Posts Tagged ‘John Cale’

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English folkie Nick Drake barely created a ripple during his lifetime. He recorded three albums of beautiful acoustic folk, but barely sold a copy during his lifetime. His acoustic music was sophisticated, with flourishes of jazz, and his acoustic guitar finger-picking was beautiful; he used alternative tunings to create tone clusters. Drake studied English literature at Cambridge and enjoyed the poetry of Yeats, Blake, and Vaughan; his lyrics have the same evocative spirit, with images drawn from nature.

Nick Drake passed away in 1974 from an overdose of anti-depressants, leaving a legacy of three studio albums. He didn’t enjoy playing live, and languished in obscurity despite his immense talent. The release of the “Fruit Tree” box set in 1979, shout-outs from famous fans like The Cure’s Robert Smith and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and the use of his song ‘Pink Moon’ in a US car commercial all contributed to Nick Drake’s growing stature.

By the 1990s, Nick Drake’s work, overlooked at the time, had been reassessed. Drake’s three albums are now all critically acclaimed.

Each of Nick Drake’s three studio albums provide a different angle on his acoustic folk sound. His 1969 debut, “Five Leaves Left”, is a pretty mood piece, with Drake’s guitar often accompanied by the bass of Danny Thompson (from contemporary folk-rock band Pentangle) and by Robert Kirby’s string arrangements. 1971’s “Bryter Layter” is more detailed – Drake is accompanied by a rhythm section on almost every tune. 1972’s final album, “Pink Moon”, is stark, with Drake performing completely solo – it was recorded quickly in two late night sessions.

Additionally, Time of No Reply and Made to Love Magic are overlapping compilations that mop up Drake’s studio out-takes, most notably the four songs that he recorded in July 1974. It’s worth hearing one of them, but they’re not as essential as his studio records.

All of Nick Drake’s albums require some persistence to enjoy, as Drake’s songs are subtle and nuanced, but the diversity of Bryter Layter makes it the most accessible. The fuller sound also helps; the Fairport Convention rhythm section of Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks appear, while Fairport guitarist Richard Thompson plays lead guitar on ‘Hazey Jane II’. Robert Kirby reprises his role of orchestral arrangements from Five Leaves Left, although John Cale’s beautiful arrangements on ‘Fly’ and ‘Northern Sky’ are next level.

Choosing a favourite Nick Drake album is purely an academic exercise, as all three are essential, but it’s the magical contributions of the other musicians, particularly John Cale, that elevate Bryter Layter as Nick Drake’s best album.

“One of These Things First” On the gentle and jazzy, Drake is joined by a cast of American musicians – rhythm section Ed Carter and Mike Kowalski were both involved with The Beach Boys, while pianist Paul Harris later joined Stephen Stills in Manassas. The gently meditative song was later featured in the film Garden State.

John Cale, at a loose end after his dismissal from The Velvet Underground, was sent a demo from Drake. Cale was impressed by Drake, particularly his “sensuality”, and added his arrangements to two songs on Bryter Layter. The classically trained Cale is a terrific foil for Drake, adding an exquisite beauty to his songs without drowning them in sentimentality. ‘Fly’ is the more ethereal of Cale’s two arrangements, with his viola colouring Drake’s delicate song.

The other song arranged by Cale, ‘Northern Sky’ is a romantic tale of wistful longing. While the subject of the song has never been confirmed, it was reported to have been inspired by Linda Thompson. Cale augments the song with beautiful work on celeste, piano, and organ. None of Nick Drake’s records were popular upon release, and none charted.

A contemporary review of the compilation Nick Drake in Rolling Stone by Stephen Holden read: “An incredibly slick sound that is highly dependent on production values (credit Joe Boyd) to achieve its effects, its dreamlike quality calls up the very best of the spirit of early Sixties’ jazz-pop ballad. It combines this with the contemporary introspection of British folk rock to evoke a hypnotic spell of opiated languor.”

All three of Nick Drake’s albums are included in the original edition of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

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Marissa Nadler has released a new single, and it’s a collaboration with John Cale. Listen to “Poison,” plus another new Nadler song called “If We Make It Through the Summer,” below (via KRO Records). Marissa Nadler said of the collaboration in a statement:

Sometimes it’s best not to know in advance; that’s what I continually remind myself about how this duet with legendary songwriter John Cale came together. Had I known that Justin [Raisen] and Lawrence [Rothman] would arrange for Cale to sing “Poison” with me before I wrote or recorded it, I cannot be certain I wouldn’t have become frozen with hesitations and second-guessing.

How do you even start to go about writing a duet with a member of the Velvet Underground? Surely I might have nervously changed the lyric that accidentally namechecks a title of a Velvet Underground song (“Run Run Run”), at the very least. For me, Cale is one of the most influential rock musicians, remaining admirably hard to pin down. His appearance on this song was a complete surprise to me, but the instant I heard it I knew that this was the way the song was meant to be heard.

Marissa Nadler’s latest album, For My Crimes, came out last year.

Song written by Marissa Nadler

Guitar, vocals- Marissa Nadler Featuring guest vocals by John Cale.

When John Cale left the influential iconic The Velvet Underground it was mostly because of his tense relationship with the late great legend Lou Reed. But in 1990 they both teamed up again to honour their inspirator Andy Warhol, with the masterly album ‘Songs For Drella‘, released over 30 years ago, on 11th April 1990.
Warhol had died three years before, in 1987. Drella was his nickname, a contraction of Dracula and Cinderella.

Lou Reed & John Cale forgot about their intolerable differences that drove The Velvet Underground apart back in 1968. Well they did as long as it toke to create this exceeding album in honor of versatile artist Andy Warhol who died in 1987. The fact that Reed & Cale became musical friends again, at least temporarily, proves that Warhol must have had an enormous impact on the giant duo when they picked up an instrument for the first time.

Even more than we knew. In return the pair created this beauty of an album. The warm and charismatic voices of both Reed and Cale are upfront all the time. They tell stories about their relationship with Warhol, they sing to celebrate their inspirer, they play intimate in respect for an eccentric and stirring mind. Even after his death Warhol pushed the legendary duo to produce an especial work of art.

This memorable record shows, once again, how brilliant these two splendiferous artists could be together. Thanks to their huge songwriting skills and imposing voices they made out of each of the 15 songs a compelling experience. A masterpiece indeed!.

Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “Both now nearing fifty, Reed and Cale are the survivors Warhol wasn’t fated to become. In popular music, only bluesmen and country greats have managed the maturity these two display. Fashioning a litany out of Warhol’s off-kilter pantheon Edie Sedgwick, Billy Name and Valerie Solanis (whose attempted murder of Warhol prefigured the shooting of John Lennon)  “Drella” memorializes an era the way narrative folk music generally has done. Reed and Cale add rare intelligence to their nostalgia, but it’s on a more soulful level that Drella finally hits. The subtle values of modesty, hesitance and loving observation dignify this sweet and knowing tribute to these men’s mentor, prod — and friend.”

Top Tracks: “Nobody But You / Open House / Style It Takes / Small Town”

Release date: April 11th, 1990,

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Stooges

The original punk album, The Stooges is a Molotov cocktail delivered straight to the faces of the hippies of 1969, an album made by Michigan goons who were sick of everything, and wanted to be your dog. The album marked the arrival of Iggy Pop, one of the last true rock ‘n’ roll iconoclasts, and though the album was considered an historic bomb upon its release–it never cracked the top 100–it influenced basically every glam, punk and post-punk album released in its considerable wake.

The album’s original mix by producer John Cale was infamously rejected by Elektra Records–they thought it sounded too abrasive–and it has never appeared on vinyl. Until now. A new way to hear a classic album, this version is presented in the way that John Cale originally intended,

First, there’s the story of the album, which is that when the Stooges recorded this, 51 years ago, it was produced by John Cale, fresh off quitting the Velvet Underground. And he immediately realized that the Stooges should not sound like the Doors, or the Byrds, or whoever else. They were raw power, a barely contained riot, a train bearing down on you as you’re tied to the tracks. So he gets them to record their eight songs, one of my favorite side stories is that the Stooges showed up only having five songs, thinking that was more than enough for an album, and then lied and said they had eight when questioned and had to write three more basically overnight and he mixes the album like it’s this murder in real time, just all fuzz, and violence and ooze. The suits at the label hear this mix, and say what ,in retrospect everyone would say about the version that came out: That it sounded like shit, that it sounded dumb, that it was too uncontrolled to see release. So they fire John Cale, and ditch his mixes, and Iggy and Jac Holzman from Elektra re-mix and resequence the record, which is the version that comes out now.

