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The Velvet Underground “ Music’s Mirror of Truth”

Music’s Mirror of Truth
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For me the dark realities of life were carried by two sets of messengers, one being The Doors and the other coming from the Velvets. What did a dirty, seedy Bowery street sound like if you had no eyes to see? If the Velvet Underground wrote a song about it you were receiving a mental portrait in the perfect hue. 

They often paired a dark or strange lyric to a sweet melody that sold you into wanting more.For a band that began as a human art experiment a la Warhol, they very quickly overtook Andy and charted their own course.

Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker were the core of the 4 years they ruled the sound waves. German Beauty and vocalist Nico came into the mix just before they would begin recording their debut album. The combination worked very well, no matter the personal internal thoughts at that time. They were Raw, Brutally honest, Fearless, and Open.

No subject was taboo, every show an experiment, every record a task to capture the feel of freedom and a good dose of anarchy. 

“All tomorrow’s parties” “Lyrics” “Velvet Underground and Nico” with “Edie Sedgwick” and “Nico” HD

velvet underground – venus in furs

Their debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, was released in 1967 to critical indifference and poor sales but has since drawn wide acclaim. They released three more albums, White Light/White Heat (1968), The Velvet Underground (1969), and Loaded (1970), with Doug Yule replacing Cale for the final two, and with none performing up to the expectations of record labels or of Reed, the band’s leader.

No matter the album sales they inspired generations to come bringing things to the table even in 1964 and 65 that would be adopted by Punk, Avant-Garde, and straight Garage rock. They were a monster of creativity. John Cale‘s “Drone” approach to much of the music was in truth not only innovative in the Rock world but functional in creating trance-like states. One can look to the 1990’s band Mazzy Star‘s sophomore album “So Tonight That I Might See” to hear Cale’s approach.. 

Velvet Underground documentary – The South Bank Show 1986

Lou Reed went on to create his solo Career yet it was always informed by the Velvets ground work. He and Sterling learned to play their instruments within the band and created their public persona’s there as well.

Nothing off limits from Sadism, sexuality, and drugs were just part of the cannon. Lou Reed penned “Heroin” and “Waiting for The Man” and others pertaining to the illicit lifestyle of his friends, the people he saw on the street, and possibly himself. Once again serious, straightforward subject to beautiful music and Hypnotic driving riffs.

The Velvet Underground-Heroin

Percussionist Moe Tucker recalled the build of the take “It hit a point of frenzy and I simply had to stop playing as I lost my bearings” The silence became ultimately more important than had she attempted to continue, the silence is sometimes its own dynamic.

The second Record “White Light/White Heat” was Brilliant yet too often panned critically. The tie song and a 17 minute and 30-second version of “Sister Ray” are the bookends of a great album. 

The Velvet Underground-White Light/White Heat

John Cale’s departure and the arrival of Doug Yule before the band made 1969’s self titled album  has been described as follows “Lou told someone that the reason why he had to get rid of Cale in the band was Cale’s ideas were just too out there. Cale had some wacky ideas. He wanted to record the next album with the amplifiers underwater, and Lou just couldn’t have it. He was trying to make the band more accessible.” Ultimately, Morrison was dispatched by Reed to tell Cale that he was out of the band.

By the recording of” Loaded”, Doug Yule played a more prominent role in the band, and with Reed’s encouragement, sang the lead vocal on four songs:. Yule once commented on the recording of Loaded: “Lou leaned on me a lot in terms of musical support and for harmonies, vocal arrangements. I did a lot on Loaded. It sort of devolved down to the Lou and Doug recreational recording.”

An interesting thought on one particular track on Loaded, “Oh Sweet Nuthin”. I had not heard the song until The Black Crowes chose to record it at Levon Helm’s Studio. The song was released in 1970. In 1973 The Marshall Tucker Band released their hit “Can’t you see”. The chords, the melody, the tempo are just “Sweet Nuthin” with different words and a flute. Can you say ‘Hmmmmm?” I knew you could.

Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (2015 Remastered)

Lou Reed decided to quit the band during the last week of the 9-week residency of Max’s Kansas City shows in August 1970. Although Reed had informed Tucker, who was attending the show but not playing with the band because of her pregnancy, that he planned to leave the group on his last evening, he did not tell Morrison or Yule. Years Later the discovery that the last show was recorded brought a live album. In May 1972, Atlantic released Live at Max’s Kansas City, the recording of the Velvet Underground’s final performance with Reed made by a fan. 

1973 brought the album “Squeeze” which truly was recorded as “The Velvet Underground” in name only.

There were periodic reformations of the Velvets up until Lou’s death, most live events.

Many of the offerings are great but the true band lives Immortal in its original state. 

The Velvet Underground – “Live at The Boston Tea Party” (Jan. 10, 1969)

Lou Reed’s career flourished, Nico’s work carried on until her death as well. Sterling Morrison passed away before he saw his induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of fame.

Patti Smith Inducts the Velvet Underground into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Velvet Underground Accept Hall of Fame Awards in 1996

Moe Tucker is as of now one of the contributors in a Major Documentary on the band and rightly so. She has been far overlooked for far too long. Every accolade she can be given has most certainly been worked for. 

The Velvet Underground — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

Foundation Velvet: The Drumming Of Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker – A Documentary By CAM FORRESTER

There will never be another band like The Velvet Underground. It can well be argued that for the misfits, the streetwise children, and the disillusioned members of society the Velvet Underground were their Beatles. I dare say they were and still are the voice of the Freaks and the nameless and countless people of the back alley. Beauty can still grow from the Gutter. It worked for them. They are the flower that grows ever upward from the cracks in the sidewalk.

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Jimmy Flemming