Human beings are very good at losing things. We lose socks, we lose hair, we lose money, we lose our dignity, youth, virginity, minds, hearing, and sometimes we lose ourselves. But that’s all sh
it. Who needs those things" Is it a travesty to grow old and fall apart" Nah, not really. I think we all know the truth and point of this exercise:
The real travesty is losing music.
It’s no longer presumptuous to thrust phrases like “artistic prescience” upon the Velvet Underground. It hasn’t been for quite some time now. The indelible imprint of the Velvets on the face of alternative/punk/art/underground music isn’t just chronicled. It’s part of the fuc
king ten commandments. So if we start talking about “great lost Velvet Underground albums,” does that mean there’s a whole other set of commandments" Thou shall not ignore thy leather-coated forebears even more"
isn’t the quite that eleventh commandment but a close facsimile. Observers and obsessive followers of the Velvet Underground have been scraping together the remains of what would be “the great lost Velvet Underground album” for quite sometime (and posthumous compilations have made them quite successful in their searches.) VU
is just a fragment of a larger work, albeit an essential fragment. The tracks that comprise VU
represent studio sessions between the recording of The Velvet Underground
. The fourth Verve/MGM album, presumably for which these songs as well as four other tracks were recorded, met the same fate. We got Loaded
In a lot of respects, the recordings that comprise VU
are the missing step between The Velvet Underground
. Of course, the real missing step between the self-titled and Loaded
was Maureen Tucker, who was absent from the Loaded
sessions. As such, one might look at VU
if Maureen Tucker didn’t have a baby on board, if the rifts created by the band’s business hadn’t already reached a critical mass. Perhaps the best way to illustrate is by the track “Ocean” which was recorded both during the sessions captured on VU
as well as the Loaded
“Ocean” is fragrant; Lou Reed sounds almost hammy slurring his whispering croon just loud enough to overcome string arrangements as well as the short-lived return of John Cale, who provided an organ overdub and implied his viola’s drone upon the track. In comparison, the VU
“Ocean” features Tucker’s unmistakable percussion and a different Reed delivery. Even the lyrics are different. Throughout the song, Tucker’s cymbals crash like waves on some lonely shore only to give way to a thunderous kick at the song’s last gasp. This primitive crush is what the Loaded
“Ocean” lacks, instead relying on an understated elegance. Furthermore, while Billy Yule was not an incapable drummer, his drumming sounds sterile and predictable in comparison to Tucker’s unique style. Let’s not even get into the solo-Reed “Ocean.”
“Foggy Notion” is easily another standout track on the collection. Dozens of live versions exist on various official and un-official bootlegs as the track became a live staple but outside of the fantastic Peel Slowly and See
box set and An Introduction to the Velvet Underground
(which I’ve never seen,) a definitive recorded version is elusive. “Foggy Notion” is as essential a Velvets song as any, right up their along with other energetic bangers like “What Goes On” or “Sister Ray.” Like both those tracks, the key to “Foggy Notion” is its raw energy and simplicity. The primeval rock and roll lunge is classic; Lou Reed’s breathless vocals try to keep pace with Doug Yule/Tucker’s rhythmic dance and Sterling Morrison plays an excellent foil to Reed’s seething licks. Like I said, essential.
also extends the balladry, a primary focus on The Velvet Underground. Continuing the lineage of “says” songs, “Stephanie Says” and “Lisa Says” are lovely little songs from another perspective along the lines of “Candy Says.” Both are wonderfully bittersweet; “Stephanie Says” is arguably the better of the two and features a clean violin (viola") and a twinkling xylophone. Reed is in top lyrical form here, “People call her Alaska,” Reed notes in the chorus, closing the song by extending the metaphor: “It’s so cold in Alaska.” Another outstanding line: “Stephanie says/That she wants to know/Why it is, though she's the door/She can't leave the room.” Both these songs, along with a majority of songs on VU
, were appropriated early on in Reed’s solo career. Reed’s solo versions for the most part stand in the shadow of the Velvets versions.
One of the few songs that doesn’t reappear with Reed is “Sticking With You,” one of those rare Maureen Tucker moments. Like “After Hours,” “Sticking With You” initially features her timid vocals, later joined by Lou and maybe Doug Yule doing backing vocals. The track is a completely left-field pop-duet, certainly not something that White Light/White Heat
Velvet fans could foresee. It’s cheerful, warm and downright sweet. “Heroin” it is not.
“One of These Days” fills a similar mold as “Sticking With You.” It’s a brilliant country tinged rocker, complete with a Reed falsetto that kills me every time I hear it. Along with “Temptation Inside Your Heart,” “One of These Days” displays Reed’s affixation beyond rock and roll. The studio chatter on “Temptation” betrays the source of the influence; Morrison says, “Mo-town!” and “You don’t look like Martha and the Vandellas!” in between cheeky cross talk from Reed who mutters the eternal phrase, “Electricity comes from other planets,” before whipping into a solo. The voices are completely unnatural on the track and ends with Morrison asking, “Was that awful"” No, not really. Not their best track but good fun in any sense.
If you like the Velvet Underground to any degree and don’t have these tracks in some form, you are severely missing out. From the straight forward hard rock of “I Can’t Stand It” to the powerful crunch of “Foggy Notion” to the endearing “Sticking With You,” VU
is part of the influential Velvet Underground canon. It’s nearly, if not as important as any of the proper releases. Too bad it all got lost.