John Cale’s original vision was the album as sort of a redemptive arc; his version ends with “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which he saw as Iggy deciding to fall in line with society. The label saw it as one of the singles, so it’s on side one on the original version. So anyway, the original Stooges comes out, and it’s a bomb. But it secretly influences basically every hard rock band that has come since; it’s not an over-exaggeration to say that there’s basically no hard rock if the Stooges don’t lay the groundwork for punk on this album. It’s rightly lauded as one of the most important albums of all time.

Yeah, so meanwhile, there’s this version of the album that basically just lived in Stooges lore, that John Cale’s mix existed but was scrapped. And then in the early ’00s, these tapes walk into Rhino, and somehow, someone has a copy of the John Cale mixes. The speculation is that someone cut an unauthorized walking version of the album basically, one to take home and they confirmed with John Cale that what was on the tapes were his mixes. So they put the album out in digital form in 2010, however, they realize later that they actually released the album at too slow a tempo; the version on the tapes they found was likely recorded not from a deck, but from an echo machine, so for almost 10 years, the version known as the “John Cale Mix” was actually way slower than it should have been.

They corrected the tapes for the 50th Anniversary edition that came out last fall digitally. And this is the final part of the story: WEA/Rhino came to us to ask if we wanted to do the first original vinyl pressing of this album, and once we realized what they were asking, this was a no-brainer. We all listened to it, and I, for one, couldn’t believe that songs I’ve loved since I was a teen could sound even more like they were coming from the end of the scariest alley in town. We’re getting to present one of the most important albums in rock history, and doing so in the way it was originally meant to be heard. It’s a tremendous honor for all of us on the music team.

It’s one thing for us to tell you that the John Cale mix of The Stooges sounds gnarlier than the original; it’s another to let you hear it. Here’s a mini-doc telling the story of the album, and comparing the two records.

You have to remember what it was like before. For a full quarter of 1969, the No. 1 album in the country was the soundtrack to Hair, Blood, Sweat and Tears had a No. 1 album for seven weeks and, no offense to Al Kooper, but nothing on that group’s self-titled told life like it really was in 1969. The music that made its way to the charts back then, how life was on the ground for a Michigan resident raised by a working class family whose only prospects were the already-dying assembly lines or the frontlines of Vietnam.

And then, 10 days before the opening of Woodstock, it also is the ground zero for every angry album of noise that came since; without it, you don’t get glam, you don’t get British or American punk, you don’t get pop-punk, Green Day, and you maybe don’t the evolutions that happened to bring us every type of metal music. You don’t get any of it. Instead, Thank God, and Michigan, then, for The Stooges.

The Stooges were never a safe bet; not only in the “are they going to be coherent enough for shows?” way, but especially in the “These guys are gonna be stars!” way record labels are usually looking for. Fronted by James Newell Osterberg Jr., who came from a trailer park in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and who played the drums as a kid after his parents gave up their bedroom for him to have the space to play. Eventually ol’ James was banging the skins in a band called the Iguanas when he got his nickname, Iggy Pop. Sometime in 1967, at 20, and dropped out of the University of Michigan, Iggy saw the Doors, who were then known as a travelling disaster, as frontman Jim Morrison turned each gig into something like performance art crossed with a riot. Iggy decided he didn’t want to be behind the kit, and wanted to be out front doing that. He linked up with the Asheton Brothers Scott and Ron two guys who liked to party as much as he did, and could play the shit out of their drums and guitar — and Dave Alexander, a guy they all liked who had just recently started teaching himself to play the bass. They played their first show as the Psychedelic Stooges on Halloween, 1967. They’d ditch the hippie shit soon enough. Iggy and the Stooges quickly got a reputation around Michigan, particularly in Detroit, where another band of street toughs called the MC5 had set up shop. The bands became kindred spirits, and often shared bills; the MC5, though, always sounded like they wanted to be hard rock Motown, where the Stooges felt like they were a raw nerve set to make music. Anger and self-loathing and depression set to primitive funeral marches and barely contained war parades. Eventually, an enterprising A&R man from Elektra named Danny Fields signed both bands, in a bid to make Elektra the home of new Detroit rock. Both the Stooges and MC5 would be unmitigated disasters from a corporate level, the MC5 lasting a single album (1969’s live proto-punk volley Kick Out The Jams) before their careers flamed out in booze, drug busts, and legal troubles.
If Elektra was worried their two-pronged Detroit rock machine was in danger following the MC5’s debut getting savaged by Lester Bangs in the pages of Rolling Stone he eventually came around on it, as critics were allowed to do in those days — they had still had no fear in April 1969, when they sent the Stooges to Hit Factory in New York City to record their self-titled debut. They hired a recent underground rock hero named John Cale to produce the album, fresh off his time in the Velvet Underground, where his artiste sensibilities meshed with Lou Reed’s misanthropy to make the first two Velvet Underground albums, case studies in taking a label’s money, doing something no one had done before, and paying the cost for it with low sales while gaining a reputation for being ahead of your time (which the Stooges would soon follow). The Stooges came to the studio with only five songs (“No Fun,” “1969,” “Ann,” “We Will Fall,” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”), thinking that’s all they needed to make an LP, and when they were told they needed more, lied and said they had them, and went off and wrote three more (“Not Right,” “Little Doll,” and “Real Cool Time”), playing them for the first time as a whole group in front of Cale in the studio. Those eight songs served as the foundation for too many rock movements to line up in paragraph form here, but more than 50 years later, the thing that has to be remembered is how shocking something like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” had to be to people who were used to “Incense and Peppermints.” That opening noise is like an electric chair being fired up, and the death march riff sounds more evil than any Swedish Black Metal band has mustered with 50 years advancement in guitar technology. Iggy didn’t want to hold your hand, he didn’t want to be your baby; he knew he was a dirty dog, and felt he deserved to be treated as such. Iggy studied at the altar of the Chicago blues for a time in the ’60s, and from there he took the willingness to be self-effacing and pitiful; no one sounded more put through a meat-grinder before or since.                    
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Svz3va6iekThe Stooges took rock and stripped it down to its barest studs and refused to build it back up on The Stooges. Something like “No Fun” might have read to people like Robert Christgau as “stupid” in 1969, but it’s without any artifice; it’s all attitude, all raw power. “1969” was the first song about teenage malaise and boredom to actually sound like it was made by people who were sick and tired of being sick and tired; entire bands’ discographies would be pilfered from its two verses:

“Well it’s 1969 okay All across the USA It’s another year For me and you Another year With nothing to do, Last year I was 21 I didn’t have a lot of fun And now I’m gonna be 22 I say oh my and a boo hoo And now I’m gonna be 22 I say oh my and a boo hoo”

When the band finished recording in April, 1969, Cale delivered his mix to Elektra, and things hit the fan. Mixed in a raw, naked form that emphasized the sinister, wild side of the band over sonic clarity, the original Cale mix of the album was rejected by Elektra, in a portent of things to come. Cale’s mixes were thought lost before resurfacing in the early ’00s, and after being originally released at the wrong speed, they’re out on the right speed on vinyl for the first time.

But in 1969, Cale’s mixes weren’t appreciated; Elektra president Jac Holzman and Iggy himself remixed the album, bringing the vocals higher into the mix, and lowering some of the abrasiveness. At this point, it was clear both men thought the Stooges had some commercial potential if they just cleaned it up, which, even without hindsight, is enough to make you spray water out of your nose. Albums this hard didn’t move units in 1969, and they don’t move them now. The people at the front of the herd hacking their way through the wilderness don’t get to enjoy the fruits of the civilization they made possible, and The Stooges hit the marketplace like a brick to the philtrum. It made next to no impact on the charts (it eventually rose to 106 on Billboard’s album charts, but died quickly), was savaged in reviews, and was left to be consistently rediscovered by every generation of fucked up kids who came since; it eventually got its place in the pantheon, but by as much force as is present on the album.

To Elektra’s credit, they kept the Stooges on roster for another LP; 1970’s Fun House added jazz skronk to its mix via saxophonist Don Mackay, but when it too went over like a lead balloon, the band broke up, amid Iggy’s worsening heroin problems, and a lack of much juice in their career. Thanks to David Bowie staking his new stardom on his adoration for Iggy, the band reformed in 1973 on Columbia with Raw Power, and around guitarist James Williamson, whose leads were more punk fury than Asheton’s blues-based piledrivers, and that band broke up almost immediately when Iggy went further into heroin and began palling around with Bowie as a solo artist. Iggy would become something of a solo star and a cultural icon over the years, but until the early ’00s, he and the Stooges remained mostly broken up. However, they reformed with the Ashetons (Dave Alexander died in 1975 of alcoholism-related illness) back on guitar on drums, where they’d both remain until their deaths in 2009 (guitarist Ron) and 2014 (drummer Scott).

