Velvet Underground – Essential Listening…

Velvet Underground – Scene

While for some, the Velvet Underground is one of the ’60s most influential bands. For me, although I loved loud punk, psychedelic music, classic rock, etc.  Although at the time during the heyday of this band, I just wasn’t into them. Why wasn’t I into them? I’m not really sure. But, needless to say, I had friends that obsessed about them.  And over the years, I became a fan and really appreciated what they brought to the table music-wise. Sadly, I never got to see this band live. 

Heroin – Velvet Underground

All the dramatics aside, and really just listening to this song, it slowly creeps into your soul and gives you an amazing visceral moment of understanding on many levels. For example, you have Lou Reed’s lyrics that are like a pied piper taking you down this crazy road.

You really don’t want to go down this road. Yet, you can’t help feeling that you need to see what’s going on. Shortly after, you’re yanked back into reality by a viola, swirling guitars and some crazy frenetic peaks in the percussion. Leaving you scratching your head asking what the hell just happened? But in a good way!

Pale Blue Eyes

While “Heroin” takes you on a roller coaster ride, “Pale Blue Eyes” takes you completely into a different direction. Along the lines of a haunting tale of unrequited love.  Sadly, it’s about a one-sided love affair that becomes a misunderstood friendship between two friends. While not openly reciprocated or understood as such by the beloved.  Meanwhile, it just doesn’t go anywhere. I’m sure some of us can relate to this situation. 

Starting Out & Band Changes 

John Cale and Lou Reed meet up first mainly because they had similar interests in experimental music. By using different alternative guitar settings, they would often create droning sounds that they incorporate into their performances. The collaborations between these two later become the early beginnings of the Velvet Underground. 

By recruiting Sterling Morrison, he and Reed play guitar. While  Cale plays viola, keyboards and bass while Angus MacLise joins on percussion to complete the four-member unit. Starting off as the “Warlocks”, then morphing into the “Falling Spikes”, a friend eventually suggests the name “Velvet Underground” and the group agrees that this is the name they  want because it’s evocative of the avant garde & fitting for the underground cinema scene. 

Angus Leaves and Moe Takes Over

Shortly after, Maureen “Moe” Tucker replaces Maclise after a fall out with the band. Furthermore, she finds a way to make the band stand out after her drums are stolen from a club.  Instead of replacing the drums, she starts playing garbage cans brought in from outside and starts creating experimental sounds. Eventually this becomes a vital part of the group’s music. The group earns a regular paying gig at the “Café Bizarre”.  Barely making money but leaving an impression.

Lou Reed – Sweet Jane 

Although normally, I would use the  ‘Sweet Jane” Velvet Underground version,  I like this particular “Lou Reed” version because of the guitar intro, Featuring Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter on lead guitars, Prakash John on bass, Ray Colcord, keyboards , Pentti “Whitey” Glan and Lou Reed on “vocals”. Furthermore, any version of “Sweet Jane” is a good thing!

Andy Warhol – the Exploding Plastic Inevitable

In 1965, a mutual friend introduces the Velvet Underground to Andy Warhol and shortly after, he becomes the band’s manager. One of the suggestions he gives the band is to use the singer Nico on several songs. With Warhol’s reputation,  it helps the band gain popularity. Furthermore, he also helps the band secure a recording contract with Verve Records, with him on board as a producer and giving the band free rein over the music they choose to create.

Exploding Plastic Inevitable, otherwise known as EPI, is a series of multimedia events organized by Andy Warhol between 1966 and 1967.  Featuring musical performances by The Velvet Underground and Nico. Along with screenings of Warhol’s films, and dancing and other performances by regulars of Warhol’s Factory. 

With the band performing, it’s an effort to “use rock as a part of a larger, interdisciplinary-art work based around performance. Most of the events take place at the Factory, but eventually they start to be held at different venues in New York as well as Chicago and many other cities in the U.S. and even Canada.

Changes & Creative Differences

Warhol sat Reed down and asked him if he really wanted to just keep playing museums and art events and that he should think about finding other avenues but instead Reed just fires him. Nico moves on after they severed their relationship with Andy Warhol. Furthermore, they hated their new manager Stephen Sesnick.  Reed and Cale were pulling the Velvet Underground in different directions and shortly after Cale was let go. 

Shortly before their third album,  Cale is replaced by musician Doug Yule who performed with the Boston band, the Grass Menagerie. Needless to say, the third album is a total opposite of their previous records and takes a left turn into the likes of folk music as well as more personal on many levels.  Another change is the vocals now being at the forefront. 

The Third Album & The Departure of Reed

During this time the band did a lot of touring and recording live shows in the process. The band records their third album “The Velvet Underground” in late 1968 and releases in March 1969.  Although embraced by their fans, commercially the album didn’t break the Billboard top 200.  As if things can’t get any worse, their current label drops them as well as many other bands. Shortly after, Cotillion Records, scoops them up and the band starts work on another album.  Sadly, it turns out to be the final studio album with Lou Reed.

During the “Loaded” recording sessions, the Velvet Underground secures a now-legendary nine-week residency at the New York nightclub Max’s Kansas City.  Playing two lengthy sets per night while showcasing different arrangements of older songs from their previous albums, the band also showcases the new material that would end up on “Loaded”.  The last performance of Reed with the band is recorded at Max’s and releases two years later in 1972 as “Live at Max’s Kansas City”. Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker officially reunite without Yule in 1992.

Morrison & Reed, R ‘n’ R Hall of Fame

Beginning a European in Edinburgh in 1993, which also includes a performance at Glastonbury. As well as performing as supporting act for five dates of U2’s Zoo TV Tour. With the success of the Velvet Underground’s European reunion tour, a series of US tour dates are proposed, as an MTV Unplugged broadcast, possible new studio recordings. Before any of this could happen, Cale and Reed have another fall out and the bank breaks up once more.

In 1995, Morrison dies of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and in 1996 the band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Reed, Tucker, and Cale reform the Velvet Underground for the last time. At the ceremony, the trio performs “Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend”, written in tribute to Morrison. In 2013, Lou Reed passes at his home in New York.  In 2017, John Cale and Maureen Tucker reunite to perform “I’m Waiting for the Man” at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends concert. The Velvet Underground is regarded as one of the most influential bands in rock history.

Be sure, to check out the other blog posts: