Posts Tagged ‘Lou Reed’

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

In 1973, Lou Reed hired the grandest band of his career, led by guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. Their joint power gave the Velvet Underground classics emphasized in the set a heavy-metal girth, as well as a glam-rock grandeur. It’s captured in a 1974 live recording from a show the band gave at New York’s Academy of Music the year before. The performance is distinguished as much by the Hunter/Wagner dynamic as any vocal or composition from the star. The zenith actually arrives at the start: a three minute and twenty second intro to “Sweet Jane”  written by Hunter. It’s one of the boldest rock instrumentals of all time, anointed with an unfolding variety of righteous riffs, broken by solo spots for Hunter and Wagner. Throughout their set, Lou Reed gave the pair a wide berth, capped by a ten-minute take on “Rock ‘N Roll” that idealizes the song’s anthemic aspirations.

Hunter and Wagner dominate the set right from the start, with their mazy, melodic licks in the Intro seaming into the monster chords of Sweet Jane. Heroin is a slow burning epic, building up momentum into some blazing dual guitar interplay. Whilst White Light/White Heat is somewhat underpowered after such a start, the pace picks up again with Lady Day and the soaring closer Rock ‘n’ Roll, featuring more dazzling interplay between the leads.

The guitarists went on to enjoy a central spot in Alice Cooper’s solo group, idealizing the double guitar approach forged by Alice’s original band in the ’60s.

A remastered version was released on CD in 2000. It featured two tracks not included on the original LP release.

Further excerpts from the same concert were released in 1975 as Lou Reed Live (between the remastered Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal and Lou Reed Live the entire show has been released, albeit in a different order than the original concert). This live album’s stereo mix puts guitarist Dick Wagner on the right channel, and Steve Hunter on the left; this arrangement is reversed on Lou Reed Live.

Rock n Roll Animal is a live album by musician Lou Reed, released in February 1974 by RCA Records. In its original form, it only features five songs, four of which are songs by the Velvet Underground. The band were Pentti Glan (drums) and Prakash John(bass), Ray Colcord (keyboards), along with the twin guitars of  Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter  (The two guitarists would later form the basis of the second Alice Cooper band, beginning on Welcome to My Nightmare, which also features Glan and John.

For the Velvet Underground completist This 2017 release (not to be confused with 1969 Live) compiles 1969-era Velvet Underground classics, including some rare mixes, instrumentals and alternate takes on official vinyl for the first time. Lou ReedDoug YuleSterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker spent much of their time on the road in ’69 resulting in the “lost” live album 1969 Live. Several original 1969 mixes from this era are featured here including “Foggy Notion,” “I’m Sticking with You,” “Andy’s Chest,” “I’m Gonna Move Right In,” and “Ocean,” as well as 2014 mixes of “One of These Days,” “Lisa Says,” and more. Double vinyl pressing from Republic Records,

This definitive vinyl edition of VU’s ‘lost’ fourth album presents one cohesive collection on two LPs, with many tracks and mixes making their vinyl debut. You’ll hear the original 1969 mixes of “Foggy Notion,” “I’m Sticking with You,” “Andy’s Chest,” “She’s My Best Friend,” “I’m Gonna Move Right In,” “Ferryboat Bill,” “Ocean,” “Rock & Roll,” 2014 mixes of “One of These Days,” “Lisa Says,” “Ride into the Sun,” “Coney Island Steeplechase” and more precious original recordings of an iconic band. The Velvet Underground formed in 1964 in New York City by singer/guitarist Lou Reed, multi-instrumentalist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Angus MacLise (replaced by Moe Tucker in 1965).

Towards the end of Talking Heads’ career, all four members of the band gathered in the studio with Lou Reed to record the Velvets’ “Femme Fatale.” The result came out on a Tom Tom Club LP (Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom), but the credits sure read like Talking Heads + Lou: Tina Weymouth on bass and keyboard, Chris Frantz on drums, Jerry Harrison on keys, David Byrne on slide and rhythm guitar, and Lou Reed on lead and rhythm guitar. Weymouth sings Nico’s part and everyone else joins in on backup vocals.

Rolling Stone reported news of the NYC supersession in 1987. It provided the happy ending to “Are Four (Talking) Heads Better Than One?,” a profile that suggested the foursome was held together with Scotch tape and chewing gum, and contained some bons mots from Lou:

Back in earlier, calmer days, the band looked to Lou Reed as a sort of patron saint. He doled out advice like “Get some dynamics in your songs” or “David should wear a long-sleeved shirt – his arms are too hairy.” And more profound warnings, which the band still remembers today. Chris: “Lou Reed once told us, ‘Man, I’ve gotta go out on tour again. People want to view the body.’” Tina: “He told us, ‘A band is like a fist of many fingers. Whereas record companies like to ego-massage one finger and break it off.’”

The Byrne/Frantz/Harrison/Reed/Weymouth “Femme Fatale”:

In 1993, the BBC documentary series Arena devoted four episodes to “Tales of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The third of this series focused entirely on the real-life figures in Lou Reed’s most famous song, “Walk on the Wild Side,” collecting footage of and fascinating biographical detail about each superstar sketched in the song’s verses—Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, “Little” Joe Dallesandro, Sugar Plum Fairy and Jackie Curtis.

I don’t know how the producers managed to keep Bono out of this documentary, but somehow they were able to limit the show’s interview subjects to people who actually had some business talking about this scene, such as Factory resident Billy Name, photographer Lee Black Childers and Reed/Warhol biographer Victor Bockris. Their perspectives are interesting. For instance, where many sources now identify the Sugar Plum Fairy as Joe Campbell, the former boyfriend of Harvey Milk whose character in My Hustler was called the Sugar Plum Fairy, Billy Name says this is too narrow an interpretation:

If you’re in the world of music or drugs, there is always a Sugar Plum Fairy: the one who delivers, who brings the stuff to you. Now, during this time, from ‘64 to ‘70, there were two individuals I knew who were called the Sugar Plum Fairy, as a nickname. Neither of the individuals who were the Sugar Plum Fairy were important to remember. Their only significance is that they became that character at that point. Lou, in “Walk on the Wild Side,” took poetic license. The Sugar Plum Fairy. The man, like in “Heroin” or “I’m Waiting for the Man” The guy who delivers to you, the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Certainly there are worse ways to spend the holidays than lounging in bed with Holly Woodlawn and Andy Warhol.

The Warhol Superstars were a clique of New York City personalities promoted by Andy Warhol during the 1960s and early 1970s. The Superstars appeared in Warhol’s artworks and accompanied him in his social life. They epitomized Warhol’s famous dictum: “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” The Lôu Rëed song ‘Take A Walk On The Wild Side’ (1972) offers insight into a few of the Warhol Superstars – Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell (referred to in the song by his nickname Sugar Plum Fairy).

This is the same material as released on the albums “Rock’n’Roll Animal” and “Lou Reed Live” and from the recordings of the same tour. Although the band are as tight as they were on the seventies albums, The bonus tracks on Rock’n’Roll Animal were originally withheld because Lou wasn’t completely satisfied with his vocal performance . It’s a worthwhile addition to Lou’s live collection. Recorded a few weeks before what was to become the classic that is the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal’ album . It’s a slightly different ordered set, but tight and immensely powerful. Lou’s voice is indeed ‘strained’ to put it politely, but it doesn’t detract too much, and I can’t stop playing this album. A great curiosity I guess, but one well worth acquiring. I loved this era of Lou’s career for all it’s perceived faults, and I loved this band One of rock’s greatest bands.

Lou Reed – vocals, guitar; Steve Hunter – guitar; Dick Wagner -guitar; Ray Colcord – organ; Prakash John – bass; Pentti Glan – drums

This set, recorded at Loew’s Palace Concert Theater in Providence a week prior to the classic live album recording, captures this moment in time when Reed was creating emotionally honest musical turbulence on stage.

This recording begins with the band developing the soon-to-be classic opening jam for “Sweet Jane” that would eventually come to define the sound and creativity of this band. However here it is utilized as a prelude to “Vicious” instead. This opening jam clearly points the way toward the sound Reed fans would soon experience on his live Rock & Roll Animal album. The ambiguous “How Do You Think It Feels,” “Caroline Says 1” and “Lady Day,” all from the “Berlin” album follow in sneering style. Despite the first and third of these being incomplete, it is tantalizing to hear these musicians beginning to tackle the Berlin material. A tough, undulating “I’m Waiting For The Man” is up next, with this propulsive rhythm section taking this classic Velvets song to another level.

Following some tuning, the group eases into “Heroin,” and audible applause of recognition is heard from the audience. Every group added their own dimensions to this song and this band is no exception. One of the key elements is Ray Colcord, whose organ work greatly enhances the rush feeling following the verses leading into each jam sequence. Although all of the preceding material is engaging, “Heroin” finds the band fully hitting their stride and features an inspired vocal from Reed. The cascading flow of music from this band engulfs the lyrics as Reed battles his way through the highs and lows of addiction.

From here on out, most of the songs segue directly from one to the other. Upon the conclusion of the last frenzied rush in “Heroin,” where the group is fully cooking away, an incredibly abrupt transition occurs, where they suddenly ease into the opening bars of “Sweet Jane.” Both “Sweet Jane” and the “Satellite of Love” that follows, are incomplete, but the latter song is particularly interesting here. While “Satellite” was a dreamy, downright romantic ballad during the European tour leg earlier in the year, here the song has become far more forceful and upon it’s conclusion another remarkable transition occurs, as the band skillfully drops into the opening bars of “Walk On The Wild Side.” This segue is so well done that Reed can clearly be heard spontaneously exclaiming “Perfect! Alright!” to his band members. Also of note here is the wonderful bass work of new recruit Prakash John and the entire band providing background vocals much like the album arrangement. Certainly one of Reed’s most fully realized character studies, this is followed by another in the form of “Oh Jim.” Clocking in at nearly 12 minutes, “Oh Jim” gradually ratchets up the tension before blazing into a searing jam featuring plenty of great call and response guitar work from Hunter and Wagner. Another skillful segue occurs out of “Oh Jim” as the band transitions into the lurching beat of “Sad Song.” Once again, Reed cannot contain his elation and he exclaims “Beautiful!” as they begin. This is another great example of this band in top form, with fine vocal arrangements and the guitarists playing unison leads that couldn’t possibly be tighter. Just as a brief organ interlude from Colcord ends this number, the group immediately launches into the set closer, “White Light / White Heat.” This classic Velvets number is taken at a fast clip, with both guitarists reinforcing the chugging rhythm section. Colcord serves up a frantic electric piano solo, in addition to playing organ here, adding a whole new dimension to this song. This is a blazing conclusion to an extraordinary sequence that leaves the audience wanting more. Reed and the band return for an encore of “Rock And Roll.” A strong rendition all around, this features a highly engaged instrumental rave-up at the end and a standout contribution from Prakash John, whose bass is very prominent in the mix. A downright awesome performance, this number becomes an anthem for the only thing that can save Reed’s life: rock and roll.

In retrospect, 1973 was a year of massive growth for Lou Reed and certainly a critical step in his approach to live performing. Regardless of how the shows on this tour were perceived at the time, something important was clearly going on here. The melding of Reed’s unique brand of decadent, literate music with a big arena rock sound would eventually reach the masses in a way The Velvet Underground never could. The strange contrast between Reed’s detached, blasé vocals and the hard rocking professionalism of his backup band is the essence of its appeal.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a musical instrument and guitar

By the mid-’70s, Lou Reed had been through a lifetime of rock ‘n’ roll experiences in just a little more than a decade. From early-’60s session work to the Velvet Underground to the unexpected chart success in the early ’70s with the solo hit “Walk On the Wild Side,” Reed was never one to stay in limbo. He followed his hit Transformer album with the dark and haunting Berlin, the live album Rock and Roll Animal and the back-to-basics Sally Can’t Dance.
His next move remains one of the most famous middle fingers in the history of music: the 1975 release of Metal Machine Music, a double album of guitar feedback and other noise effects. Was it a joke, a bold artistic statement, a contractual obligation or all of these? In early 1976, Reed told an interviewer, “I committed a number of blasphemous acts that I can back myself up on, only in saying that it got me the chance to make Metal Machine Music, and it gave me the power to make Coney Island Baby my way, from top to bottom.

That’s why I did Metal Machine Music. It was supposed to clear the air. Most people, even if you are into electronic music, aren’t going to listen to that.”
Reed was back on a more conventional path with Coney Island Baby in early 1976, and by October, he returned with the self-produced Rock and Roll Heart, his seventh solo album. It’s another of Reed’s more conventional records, opening with the soul-injected “I Believe in Love,” which surges along with R&B horns. Its refrain of “Good time music, good time rock ‘n’ roll” is a 180-degree turn from the barrage of noise found on Metal Machine Music.
Reed sticks to traditional music here: “Banging on My Drum” is a straightforward rocker, “Follow the Leader” is funky and “You Wear It So Well” is a soulful ballad. On “Ladies Pay,” he even sounds like he’s imitating Patti Smith imitating Lou Reed.

There’s much use of horns on Rock and Roll Heart, bearing the influence of early rock ‘n’ roll and jazz that often hangs out in Reed’s work. The closing “Temporary Thing,” one of the album’s best tracks, creates a tension that never breaks over five intense minutes as it borrows from the Velvets, jazz and soul music.
Like many of Reed’s albums from the late ’70s and early ’80s, “Rock and Roll Heart” doesn’t get much love these days. But give it a chance. It’s a fresh and intriguing listen, hardly the throwaway its critics claim.

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

 

Lou Reed had been in mourning for the past few years at least when it came to his albums. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the middle-aged rocker had delivered an epitaph for the Big Apple New York and a tribute to the late Andy Warhol “Songs For Drella”, created in collaboration with his old Velvets band mate John Cale.

When he began work on his 16th studio album in 1991, Lou Reed didn’t plan on continuing to sift his music through a black veil. But life or, perhaps, death had other plans.

“I was originally going to write an album about magic … the desire for magic in life … the magic of transformation … the idea of a man turning into a bird,”   said Reed  “But my two friends died during this time and I wrote ‘What’s Good’ and that started the other songs, not necessarily in order you find them on the album. It was painful to write, but it was obvious what it was about. All I had to do was look at that line, ‘What good is cancer in April,’ and I knew.”

So the songwriter combined the two themes on Magic and Loss, eventually discovering a balance between the enchanting wonders of life and the fragile mortality of human beings. Or, as Reed intones on the final, title track, “There’s a bit of magic in everything and then some loss to even things out.”

Reed suggests loss in the lyrics of these dozen songs via hospital visits, tubes in arms and defunct phone numbers. The newly christened elder statesman draws on his familiar deadpan poetry to grieve for his friends: legendary songwriter Doc Pomus and Warhol “Factory” pal Rotten Rita. The music on Magic and Loss is often as unadorned as Reed’s delivery, riding chugging guitars and simple percussion, with a hint of magic to be found in bendy bass turns and the occasional, ragged freakout.

“I just hope it doesn’t start getting thought of as this terrible down death album, because that’s not at all what I mean by it,” the rock legend said. “I think of it as a really positive album, because the loss is transformed magically into something else. The way these two people face these things. They were giants throughout their lives and they were giants in these situations also, and a lot can be learned from them. I was very lucky to know them through all of it.”

Despite its perception as a difficult album, Magic and Loss became one of Reed’s most successful albums after it was released on January. 14th, 1992. Greeted with warm, even effusive, reviews from many rock writers, the record became his highest-charting U.K. LP (No. 6) and boasted the U.S. No. 1 Modern Rock Tracks single “What’s Good.” The praise and success shocked Reed.

“Astonished would cover it. It’s very strange,” said Lou after the album came out. “In a sense it’s my dream album, because everything finally came together to where the album is finally fully realized. I got it to do what I wanted it to do, but commercial thoughts never entered into it, so I’m just stunned.”

“Between two Aprils I lost two friends/Between two Aprils magic and loss…”.