Iggy has talked recently of packing it in for good, his legacy cemented under nuclear-blast level concrete at this point. And he should; the man has lived enough lives for a whole litter of kittens. His debut album remains one of the most direct statements of purposes for a recorded body of work that has maybe ever existed; Iggy and the Stooges came to cave in heads, and it’s taken them more than 50 years to even think about stopping.

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When the Velvet Underground’s second album descended on the world in January, 1968, nobody was ready for it. As the story goes, it was a relentless, screeching, thudding, scoffing assault on the pop sensibilities of its time. For its 45th anniversary it was reissued in expanded, remastered form, and listening to White Light/White Heat now. The Velvet Underground and Nico, the year before, had had Andy Warhol’s imprimatur to promise that its passages of bleeding-raw chaos were art; it had also had the complicated but unmistakable beauty of the songs Nico sang as a lifeline for the tiny mainstream audience that caught on to it at the time. White Light/White Heat didn’t have that either.

By the time they released it, the Velvets were downplaying the art-world connection (despite the very arty slash in the album’s title, and the fact that its black-on-black sleeve was designed by the Factory’s Billy Name). Nico was now out of the band, although bassist John Cale would continue to work with her for years. And the album was a relentless, screeching, thudding, scoffing assault on the pop sensibilities of its time: six songs with lyrics designed to horrify the bourgeoisie (not that they’d have listened to the Velvet Underground in the first place), ending with a one-take, two-chord, 17-minute speed freakout. It clung to the bottom of the album chart for two weeks, disappeared, and went on to become the glorious, tainted fountain from which all scuzz flows.

That’s the White Light/White Heat of legend, anyway, keeping time was never their strong point—it’s been reissued in expanded, remastered form, as if what this pinnacle of sloppy noise needed was remastering. As always, the title track, which seems like it should start cold with Cale and Sterling Morrison’s backing vocals, sounds like it’s had a little trimmed off the top to remove an extraneous sound—although, of course, extraneous sounds are kind of the whole point of this album. When I first bought it in 1973, when I first became a Lou Reed fan, but over the years I have become to love it almost as much as “VU and NIco”. It is certainly harder to get into on first listenings, at least for someone who likes 3-minute songs and nice melodies – “Here She Comes Now” is about the only song on the original album you could call “pretty”. But it is an absolute classic. Side 2 of the original album has become my favourite side, with “I Heard Her Call my Name” an amazing bit of guitar playing, must have been one of the wildest songs ever recorded at that time, and “Sister Ray” at 17 minutes long, wasn’t exactly designed for maximum radio airplay.

Lou Reed’s song writing is often a lot more conventional than it’s reputed to be. Strip away the noise and flash and references to illicit drugs and sex, and “White Light/White Heat”, “Here She Comes Now”, and “I Heard Her Call My Name” are all the sort of simple rock’n’roll that Reed had been cranking out at Pickwick Records a couple of years earlier. (So is “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, recorded in scorching instrumental form at the White Light sessions.

If you get the 45th anniversary 2-CD version you are getting the best value for money, with various extra tracks, not all of them essential, but “Stephanie Says” is an absolutely beautiful song, and there is a wonderful, chugging, early version of “Beginning to see the Light”, and of course you get the excellent “Live at the Gymnasium” as well.

On the Anniversary set, the live disc appended to this edition is a reminder that the Velvet Underground were radical in a totally acceptable way for their time—that, professionally speaking, they were a party band with an audience of hippies, who appeared on bills with the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Chicago Transit Authority the year White Light/White Heat came out. The performance, apparently from John Cale’s collection, was recorded at the Gymnasium in New York in April, 1967 (two of its songs previously appeared on the 1995 Peel Slowly and See box set). It presents the Velvets as a full-on boogie band, whose set is bookended by the instrumental grooves “Booker T.” and “The Gift”—turns out they’re slightly different songs, contrary to what VU fans have assumed for the past few decades. The rest of the gig includes what might or might not have been the first public performance of “Sister Ray” (it was still a very new song, at any rate), and one legit addition to the canon: “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore”, a chugging electric blues that wouldn’t have been out of place in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s early repertoire.

What possessed Cale to start playing an out-of-time, two-note bass part louder than anything else at the end of “White Light/White Heat”, and how could he have guessed that that was a great idea? Was the famous split-second pause before Reed’s splatter bomb solo on “I Heard Her Call My Name” intentional? What the fuck was up with Reed filling in words—”SWEETLY!”—in the middle of Cale’s vocal on “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, and why is it still hilarious? Speaking of that song, might lyrics about a delicate hypersexual creature interacting with “another curly-headed boy,” directly followed by a medical horror-show, have anything to do with a curly-headed songwriter who was given electroconvulsive therapy to “cure” his bisexuality as a teenager? Why is “Sister Ray” way, way more potent than any other extended jam on a simple riff by any other American band of the 60s?

It’s surprising to hear anything besides the universe catching its breath after “Sister Ray” ends, but the first disc of this reissue is filled out with other previously released evidence of John Cale’s final months in the Velvet Underground: the instrumental “Guess I’m Falling In Love”, both versions of the electric-viola showcase “Hey Mr. Rain”, and the band’s thoroughly charming stab at making a commercially viable single, “Temptation Inside Your Heart”/”Stephanie Says”. There’s also a previously unheard alternate take of “I Heard Her Call My Name” (not quite as good as the official one, and mostly interesting to hear which of Reed’s apparent ad-libs weren’t), and one fascinating curio: an early version of “Beginning to See the Light”, recorded at the “Temptation Inside Your Heart” session. By the time the song appeared on The Velvet Underground in 1969, it had become lither and wittier, and Reed had sharpened a few of its lyrics; this broad-shouldered, clomping version is distinctly not there yet, but everything the Velvets released on their official albums is so canonical that it’s strange and heartening to realize that their songs didn’t just spring into existence already perfect.

No one wonders why bands still love to cover “I Wanna be Your Dog” in 2014. In fact, even in its much tamer studio version, The Stooges’ feedback-heavy force of a song still out-fought most hard-rockers in ’69, only being outdone by Detroit brothers The MC5. It’s a blistering piece of proto-punk, one that set the stage for any outlandish, fuzzed-out guitar line that would follow in a garage, and Iggy Pop’s unforgettable wails—“Now I wanna be your dog!”—can’t be unheard.

“I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges is one of the nastiest, filthiest, sexiest rock blasts of all time with its repetitive and monstrous guitar drone, Iggy‘s horny barks and that single-note piano riff played by producer John Cale (then member of The Velvet Underground). The single was released back in 1969 and a couple of decades later Sonic Youth played a S-H-A-T-T-E-R-I-N-G live version on some American TV Show with a bunch of crazed guests, including a far-out saxophonist and… a mental flutist.

I Wanna Be Your Dog” is a 1969 song by the American rock band The Stooges. The song is included on their self-titled debut album. Its memorable riff, composed of only three chords (G, F♯ and E), is played continuously throughout the song (excepting two brief 4-bar bridges). The 3-minute-and-9-second-long song, with its raucous, distortion-heavy guitar intro, pounding, single-note piano riff played by producer John Cale and steady, driving beat, established The Stooges at the cutting edge example of the heavy metal and punk sound.The song notably uses sleigh bells throughout.

This 3 x CD Collection brings together a set of rare recordings by the Velvets, 50 plus years (for most) after they were first made and which will complete collections worldwide for the millions of fans still flying the flag for this strange collective. Everything about The Velvet Underground was astonishing. Take a female drummer with one beat (Mo Tucker), a classically trained Welshman (John Cale), a blonde German beauty who couldn’t sing (Nico), and two buddies from Syracuse University (Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed) who all came together as a band formed to promote Lou’s song ‘The Ostrich’.

Add another blonde who painted soup cans, a name derived from a novel about sado-masochism and Verve as a major label, and you arrive at the Velvet Underground, a band who rewrote the rules for music as we know it.

CD ONE features rehearsals for the band s first album, bizarrely broadcast across radio waves at the time, and which give a sense of quite how that seismic album came to be. The first disc also includes three rare live cuts recorded in NYC the same year.

CD TWO includes the group s show at La Cave in Cleveland, Ohio on 2nd October 1968, by which time John Cale had been fired from the group and had just been replaced by Doug Yule for this show.

