There are few holidays more "American" than the 4th of July. There are few bands as "American" as The Velvet Underground.
"I wanted to write the great American novel, but I also liked Rock and Roll." – Lou Reed
The Velvet Underground are a band you have heard of, if not exactly heard. When you do hear them, it is usually in passing, or one of two tracks from the catalogue that are favorites of whomever is presenting them. Often, you hear about their their story in terms that have nothing to do with the music or their greatness: Andy Warhol, The 1960's, Avant Garde, banana peel, etc.
They were a band that definitely broke the mold on many fronts, even with their line-ups: most of the members, like founder Lou Reed, were from or living in New York. Experimental musician John Cale and former model Nico were the exceptions, from Wales and Germany, respectively. Adding to this was that their "drummer" was a woman, Maureen Tucker, and she played a partial set, and did this standing up.
The Velvet Underground, 1969: (l-r) Doug Yule, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison. Photographer unknown, courtesy of UMG.
The decade they formed in and released most of their material in, the 1960's, saw a seismic shift in demographics that would forever alter their musical style. Thanks to the growth of the suburbs and the Second Great Migration by Blacks, older cities like New York started to decay and fall apart, while places like California would flourish. If Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys invented the concept of California as being a magical place, then Lou Reed documented the fall of New York just as perfectly.
Their sometimes abrasive sound would make them truly fringe artists during their brief lifetime, which initially included just four studio albums (a fifth one called Squeeze in 1973 without Reed is discounted by all involved), and a great many touring dates where they were lucky if 20 people would show up to see them. Much of this was due to the subject matter of their songs, which, even for so-called "progressive" radio, was too much to handle: heroin, methamphetamines, drag queens, transexuals, prostitutes, oral sex, orgies, etc. Radio refused to play them except truly underground stations emerging on the FM dial, and critics did not know what to make of them.
All Music, founded in 1991 and the premier guide to all things music on the internet, ranks them at #5 among all artists in terms of influence. The joke goes something like this: The Velvet Underground only sold 100 albums, but those 100 people went on to form bands of their own. These nine songs were chosen as a representation of the sounds, subject matter and characters that made the Velvet Underground the premier 1960's New York bohemian icons they would indelibly become.
Our tracks this week: Title, Year, Source
1. Rock & Roll, 1970, Loaded
2. Lady Godiva's Operation,, 1968, White Light/White Heat
3, I'm Waiting For The Man, 1967, The Velvet Underground and Nico
4. White Light/White Heat, recorded 1969/released 1974, 1969: The Velvet Underground Live
5. What Goes On, 1969, The Velvet Underground
6. Pale Blue Eyes, 1969, The Velvet Underground
7. Venus In Furs, 1967, The Velvet Underground and Nico
8. Sweet Jane (full length version), recorded 1970/released 1995, Peel Slowly and See (original version on Loaded)
9. Sister Ray, 1968, White Light/White Heat
Line-ups consisted of:
- 1967: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Maureen Tucker and Nico.
- 1968: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale and Maureen Tucker.
- 1969-1970: Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, Doug Yule and Maureen Tucker.
Love to you all.
Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner
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