THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
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Jason Burggraaf <email@example.com> (10.08.2000)
To be honest, I've always taken your comparisons with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to Dylan - Neil Young is trying to be Dylan, Lou Reed is trying to be Dylan - basically cause i really didn't hear it in the music itself. But I just got the Velvet Underground Box Set, with it's first disc of early demos by Reed, Cale and Morrison, and yikes, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that it was Dylan himself rehearsing his latest songs: 'Heroin', 'I'm Waiting For The Man' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties'. all of them with a slightly country-tinged guitar, and Reed in the most grating Dylan-voice. Unbelievable. Imagine the piano chords of 'All Tomorrow's Parties' being played on an acoustic guitar, and the lyrics sounding exactly like the vocal delivery on 'It Ain't Me Babe'. Again, Unbelievable. In fact, the only really good/interesting song on the disc is the early incarnation of 'Venus in Furs', which here sounds like a sad, English rural ballad, with S&M lyrics. With (I believe) Cale singing, it actually sounds quite like Roy Harper. Really good. I'll never doubt you again!
Martin Teller <firstname.lastname@example.org> (04.09.2000)
I won't go into my opinions about the Velvets (which I cover well enough on my own page) but I do want to address this: "It's obvious that the band is being treated as 'punkish' only because of its attitude - you know, dirty, protesting, nihilist, etc., etc. Musically, they aren't any more 'punkish' than, say, the Beatles, for instance." This is a common misconception about "punk", unfortunately. You see, punk IS attitude! It's not about guitars or hairstyles or chord progressions or piercings. It's not about playing fast and loud. It's about FUCK YOU and everything you believe in. John Cage is punk. William S. Burroughs is punk. Jackson Pollack is punk. And VU is definitely punk.[Special author note: that's not a "misconception" of punk, that's another definition of punk - a musical definition of punk as the kind of music that was, well, played by the Pistols and the Clash. And according to Martin's definition of punk, the Ramones weren't punks, for instance, because their classic punk albums did not have the "fuck you" attitude, whatever one might say.]
Brandon Thorp <email@example.com> (05.05.2002)
George;You seem to be hung up on instrumental virtuosity. It is clear to me that there are many ways to be a virtuoso - Elvis Costello, for example, is a virtuoso singer, though not by conservatory standards. Yet, however many people may give "Tramp The Dirt Down" a listen and declare the man's voice unlistenable, deeper probing of his catalogue will reveal that, in his throat, he has one of the most expressive and subtle instruments ever to grace recorded music. So, yeah, I think that VU was filled with virtuosos. But your comments regarding John Cale's musicianship not being "professional" is utterly ridiculous. He won the Aaron Copland scholarship, and studied under Copland and Bernstein. He played an original composition for the BBC in his preteens. Prior to the VU, he was one of the most promising young violinists in the world - he just decided that avant-garde, minimalist rock was the way to go. If you can play 64th notes for hours at a time, it does not necessarily follow the you MUST DO SO. Anyway, most of the greatest advances in rock music have been made by people who, lacking conservatory virtuosity, made their own rules and changed the way their instruments were played and perceived. Hendrix was no McLaughlin, or even Vai, but still - Hendrix is Hendrix is Hendrix. The same applies even in the classical world, and even in the crusty old universe of opera. Maria Callas, by conservatory standards, could not sing very well at all. Her high notes had vibrato you could drive a truck through, her voice was frequently screachy, and it just was not very pleasing to most ears. She was no Dame Joan fuckin' Sutherland, I tell you (now THAT was an instrument, HolyGawd). But she's still thought of as the greatest opera singer of the twentieth century, and why? Her artistry transcended the rules, the this-is-good-and-that-is-bad-isms that so many thinking musicians (and people who think about music) fall into, in their search to determine why music does what it does for people. But, in any case, the point is moot here. Give Cale some Rachmaninov and he could play it for you. Very, very well. He was beyond professional - he was every inch the violinist of Isaac, or Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Sloppy research, George - do try to do better in the future.
Bert Timmermans <Bert.Timmermans@vub.ac.be> (27.11.2002)
First a little remark on the side: George, you've got a monumental website. Of course, it's the work of someone who likes to hear himself talk, or no, my mistake, who likes to see himself write... I don't mean that in a pejorative way; I've read most reviews about the artists I know, and, though I do not always agree, they're mostly great & exceptionally well written - a man who takes pride in the job. Now, I know for a fact that I like to see myself write, so...