CD THREE contains the concert given by Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris on 19th January 1972, a show as legendary as the band whose name remains the starting point for all modern music.

White Light/White Heat Magazine Ad

Recorded in a short flurry of studio sessions in September 1967, and released on January 30th, 1968, White Light/White Heat the band’s final studio album with co-founder and multi-instrumentalist John Cale  boasted none of the louche charm of the Velvets’ 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico; nor, for that matter, did it contain any of the hushed melodicism heard on the band’s self-titled 1969 LP, and it was utterly devoid of any instant classic-rock anthems . With its needle-pinning assault of overdriven instruments, and lyrics about methamphetamine abuse (the title track), botched medical procedures (“Lady Godiva’s Operation”), grisly violence (“The Gift”), cries from beyond the grave (“I Heard Her Call My Name”) and heroin-dealing drag queens (“Sister Ray”), White Light/White Heat was all about pushing the boundaries of sound and taste. Even 50 years after its initial release, it remains a bracing and challenging listen. “It’s a very rabid record,” Cale opined in the liner notes to the 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See. “The first one had some gentility, some beauty. The second one was consciously anti-beauty.”

BY MID-1967, ONLY a few months after The Velvet Underground’s debut album was released, their iconic ice queen singer Nico was a solo artist, and pop art svengali Andy Warhol was no longer managing and feeding the group. Warhol’s parting gift: the all-black cover idea for their follow-up – the album they would name “White Light/White Heat”. Meanwhile, the band scrabbled to survive in the drug-soaked art-scene demi-monde of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

“Our lives were chaos,” VU guitarist Sterling Morrison told me in 1994. “Things were insane, day in and day out: the people we knew, the excesses of all sorts. For a long time, we were living in various places, afraid of the police. At the height of my musical career, I had no permanent address.”

There were mounting internal tensions, too, over direction and control between Lou Reed and John Cale, the group’s founders, especially after their debut album’s failure to launch. “White Light/White Heat was definitely the raucous end of what we did,” Morrison affirmed. But, he insisted, “We were all pulling in the same direction. We may have been dragging each other off a cliff, but we were definitely all going in the same direction.”

From that turbulence and frustration, Reed, Cale, Morrison and drummer Moe Tucker created their second straight classic. Where The Velvet Underground And Nico was a demonstration of breadth and vision, developed in near-invisibility even before the band met Warhol  “We rehearsed for a year for that album, without doing anything else,” Cale claims  “White Light/White Heat” was a more compact whiplash: the exhilarating guitar violence starting with the title track, peaking in Reed’s atonal-flamethrower solo in I Heard Her Call My Name; the experimental sung and spoken noir of Lady Godiva’s Operation and The Gift; the propulsive, distorted eternity of sexual candour and twilight drug life, rendered dry and real in Reed’s lethal monotone, in Sister Ray.

“By this time, we were a touring band,” Cale explains. “And the sound we could get on stage – we wanted to get that on the record. In some performances, Moe would go up first, start a backbeat, then I would come out and put a drone on the keyboard. Sterling would start playing, then Lou would come out, maybe turn into a Southern preacher at the mike. That idea of us coming out one after the other, doing whatever we wanted, that individualism – it’s there on Sister Ray, in spades.”

White Light/White Heat was also the Velvets’ truest record, the most direct, uncompromised document of their deep, personal connections to New York’s avant-garde in the mid-’60s; the raw, independent cinema of Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas and Piero Heliczer; Cale’s pre-Velvets experiences in drone, improvisation and radical composition with John Cage and the early minimalists La Monte Young and Tony Conrad; Reed’s dual immersion, from his days at Syracuse University, in the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor and the metropolitan-underworld literature of William Burroughs and Hubert Selby, Jr.

largely ignored by the music press at the time, White Light/White Heat would prove profoundly influential upon such artists as the Stooges, David Bowie, Jonathan Richman, Suicide, the Buzzcocks and a little band called Nirvana, to name a few – and in 2003, Rolling Stone ranked White Light/White Heat at Number 293 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album has also gained new fans over the years via various reissues, and will surely make some additional converts via its inclusion in Verve Records/UMe’s forthcoming 180-gram vinyl box set, The Velvet Underground, which drops February 23rd and will contain “definitive stereo editions” of the band’s four studio albums, as well as Nico’s 1967 album Chelsea Girl, and a two-LP recreation of the band’s much-mythologized “lost” album from 1969.

The White Light/White Heat 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition. Includes mono mix, outtakes and full live set from The Gymnasium, New York, April 30th, 1967.

White/Light Super Deluxe Edition 2013
Test Pressing White Light/White Heat
Test pressing of Lady Godiva’s Operation, the “experimental noir” from the White Light/White Heat sessions.

“I’m in there with a B.A. in English – I’m no naif,” Reed said shortly before his death. “And being in with that crowd, the improvisers, the film-makers, of course it would affect where I was going. We said it a hundred times; people thought we were being arrogant and conceited. We’re reading those authors, watching those Jack Smith movies. What did you think we were going to come out with?”

The Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat

The Velvet Underground as they were on the eve of White Light/White Heat’s release. from top left: Maureen “Moe” Tucker, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale.
The Velvets were also a rock band, with roots in that ferment but ambitions charged by the other modern action around them. “There was close competition with Bob Dylan,” Cale admits. “He was getting into people’s heads. We thought we could do that.”“Maybe our frustrations led the way,” Morrison said of White Light/White Heat. “But we were already pretty much into it. We had good amps, good distortion devices. We were the first American band to have an endorsement deal with Vox.” The album, he contended, “was just us using the Vox amps and playing them emphatically.”“They say rock is life-affirming music,” Reed says. “You feel bad, you put on two minutes of this – boom. There’s something implicit in it. And we were the best, the real thing. You listen to the Gymnasium tape [the live set included with the Deluxe reissue], this album – there is the real stuff. It’s aggressive, yes. But it’s not aggressive-bad. This is aggressive, going to God.”
Lou Reed

LOU REED  : 1942-2013. Guitarist/vocalist and primary songwriter. “No one censured it,” he said of WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT. “Because no one listened to it.”

John Cale

JOHN CALE : Bass guitar/viola/keyboards. The classically trained Welshman provided the deadpan monologue for The Gift: “Everyone was hellbent on being heard.”

Sterling Morrison

STERLING MORRISON : 1942-1995. Guitar and “medical sound effects” on Lady Godiva’s Operation: “Maybe our frustrations led the way.”

Moe Tucker

MOE TUCKER : Drums. Provider of the group’s relentless, unfussy propulsion. “The songs were the songs,” she drily notes.

Andy Warhol

 In September 1967 at Mayfair Studios – located on Seventh Avenue near Times Square and the only eight-track operation in town – The Velvet Underground put White Light/White Heat to tape. “I think it was five days,” Cale has said.

Gary Kellgren, Mayfair’s house engineer, previously worked with the Velvets on part of the debut ‘Banana’ album and engineered the spring-’67 recording of Nico’s solo debut, Chelsea Girl. The producer, officially, was TomWilson, also with a track record with the group. In 1965, when the producer was still at Columbia, he invited Reed and Cale to play for him in his office. “We dragged Lou’s guitar, my viola and one amplifier up there,” said Cale. “We played Black Angel’s Death Song for him. He knew there was energy and potential.” At Mayfair, Cale mostly remembered Wilson’s “parade of beautiful girls, coming through all the time. He had an incredible style with women.”

White Light/White Heat Test Pressing
That’s the single! Test pressing of the ill-fated White Light/White Heat 45.

 

But the Velvets’ volume and aggression posed problems for the recording men, and Reed insisted that Kellgren simply walked out during Sister Ray. “At one point, he turns to us and says, ‘You do this. When you’re done, call me.’ Which wasn’t far from the record company’s attitude. Everything we did – it came out. No one censured it. Because no one listened to it.”

On Sister Ray, Reed sang live across the feral seesawing of the guitars, drums and Cale’s Vox organ as each pressed for dominance in the mix. “It was competition,” Cale says. “Everyone was hellbent on being heard.” The ending, though, was easy. “We just knew when it was over,” Morrison remembered. “It felt like ending. And it did.”

There was a real Sister Ray: “This black queen,” Reed says. “John and I were uptown, out on the street, and up comes this person – very nice, but flaming.” Reed wrote the words, a set of incidents and character studies, on a train ride from Connecticut after a bad Velvets show there. “It was a propos of nothing. ‘Duck and Sally inside’ – it’s a taste of Selby, uptown. And the music was just a jam we had been working on” – provisionally titled Searchin’, after one of the lyrics (“I’m searchin’ for my mainline”).

