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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Loaded – The Velvet Underground (1970)

Anyone who cares about rock music should know about this record, or at least know about The Velvet Underground. I love their records and if I really had to endure having to choose just ten records to keep, then this album and at least two of their others would be there.This album is often overlooked for their first album, or even their third and it is sometimes seen as somehow inferior to the rest of their work. Loaded is perhaps their most accessible record, but that does not mean that it’s a poor quality affair.

If you are new to The Velvet Underground then this is perhaps the best place to start (although you could endlessly argue otherwise). Here’s where the band threw everything at producing a record that would actually sell, but it didn’t work and a disgruntled Lou Reed ended up leaving due to management and song editing reasons. Another important aspect of the album is that, despite being credited as such, the great Moe Tucker did not play drums due to a pregnancy. Instead four other drummers, including Doug Yule’s brother – Billy Yule, banged away on the skins. Once you’ve listened to the Velvet’s for a while you can pick the difference.

The reason why this album has the honor of being the subject of my first main post on Closed Groove is because I recently bought a Record Store Day copy pressed onto pink vinyl. I couldn’t resist basically. Also my original copy of this record, which is a stock standard 1980’s re -release, begins with a series of loud pops and crackles, which reappear throughout the album. Such character was gained from a record player on which the stylus was never changed throughout my entire teenage years (note – change your stylus at least once a year).

The first track is the straight out pop of Who Loves the Sun, sung by Doug Yule in his best little boy voice (that’s him on the cool in the studio photo on the back cover). It’s a knowing pastiche of sixties pop and it’s also bliss. There’s just so much that’s great about this record, from the cough at 1.06 into Who Loves the Sun to the immortal twin tracks – Rock ’n’ Roll and Sweet Jane. These two tracks epitomize what’s great about the Velvet’s, including some of the best rhythm guitar playing you could ever hope to hear. Also Reed’s vocals rival Iggy Pop’s when it comes to definitive rock & roll phrasing.

The rest of the album plays to what were the Velvet’s latter day strengths - well-arranged songs big on tense ensemble playing and great rhythm guitar. Cool it Down comes on like a night in a downtown bar drunk on second-hand despair. New Age is a dorky blue –eyed soul number that Yule sings with a fragility that evokes hope within the tragedy of a life gone sour. The final minute and a half invites drunken sing-a-longs whilst sitting on a dirty couch with the streetlight coming through the window - try it sometime.

Amongst the many highlights is the up-tempo rocker Head Held High, which was mooted as a possible single, and it may have worked too. The country rock of Lonesome Cowboy Bill is one of my favourites on the album. Richie Unterberger’s great book – White Light White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day (2009) notes that this song is a reference to an Andy Warhol film, but previously I’d read that the song is in fact about William Burroughs. If you listen to the lyrics they sound like a bunch of metaphors about the life of Burroughs, which is perhaps a flawed notion, but I’m sticking with it.

I Found A Reason is soulful doo-wop sung by Yule and he nails it. Yule was a really underrated singer, although I would have loved to hear Reed sing this song. Yule sings more on this album due to the fact that at the same time the band were playing a run of gigs at Max’s Kansas City and Reed’s voice was giving way under the strain. The back-up vocals (a great love of mine) are spot on and its warmth really comes through on the vinyl. Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ is blue eyed soul to die for and is a great way to end the album.

If you haven’t played this album for a while then get it out and give it a spin. It’s perfectly sequenced, with a beautifully warm sound and fantastic songs. The Velvet Underground had more soul, street smarts and humanity than most other bands from that era and god knows we still need them now.

                                      "Hey man, it's pink vinyl!!"

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