The short inscription Lou Reed wrote in the liner notes to his 1992 album Magic and Loss is the backdrop to one of the most inspired albums of his career. At the end of the album credits he wrote: “This album is dedicated to Doc and especially to Rita”. While he preferred to keep the identity of Rita away from the public (“Rita wouldn’t have wanted to be known. I was a very lucky person to know her”), he was open about his recent friendship with legendary songwriter Doc Pomus who died in 1991. Magic and Loss captures the pain and emotions that Reed felt as his friends were dying. This is the story of the album, the musicians who influenced and created it and most importantly, the amazing songs Reed wrote as a healing process from the death of his friends.

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T Rex  –  Taverne De L’ Olympia Paris 1971

Limited Edition of 300 – Pressed on Purple Vinyl, The Earliest recorded Live performance by T.Rex whilst still a 3 piece band – Features the single Ride A White Swan All royalties go to Light Of Love foundation for The Marc Bolan School Of Music.

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Lou Reed –  American Poet (Deluxe Edition)

Recorded live at Alice Tully Hall, NYC, January 27, 1973. Re- Packaged with completely new design photos and liner notes housed in deluxe card gatefold sleeve – Re mastered audio. CD Contains additional bonus disc of Unreleased U.S broadcast of the very first ‘proper’ Lou Reed solo show before the global Hit Walk On The Wild Side’. Contains classic Velvet Underground tracks’ I’m Waiting for the Man, Heroin, Sister Ray, Sweet Jane, and White Light White heat.

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Woods  –  Live At Third Man Records

There are certain bands in this supersaturated, hyper-fragmented, temperamental internet era that rise above ephemeral popularity not because they perpetually reinvent themselves or stay ahead of trends or make headlines with crazy antics or write a mega hit or have a super dreamy frontperson… there are certain bands that rise above because of one characteristic that trumps all others: consistency. Woods is one of those bands, and their wheelhouse is a decidedly mellow blend of folk, psych, soul, and funk that’s wise beyond its years in timbre and lyric. It’s a comforting kind of music Woods makes. It doesn’t take you anywhere you don’t want to go, even if they world they depict is less and less hospitable with every passing day. It’s a soundscape reflective of the world it was created in, and its lack of call-it-action and angst makes it endlessly listenable for those of us with regrettably overactive minds. With over ten years and nine studio records under their belt, this Brooklyn band also runs their own label and 2-day festival at Big Sur, and has carved out a loyal legion of appreciators who extol their steadfast artistry and work ethic. We got to see the Nashville Chapter of this legion, as well as a whole slew of new members, at their live taping in our Nashville Blue room, Monday May 2nd. All captured on their Live at Third Man Records LP.

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Neil Young  –  Peace Trail

Neil Young releases the brand new studio album Peace Trail on Reprise Records. Peace Trail features all new songs that Young wrote since the release of his album Earth in June. This new album is primarily acoustic and reflects an intimate, sparse approach to each of the ten songs within. The album was recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studios and features Young on vocals and guitar, Jim Keltner on drums, and Paul Bushnell on bass. It was produced by Young and John Hanlon .

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Lucy Rose – Live At Urchin Studios

Live at Urchin Studios is Lucy Rose’s latest record, recorded in just one hour in front of a live audience at Urchin Studios, London. Rose has spent the last year touring mostly acoustically, not just in the UK and Europe but India, Turkey and for 8 weeks in Latin America where she lived with fans and played gigs every night for free. It was during this experience that she decided to record an acoustic live record with fellow bandmate Alex Eichenberger as many fans wanted to be able to listen to the songs again in this stripped down fashion. The record consists of six songs from Rose’s first LP, Like I Used To, and four from her second, Work It Out. The album is stripped back, raw, real, full of emotion and made entirely for the fans. Each song finds a new home in this intimate setting and highlights the stunning songwriting and vocals of an evolving artist.

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Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – The Complete Studio Albums Volume 1 (1976-1991)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers commemorate the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut album by releasing two companion vinyl box sets featuring their entire studio album repertoire. Several of these albums have been out of print on vinyl for years and all albums have been remastered for this release except where noted. All LP’s in each of the limited-edition box sets are pressed on 180-gram vinyl with replica artwork.

The Complete Studio Albums Volume 1 (1976-1991) features nine vinyl albums and features:

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
You’re Gonna Get It!
Damn The Torpedoes
Hard Promises
Long After Dark
Southern Accents
Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)
Full Moon Fever
Into The Great Wide Open