“The lyrics aren’t negative,” Reed argues. “White Light/White Heat – it has to do with methamphetamine. SisterRay is all about that. But they are telling you stories – and feelings. They are not stupid. And the rhythm is interesting. But you’d think that. I studied long enough.”

White Light/White Heat is renowned for its distortion and unforgiving thrust. But it also features the simple, airy yearning of Here She Comes Now, one of the Velvets’ finest ballads. And there are telling, human details even in the noise, like the breakdown at the end of White Light/White Heat, when Cale’s frantic, repetitive bass playing leaps forward in an out-of-time spasm. “I’m pretty sure it broke down,” he says of his part, “because my hand was falling off.”

White Light/White Heat Magazine Ad

Lady Godiva’s Operation was, Cale explains, “a radio-theatre piece, trying to use the studio to create this panorama of a story” – lust, transfiguration and ominously vague surgery that goes fatally wrong. The Gift was just the band and Cale’s rich Welsh intonation. Reed wrote the story – an examination of nerd-ish obsession peppered with wily minutiae (the Clarence Darrow Post Office) and ending in sudden death – at Syracuse University, for a creative writing class. Reed: “The idea was two things going at once”  Cale in one stereo channel, music in the other. “If you got tired of the words, you could just listen to the instrumental.”

Cale’s reading was a first take. The sound of the blade plunging through the cardboard, “right through the centre of Waldo Jeffers’ head,” was Reed stabbing a canteloupe with a knife. Frank Zappa, also working at Mayfair with The Mothers Of Invention, was there. “He said, ‘You’ll get a better sound if you do it this way,’” Reed recalled. “And then he says, ‘You know, I’m really surprised how much I like your album,’” referring to the ‘Banana’ LP. “Surprised? OK.” Reed smiled. “He was being friendly.”

Wayne McGuire’s ecstatic review of White Light/White Heat, in a 1968 issue of rock magazine Crawdaddy, cited Reed’s playing in “I Heard Her Call My Name” as “the most advanced lead guitar work I think you’re going to hear for at least a year or two.” McGuire also noted the jazz in there, comparing the album – especially SisterRay – to recordings by Cecil Taylor and the saxophonists John Coltrane and Albert Ayler. “Sister Ray is much like [Coltrane’s] Impressions,” McGuire wrote, “in that it is a sustained exercise in emotional stampede and modal in the deepest sense: mode as spiritual motif, mode as infinite musical universe.”.The Velvet Underground 1968

There was a single, the title track coupled with Here She Comes Now. It didn’t help. By the fall of 1968, Cale was gone. Forced to leave the group he co-founded, the Welshman embarked on a second career as a producer, composer and solo artist that continues to this day.The Velvets went back on the road, and soon into the studio, with a new bassist, Doug Yule. They found a new power in quiet and more decorative pop on their next two albums, until Reed left in 1970 to begin, eventually, his own extraordinary solo life. Live, without Cale, the Velvets still played Sister Ray.The “Deluxe” collection includes Cale’s last studio sessions with The Velvet Underground. Temptation Inside Your Heart and Stephanie Says were recorded in New York in February, 1968, produced by the band for a prospective single (according to Cale and Morrison). Temptation was their idea of a Motown dance party, with congas and comic asides caught by accident as Reed, Cale and Morrison overdubbed their male-Marvelettes harmony vocals. Stephanie Says was the first of Reed’s portrait songs, named after women in crisis and overheard conversation (Candy Says, Lisa Says, Caroline Says I and II). Cale’s viola hovered through the arrangement like another singer: graceful and comforting.

White Light/White Heat Master Tape
Original studio tape box for I Think I’m Falling In Love, aka Guess I’m Falling In Love. An instrumental outtake on the White Light/White Heat reissue, a vocal version also appears on the Live At The Gymnasium disc.
White Light/White Heat Master Tape
The original mono master tape of the White Light/White Heat album. Note correction of “Searching”, the original title of Sister Ray.

On a spare day in May, 1968, between shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Velvets returned to L.A.’s T.T.G. Studios – where they had worked on The Velvet Underground And Nico – and taped two versions of another viola feature, Hey Mr. Rain. In a 1994 interview, Cale described the song’s droning melancholy and rhythmic suspense as “trying to have a pressure cooker. That’s what those songs were about – Sister Ray, European Son [on The Velvet Underground And Nico], Hey Mr. Rain. They were things we could exploit on stage, flesh out and improvise. But we were driving it into the ground. We hadn’t spent any time quietly puttering around the way we did before the first album.”

The classic quartet cut another song at T.T.G., a recently unearthed attempt at Reed’sBeginning To See The Light. The song, briskly redone with Yule, would open Side Two of the Velvets’ third album. This take has a vintage kick – Martha & The Vandellas’ Dancing In The Street taken at the gait of I’m Waiting For The Man. You also hear the impending change. “Here comes two of you/Which one would you choose?,” Reed sings, an intimation of the cleaving that would alter the Velvets for good.

“John has said we didn’t get to finish what we started – that is sadly true,” Reed acknowledged. “However, as far as we got, that was monumental.” White Light/White Heat, everything leading to it and gathered here – “I would match it,” he says, “with anything by anybody, anywhere, ever. No group in the world can touch what we did.”

Back in 1994,  Moe Tucker was asked about the fuzz and chaos of White Light/White Heat how much they reflected the daily trials and tensions of being The Velvet Underground, always first and alone in their ideals and attack. She replied with her usual, common sense: “I don’t know if I go along with that. The songs were the songs, and the way we played them was the way we each wanted to play them.”

Anything else, she declared with a grin, was “a little too philosophical.”

“THAT WAS MONUMENTAL. I WOULD MATCH IT WITH ANYTHING BY ANYBODY, ANYWHERE, EVER. NO GROUP IN THE WORLD CAN TOUCH WHAT WE DID.”– Lou Reed

The album’s ugly and aggressive sound was an intentional reaction against the flower-power vibe of the “Summer of Love”.
When the Velvet Underground entered New York’s Mayfair Sound Studios to begin work on the album in September 1967, the vaunted “Summer of Love” was still grooving in San Francisco and blissed-out hippie scenes were something the Velvets wanted absolutely no part of. “Inspired by media hype, and encouraged by deceitful songs on the radio (Airplane, Mamas and Papas, Eric Burdon), teenage ninnies flocked from Middle-America out to the coast,” Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison remembered in Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga’s Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. “And so, at the height of the ‘Summer of Love,’ we stayed in NYC and recorded White Light/White Heat, an orgasm of our own.”

“It was very funny – until there were a lot of casualties,” said Lou Reed of the hippie movement in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview. “Then it wasn’t funny anymore. I don’t think a lot of people realized at the time what they were playing with. That flower-power thing eventually crumbled as a result of drug casualties and the fact that it was a nice idea but not a very realistic one. What we, the Velvets, were talking about, though it seemed like a down, was just a realistic portrayal of certain kinds of things.”

The album’s fuzzed-out guitar sounds were the direct result of the band’s endorsement deal with Vox, the British musical-equipment manufacturer.
Initially popularized in America by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and other British Invasion acts who used their amplifiers, organs and guitars, England’s Vox company struck an endorsement deal with the Velvet Underground in 1966, making Reed & Co. one of (if not the) first American bands to endorse their gear. The powerful Vox amps and fuzz pedals enabled the band to experiment with volume and distortion, which they pushed to the fullest extent on White Light/White Heat. “Those guys used Vox amps and Vox fuzz boxes for the first two albums,” Velvets obsessive Jonathan Richman explained to Bockris and Malanga. “On stuff like ‘Sister Ray’ and ‘The Gift,’ the fuzz is important. Vox fuzz bozes are distinct from other fuzz sounds. Lou used to use the built-in mid-range boost peculiar to Vox amplifiers a lot.” “White Light/White Heat was just us using the Vox amps and playing them emphatically,” added Morrison, with some degree of understatement.

Though generally thought to be about methamphetamine, “White Light/White Heat” may also have been partly inspired by Lou Reed’s interest in metaphysics.
Given Lou Reed and John Cale’s well-known affection for methamphetamine use during the Velvets’ early years, the album’s title track has long been interpreted as nothing more than an enthusiastic ode to shooting speed. But according to Richie Unterberger’s White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day, Reed hinted in a November 1969 radio interview that the song may have also had something to do with his lesser-known interest in metaphysical studies. “I’ve been involved and interested in what they call ‘white light’ for a long time,” he told an interviewer at KVAN in Portland, Oregon, noting his recent investigation of a Japanese form of healing “that’s a way of giving off white light.” In the same interview, he also cited Alice Bailey’s A Treatise on White Magic – which includes instructions on how to “call down a stream of pure White Light” – calling it “an incredible book.”

