Post a Comment