Lou Reed used a cantaloupe on the album, at the urging of Frank Zappa.
On the track “The Gift,” John Cale reads a short story, written by Reed, about a lovesick young man named Waldo Jeffers, who tries to surprise his girlfriend by mailing himself to her in a large cardboard box, but meets a grisly end when her unsuspecting friend uses a sheet-metal cutter to open the package. “I wrote ‘The Gift’ while I was at college,’ Reed told Lester Bangs in a May 1971 Creem Magazine interview. “I used to write lots of short stories, especially humorous pieces like that. So. one night Cale and I were sitting around and he said, ‘Let’s put one of those stories to music.'”

In order to achieve the sound of a blade plunging through Jeffers‘ skull, Reed (depending on who’s telling the story) either stabbed a cantaloupe with a knife, or smashed it with a wrench – directed by none other than Frank Zappa, who was recording with the Mothers of Invention at the same studio. “He said, ‘You’ll get a better sound if you do it this way,'” Reed later recalled  “And then he says, ‘You know, I’m really surprised by how much I like your album.'”

“Here She Comes Now” was originally written to be sung by Nico.
A sequel to Lou Reed’s mysterious character study “Femme Fatale,” “Here She Comes Now” was originally intended as a vehicle for Nico, the German chanteuse who – at the suggestion of then-manager Andy Warhol – had sung “Femme Fatale,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties” on the Velvet Underground’s first album. She reportedly sang “Here She Comes Now” at a few live performances, as well; and while there’s no recorded version of the song with her on vocals, it’s easy to imagine her Teutonic tones icily caressing lines like “She looks so good/But she’s made out of wood.” But after the band parted ways with both Warhol and Nico in the spring of 1967, it fell to Lou Reed to record the vocals of the song for White Light/White Heat.

Lou Reed’s guitar solo on “I Heard Her Call My Name” was a tribute to jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman.
Throughout his career, Reed often spoke about his love of free jazz, and specifically the music of saxophonist Ornette Coleman. “There were two sides of the coin for me,” he said to David Fricke in 1989. “R&B, doo-wop, rockabilly. And then Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, stuff like that. When I was in college, I had a jazz radio show. I called it Excursion on a Wobbly Rail, after a Cecil Taylor song. I used to run around the Village following Ornette Coleman wherever he played.”

Reed’s free jazz influence is apparent on several of White Light/White Heat’s tracks – especially on the vicious, mind-splitting guitar solo in “I Heard Her Call My Name,” which found him cranking up his amp and channeling his inner Coleman. “I wanted to play like that,” Reed said. “I used the distortion to connect the notes, so you didn’t hear me hesitating and thinking. … I never thought of it as violent. I thought it was amazing fun.”

A studio engineer was so put off by “Sister Ray” that he actually left the studio while it was being recorded.
Clocking in at 17-and-a-half minutes on record – and often much longer in concert – the tawdry epic “Sister Ray” was one of Andy Warhol’s favorite songs from the Velvet Underground’s live sets. “When we were making the second record,” Lou Reed “He said, ‘Now you gotta make sure that you do the ‘sucking on my ding-dong’ song.’ ‘Okay, Andy.’ He was a lot of fun, he really was.”

However, one of the engineers working on White Light/White Heat  either Gary Kellgren or Val Valentine, both of whom worked on the record in an engineering capacity was far less amused when the band was recording the improvisatory track in the studio. In Anthony DeCurtis’ Lou Reed: A Life, Reed recounts that, “When we recorded ‘Sister Ray,’ the engineer stood up and said, ‘Listen, I’m leaving. You can’t pay me enough to listen to this crap. I’ll be down in the commissary getting coffee. When you’re done, hit that button and come get me.’ That’s completely true.”

Producer Tom Wilson spent more time chasing women than actually overseeing the album.
Though White Light/White Heat producer Tom Wilson who had also helmed albums by Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Mothers of Invention – had previously worked with the Velvets on The Velvet Underground and Nico, the band wasn’t always thrilled with his involvement (or lack thereof) during the sessions for White Light/White Heat. “He knew more, uh, ladies of the night than there are women on this planet,” John Cale recalled to Creem in 1987. “He’s a swinger par excellence. It was unbelievable, a constant parade into that studio. He was inspired, though, and used to joke around to keep everybody in the band light.” Velvets drummer Moe Tucker was particularly incensed when Wilson became too distracted by what she described as “the blondes running through the studio” to remember to turn up the microphones on her drums during a specific break in “Sister Ray.” “I could have killed myself,” she later complained to the Velvet Underground fanzine What Goes On. “‘Cause we did two takes of that as I recall, and it came out nice, it was really good, and here’s this part that drops out the bottom. I was tapping on the rim, and it wasn’t recorded. And of course everybody thinks that I stopped playing the drums, which infuriates me.”

The album’s cover art was a “parting gift” from Andy Warhol.
When the Velvets and Andy Warhol parted ways shortly after the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the split wasn’t exactly an amicable one. “He sat down and had a talk with me,” Lou Reed told Rolling Stone in 1989. “[He said] ‘You gotta decide what you want to do. Do you want to keep just playing museums from now on and the art festivals? Or do you want to start moving into other areas? Lou, don’t you think you should think about it?’ So I thought about it, and I fired him. Because I thought that was one of the things to do if we were going to move away from that. He was furious. I’d never seen Andy angry, but I did that day. He was really mad. Called me a rat. That was the worst thing he could think of.”

But by the end of 1967, Warhol’s anger had subsided enough for him to suggest an idea for the design of White Light/White Heat’s album cover. According to a December 1967 letter from Lou Reed to Gerard Malanga, it was Warhol’s idea to use “a black-on-black picture of a motorcyclist tattoo by Billy [Name]. Beautiful. ALL BLACK!” Reed had seen the tattoo in question on the bicep of actor Joe Spencer in Warhol’s film Bike Boy; and with Warhol’s permission, Factory artist Billy Name blew up a black-and-white negative frame from the film and set it against a black background, creating a cover that was the very antithesis of the psychedelic, Sgt. Pepper–inspired imagery that was everywhere at the time.

“White Light/White Heat” and “Here She Comes Now” were banned in several radio markets because of their content.
Though the songs “White Light/White Heat” and “Here She Comes Now” sounded like nothing else on the American airwaves in late 1967, Verve, the band’s label, decided to release the songs – the two shortest cuts on White Light/White Heat – to radio on a seven-inch single. Unsurprisingly, the single stiffed, and so few were even pressed that original copies now change hands for hundreds of dollars. But while the songs had little commercial appeal to begin with, members of the band would claim on several occasions that they had actually been banned – the raging “White Light/White Heat” because of its drug references, and the quieter “Here She Comes Now” due to what some programmers perceived as sexual content. “We put out ‘Here She Comes Now’ in San Francisco and they said, ‘That’s about a girl coming,'” Reed recalled. “And I said, ‘Well no, it’s not, it’s about somebody coming into a room.’ And then I listened to the record and I realized it probably was about a girl coming as a matter of fact, but then again, so what? But we were banned again.”

WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT REISSUE VINYL, DELUXE & SUPER DELUXE EDITIONS

White Light/White Heat Deluxe Edition

“NO ONE LISTENED TO IT. BUT THERE IT IS, FOREVER – THE QUINTESSENCE OF ARTICULATED PUNK. AND NO ONE GOES NEAR IT.”Lou Reed, August, 2013,
Thanksto David Fricke and Mojo Magazine for words

A half a century ago this year, the Velvet Underground released its debut LP, “The Velvet Underground & Nico.” This enduringly transgressive album would go on to earn the music-industry axiom, that although relatively few people bought it initially, everyone who did started a band.

The Velvet Underground — featuring Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker, with additional vocals from the German singer Nico — would enter Scepter Studios in New York to record its first professional demos of songs like “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Heroin.”

One night at a club in New York — described in The New York Times then as “the temporary cinema-discotheque that Andy Warhol , the apostle of Pop Culture, has installed at 23 St. Marks Place” it was all so new. Attendees, wrote, you could “grope their way to the dance floor in blackness that is broken only by hallucinatory flashes of multicolored lights in order to wriggle, writhe and tremble to the music of the Velvet Undergrounds, a four-piece band whose chanteuse is a fashion model answering only to the name of Nico.” The group was merely a detail in the story and getting its name right was not yet a priority.

The concert was part of Warhol’s traveling multimedia shows, known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which mixed projected films, live music and dance. (The entry fee for the night: $2.) Gerard Malanga, a Warhol associate and Factory collaborator, can be seen shimmying onstage with the fresh-faced Velvets. “It was an ephemeral but everlasting experience,” he recalled in an interview this week.

While the images show a split between the squares seated, straight-faced, at clothed tables, and those letting loose on the dance floor, Mr. Malanga remembered the atmosphere as “one of participation and excitement.”

“The crowd looks like they were all grown-ups everybody looks so well-behaved,” he said. “I do remember it being younger and more lively.”

In the celebration of the 50-year anniversary of “The Velvet Underground & Nico” — plus the news that Lou Reed’s personal archive has now been acquired by the New York Public Library.

By now it’s a pretty famous story of how some guy found a one-of-a-kind acetate pressing of an early, 1966 version of what would become “The Velvet Underground and Nico” album on a New York City street for 75 cents, then sold it on eBay for 25 Grand. It’s known as “The Norman Dolph Acetate”,
The acetate itself was of course very scratchy. This bootleg vinyl released a couple years ago, apparently from Sweden but who knows, offers a beautifully cleaned-up version of the acetate. But you should also go to WFMU’s blog and get the original, scratchy version. For comparison at least. Or history. Apparently this recording was sent back from Columbia Records with a note that said, “You have got to be fucking kidding!” Note that this version of the LP starts off, audaciously, with an even noisier version of European Son, a whole minute longer at 8:49 and a whole lot more cacophonous than the final version which ended up at the opposite end, closing the LP. Also notable are very different versions of “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Venus In Furs”.

That album was The Velvet Underground and Nico, a uniquely groundbreaking release from a band of arty New York misfits and marketed by the creative whims of one of the most iconic figures of the time:Andy Warhol . The cornerstone of the Velvet Underground’s image and sound was the songwriting of Lou Reed. A socially-awkward Jewish kid from Long Island, Reed’s musical voice, like so many others, was forged in pop and in pain. He taught himself how to play R&B songs on guitar by listening to the radio, eventually forming a doo-wopish group as a teen. Reed also began suffering panic attacks and after a mental breakdown following his first semester at NYU, his parents submitted him for electroshock therapy.

“Panic attacks and social phobias beset him,” wrote Reed’s sister, Merrill Reed Weiner, in 2015. “He possessed a fragile temperament. His hyper-focus on the things he liked led him to music and it was there that he found himself.”

But Lou Reed’s love of music became his guide, and rock ‘n’ roll became his voice. He eventually landed work as a pop songwriter, churning out middling hits for Pickwick Records while composing songs for himself on the side. His approach was to keep things simple and direct.

“I studied classical piano, and the minute I could play something I started writing new things,” Reed said in 2004. “And I switched to guitar and did the same thing. And the nice thing about rock is, besides the fact that I was in love with it, anyone can play that. And to this day anyone can play a Lou Reed song. Anybody. It’s the same essential chords, just various ways of looking at them. There is nothing special about it, and it only becomes special when I can’t do it. When I can’t do it I’m very impressed by the person who can, and when I can do it, it means nothing. But I would write new things from the day I could play anything.”

Reed had been inspired by as much as R&B as pop, and his edgy approach belied a music lover whose tastes were informed by a wide variety of influences.

“There were two sides of the coin for me: That kind of music—R&B, doo-wop, rockabilly. And then Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, stuff like that,” Reed told rock journalist David Fricke in 1989. “When I was in college, I had a jazz radio show. I called it Excursion on a Wobbly Rail, after a Cecil Taylor song. I used to run around the Village following Ornette Coleman wherever he played. There was his song ‘Lonely Woman,’ Charlie Haden’s bass on that [he hums the riff]. Extraordinary.”

What would become the Velvet Underground started in 1964, when Reed met experimental instrumentalist John Cale and formed a band called The Primitives. With Reed on guitar and Cale on virtually everything else, they eventually added guitarist Sterling Morrison and percussionist Angus Maclise. After a short stint as The Falling Spikes, the fledgling quartet dubbed themselves “The Velvet Underground” after Michael Leigh’s book about sexual subculture in the 1960s. After Maclise suddenly left the group prior to their first paying gig, Morrison brought in Maureen Tucker to play drums. With Tucker’s unique approach (she used mallets more than drumsticks and never played cymbals), the Velvet Underground’s classic sound began to come together.

Gigging around New York City, the band eventually was introduced to Andy Warhol and became fixtures at The Factory, his famous studio in the Decker Building on Union Square West. Warhol insisted on becoming their manager, and centered the Velvet Underground in his ambitious pop art roadshow, Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with the VU’s music combined in showcase with experimental films from Warhol and his associates. The exposure raised the band’s profile significantly—despite the fact that Warhol had little-to-no influence on their actual approach or sound and rarely operated as a traditional manager for the band.

“We needed someone like Andy,” John Cale has said . “He was a genius for getting publicity. Once we were in Providence to play at the Rhode Island School of Design and they sent a TV newsman to talk to us. Andy did the interview lying on the ground with his head propped up on one arm. There were some studded balls with lights shining on them and when the interviewer asked him why he was on the ground, Andy said, ‘So I can see the stars better.’ The interview ended with the TV guy lying flat on his back saying, ‘Yeah, I see what you mean.’”

“I loved him on sight, he was obviously one of us,” said Reed in 2004. “He was right. I didn’t know who he was, I wasn’t aware of any of that, amazingly enough. But he was obviously a kindred spirit if ever there was one, and so smart with charisma to spare. But really so smart. And for a quote ‘passive’ guy, he took over everything. He was the leader, which would be very surprising for a lot of people to work out. He was in charge of us, everyone. You look towards Andy, the least likely person, but in fact the most likely. He was so smart, so talented and 24 hours a day going at it.”

It was Warhol who famously pushed the Velvet Underground to add German model Nico as they worked on their first album—a move that the band resented.

“We were together as a band, and then Nico showed up at the Factory,” said Morrison in 1980. “Andy said, ‘Oh, here we have Nico. Would you like her to sing with you?’ We said, ‘Well, we couldn’t dis-like it.’ That’s how we became the Velvet Underground and Nico. She just came kind of creeping in. We knew that it couldn’t last, because we didn’t have that many songs she could sing. Lou and I cranked out some songs for her. ‘Femme Fatale’—she always hated that. Nico, whose native language is minority French, would say, ‘The name of this song is ‘Fahm Fahtahl.’ Lou and I would sing it our way. Nico hated that. I said, ‘Nico, hey, it’s my title, I’ll pronounce it my way.’”

“Lou and I were sort of startled,” Cale recalled  “Moe didn’t know what to make of it. And Sterling was harumphing . . . But, y’know, after a little bit, you got to understand Andy, and that was really pure Andy. Everybody suddenly started looking at us in a different way.”

The VU began recording the album in the spring of 1966 at the ramshackle Scepter Studios in New York City. The original acetate was shopped around to labels and routinely dismissed, prompting the band to re-record several songs. To facilitate a more marketable approach to the music, producer Tom Wilson, who had produced Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel , was brought in to remix some tracks. In Los Angeles, the Velvet Underground would re-record “Waiting For the Man,” “Venus and Furs” and “Heroin,” a seven-minute composition Lou Reed had begun as far back as 1964. At Wilson’s urging, the band also recorded the more radio-friendly “Sunday Morning.”

“I’d been around studios before, writing and recording these cutout-bin kind of records, trendy songs that sell for ninety-nine cents,” Reed said in 1989. “But Andy absorbed all the flak. Then MGM said they wanted to bring in a real producer, Tom Wilson. So that’s how you got ‘Sunday Morning,’ with all those overdubs—the viola in the back, Nico chanting. But he couldn’t undo what had already been done.”

For all of its visceral feel and focus, the debut album from the Velvet Underground opens with this rather delicate ballad. “Sunday Morning” it features Lou Reed cooing in his most preciously girlie voice about “all the streets you cross not so long ago.” The song is a beautiful ode to paranoia (“Watch out—the world’s behind you”), and an early indicator that Reed was capable of remarkably simple melodicism that rivaled the more mainstream songwriters of the era while not directly emulating any of them. “Sunday Morning” was explicitly written to be a single, and is one of the most pop-friendly songs on the album. Wilson wanted the tune to be a showcase for Nico; nonetheless, it was Reed who sang the lilting lead vocal.

The jaggedly jaunty classic “I’m Waiting For the Man” sits somewhere between Bob Dylan, Lead Belly and glam rock, laying a sonic foundation on which David Bowie would build his church (Bowie recorded a live cover in 1972). The soundtrack for a white hipster’s travels uptown to score drugs, Reed’s crass “Hey white boy, what you doin’ uptown?” jive along with the strutting rhythm sounded more urban and streetwise than anything else happening in rock at the time. The declaration of “Man, you gotta split ‘cause he got no time to waste” captured the awkward hastiness of scoring some shit, with Reed’s chugging chords and Morrison’s Cropper-esque guitar lines swerving against the melody throughout.

The dirge-like “Venus In Furs” drips with sex and oozes doom. It’s an S&M-driven masterpiece that features Cale’s dissonant viola set against Maureen Tucker’s thumping drums. Reed’s lyrics are inspired by the novella of the same name—by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (“I didn’t write the book. But what a great book to throw into a song,” Reed would say in 1988), with declarations to “Strike dear mistress, and cure his heart” and references to “Sevrin” who “awaits you there.” The primary narrative of the novella describes the suprasexuality of Severin von Kusiemski, who is smitten with a woman named Wanda von Dunajew and longs to be dominated by her in degrading ways.

The forced addition of Nico adds an off-kilter element to the three songs on which she’s featured. Her icy vocal is best highlighted on the swirling midtempo “Femme Fatale,” a song inspired by Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick. Warhol had requested Reed write a dedication to Sedgwick specifically, and “Femme Fatale” would be the first of many Reed compositions inspired by personalities he’d met at Warhol’s Factory. Reed’s observations of the people at Warhol’s Factory also inspired the Nico-led “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Cale’s repetitive piano drives the melancholy feel, as the lyrics detail a sad woman who has lost her family. She was among the personalities Reed had encountered around Warhol.

Despite Reed’s declaration that “if anybody played a blues lick [in the band], they would be fined,” “Run Run Run” sounds like Slim Harpo sitting in with a garage band, with a driving rhythm turned on its ear and driven dissonant with Morrison’s jagged leads and Reed’s abrasive solo. It’s another song focused squarely on New York City junkie life, with lyrics that detail strung-out characters Teenage Mary, Margarita Passion, Seasick Sarah, and Beardless Harry, who need to “get a fix” and “rode the trolleys down to 47” to “get himself to heaven.”

“There She Goes Again” is the album’s most explicitly R&B-influenced track; the opening guitar rhythm is directly lifted from Marvin Gaye’s 1962 hit “Hitch Hike” and the backing vocals are straightforward harmonizing—or at least as close to it as the Velvet Underground got. Reed’s lyrics focus on the daily life of a prostitute: “She’s out on the streets again / She’s down on her knees, my friend / But you know she’ll never ask you please again.” The song never presents the woman as a tragic figure. In keeping with many of Reed’s characters, her life is just a reflection of reality—not a cautionary tale: “Now take a look, there’s no tears in her eyes / Like a bird, you know she would fly, what can you do / You see her walkin’ on down the street / Look at all your friends that she’s gonna meet…”

Nico’s vocals on “I’ll Be Your Mirror” became a source of frustration for Morrison and Reed. The German model seemed to be adamant in singing the song aggressively, which neither of the band members felt was suitable. After Morrison decided that they would scrap the song if she couldn’t get it right, Nico sang the final vocal in one take. It would be one of the first commercially available songs by the Velvet Underground—a single that was released in July 1966, almost a year before the album itself.

Cale’s experimentalism was at the core of “The Black Angel’s Death Song,” with dissonant viola and droning rhythms. The Chuck Berry-esque guitar riff repeats early on and slowly descends into avant-noise with feedback and distortion—as well as a crash of plates, courtesy of Cale—with Reed singing dismissive lyrics aimed at writer Delmore Schwartz, who was a mentor to Reed during the rocker’s time at Syracuse University. The lyrics don’t directly mention Schwartz, but original pressings of the album titled the track “European Son (Dedication to Delmore Schwartz.)”

One of the most harrowing and beautiful drug songs ever recorded, “Heroin” is an epic that seems to define the album. Opening with Reed’s distinctively melodic guitar lines and building into a cacophony of sound that evokes the rush of shooting up, it was a daring record—even during the “mind expanding” rhetoric of the 1960s. Hippie bands were singing about marijuana and LSD, but the darkness and danger of heroin was something else entirely. The element of release was there, but this was a harder addiction—something that the idealistic flower-power crowd hadn’t broached on record. Reed relished standing apart from what was supposedly the counterculture of the time.

In a 1987 interview, he told Joe Smith, “When [bands] did try to get, in quotes, ‘arty,’ it was worse than stupid rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “What I mean by ‘stupid,’ I mean, like, the Doors. I never liked the Beatles, I thought they were garbage. If you say, ‘Who did you like?’ I liked nobody.”

The Velvet Underground’s “arty outsider” ethos and fiercely New York image went against the grain in 1967, but their association with Andy Warhol kept the band’s profile relatively high for an act that was never very mainstream. The weight of Warhol’s image over the band came to be something that the Velvet Underground chafed against—especially after The Velvet Underground and Nico was released with the “produced by Andy Warhol” tag on the sleeve.

John Cale fully understood the power of Warhol’s vision when the he saw what would become the iconic album cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico. The inspiration was purely spontaneous and indicative of how Warhol saw high art in the everyday. Warhol had noticed a magazine in the waiting room at an earlier doctor’s appointment; there was an ad inside that featured a banana with a peel-away sticker that revealed the nutrients in a banana. “He called me over and showed me: this is the album cover,” Cale said in 2011. “He said ‘What do you think of this as an album cover?’ I thought it was amazing.”

The Velvet Underground and Nico was finally released on March 12th, 1967, but a pending lawsuit from actor Eric Emerson (his image was inadvertently featured in the background of the album’s back sleeve, in a photo of the band performing) led to it being shelved briefly and redistributed that summer. With the Summer of Love in full swing and much of the world fawning over Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper…, The Velvet Underground and Nico barely made a commercial dent. Shortly thereafter, the band broke from Warhol. And Nico, always viewed as a temporary affiliate of the Velvet Underground as opposed to an actual member, went her own way. She would release six solo albums before her death in 1988.

The Velvet Underground, of course, would release three more seminal albums, White Light/White Heat, their eponymous 1969 album, and 1970’s Loaded, before ultimately deteriorating (Cale would leave after White Light/White Heat and be replaced by Doug Yule; Reed and Morrison left the band after Loaded.) Cale would become one of the world’s most highly-regarded experimental rock artists, and Reed would go on to a legendary solo career, becoming one of the most revered rock songwriters of his generation before his death in 2013.

The Velvet Underground and Nico now looked more like the future of rock music. With its embrace of dissonant sounds, unapologetically gritty subject matter and simplistic rhythms and songwriting, the album is a jumping-off point for virtually every form of “alternative” music that would take hold over the next 30 years. Glam, punk, noise rock, art rock, ’80s college rock—it all seemed to draw from something established on The Velvet Underground and Nico. There has never been a rock album more ahead of its time.

Tracks:
01. European Son
02. The Black Angel’s Death Song
03. All Tomorrow’s Parties
04. I’ll Be Your Mirror
05. Heroin
06. Femme Fatale
07. Venus In Furs
08. I’m Waiting For The Man
09. Run Run Run

 

John Cale has announced details of a major open-air gig in Liverpool next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground & Nico.

The show at Liverpool Docklands on 26th May is the only European date for Cale’s celebration of the Velvet Underground’s iconic debut LP, with the album to be played in full alongside a specially assembled band at a purpose-built stage facing towards the Atlantic Ocean. Widely regarded as one of the most influential albums in history, The Velvet Underground & Nico will only be played again in full at one further show in New York.

Announcing the gig, Cale said: “I’m often reluctant to spend too much time on things past – then, a time marker shows up – The Velvet Underground & Nico turns fifty! As so many bands can attest to, it is the fulfillment of the ultimate dream to record your first album.

“We were an unfriendly brand, dabbling in a world of challenging lyrics and weird sonics that didn’t fit into anyone’s playlist at the time. Remaining ferociously true to our viewpoints, Lou (Reed) and I never doubted for a moment we could create something to give a voice to things not regularly explored in rock music at the time. That bizarre combination of four distinctly disparate musicians and a reluctant beauty queen perfectly summed up what it meant to be The Velvet Underground.

John Cale