the review (a bit longish, but then again so are you yourself):First, know that I'm a totally irrational VU adept. I actually collect first prints of their first two albums (I have 3 LP and 4 CD versions of VU+Nico...), and I love Lou Reed's voice so much that I'd buy a record of him reading the Financial Times. However, 12 years of pondering over their music has not left me with the inability to take some perspective. Let's take The Beatles... I'm not familiar with all of their work, but they have an 'interesting' catalogue. In fact, they're probably the only pop/rockband with something of a 'catalogue' comparable to the concept as it is used with classical artists: it's got diversity, evolution, technical innovations... However, I think they're greatly overrated when it comes down to the actual execution of the songs - a lot of their stuff has got mixes I find horrible, or the songs just sound... djangly, which is partly caused by the vocal characteristics of Lennon & McCartney. With dangly I refer to the exact opposite of what one hears in Stones songs like "Gimme Shelter", "Jumpin' Jack Flash", or "Stray Cat Blues". In other words, the Beatles were great writers, but, to my ears, not so good performers, whereas the Stones were probably better performers than writers (although they were great writers). Where does that leave the Velvet Underground? Well, stuck in the middle I guess. The thing that makes the VU so appealing or apalling to most people is what I would call the Byron-phenomenon, a thing that also stuck to Lou Reed thereafter, meaning that hyped artist and product are hardly separable, or hardly ever separated, for the simple reason that people fear that their argument wouldn't stand anymore when they do. Byron wrote great verses, but not as clean as Keats', as consistent as Wordsworth's or as poignant as Shelley's; but as a whole of artist-product, he surpassed all. To return to the topic, the VU were the best group to play their material, which is what makes them unique. I've heard a lot of bands where I like the songs or the way they are rendered, but can't shake myself loose of the impression that if someone else did it or wrote it, results might have been better. Apart from the fact that productionwise their first two records have sounded pretty awful for a long time (Bill Levenson did a wonderful clean-up), I cannot say the same about the Velvets. By the way, George, the fact that "Sister Ray" on White Light/White Heat sounds awful is due to the well-known fact that the technician couldn't bear it anymore somewhere halfway the song and left the studio saying "just let me know when it's over" (and not the famously incorrectly quoted "they can't pay me enough to listen to this shit"). To hear the VU for the first time is to hear the totality. To hear their sound is to hear the band. And, whatever you might say about them, the Velvets must have one of the most unique 'sounds' in rock history. Later bands have mixed up the notion of having your own 'sound' with sounding the same all over; the VU however have a very distinguished sound, meaning that, whether they play straight rockers, experimental arty stuff, gorgeous ballads, or anything in between, you can immediately hear that it's them. And that's where they differ from most bands, and why it is so hard, or so useless, to separate band from material: the VU were one of the first bands to have a 'sound', though not the first; they were however, to my opinion, the first band where the sound substituted an essential part of 'their catalogue'. Some people can probably give a very nice technical explanation, but I'm not that of an expert. I can only say that they were among the first to use the simple but effective plagal candence (going from the basic chord in a scale to the fourth and back again, like their own "Waiting For The Man", "Heroin", or the Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or "Street Fighting Man", Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks", or Bowie's "Heroes"), that they used a lot of different tunings (often open tunings, where you tune your guitar in one chord, for greater resonance and easier playing - something Keith Richards discovered around their "Jumpin' Jack Flash" turning point; or even tunings where you tune all strings on the same note - try it, you'll sound Velvety in no time). Furthermore, they sounded like they were going to fall apart every minute (bit like The Stooges later on), an effect emphasized often by Reed's excellent use of feedback in a couple of songs (notably the free-jazz outbursts in "I Hear Her Call My Name", which later greatly inspired Tom Verlaine), mostly only heard on live bootlegs; and of course, by his singing which, though originally Dylan-inspired, is more vulnerable than Dylan while including a NY City wise-ass jewish faggot attitude at the same time. Uncertainty is the key here, contrasting with very often exquisitely constructed two- or three-chord songs. Another thing that's very distinct is the drumming, or rather the lack of it. First, there's no cymbals at all, for Reed was of the -quite accurate- opinion that it "ruined the guitars" (listen to the Tom Verlaine live recording on The Miller's Tale - A Tom Verlaine Anthology); furthermore, the beat is very simple, very steady, and involves mostly a rather muffled thumping rather than a clear roll. A pity for more ambitious drummers perhaps, but most effective. You get a steady going beat with a bass loop that serves as a granite base for jamming out distorted notes or hooky power chords against. If you listen to the title track on Television's Marquee Moon, you can hear that Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd have a very interesting interplay between rythm and lead, but it wouldn't stand without the base provided by drum & bass, especially the completely unbelievable solo. It's this lack of some of the more classic rock ingredients which gives the VU the so very often ascribed 'progenitor' title. Now, 'progenitorism' is cool, especially nowadays, when anything vaguely new is immediately found interesting, while anything vaguely interesting is immediately labeled 'new', for if not, the 'interesting' claim would not be legitimate. As if music has anything to do with the label 'interesting'. You have to like, dig, love... the music, no? Or can there be two? As a Velvet fan, I've started out as a lover, gradually drifted into being a defender if their 'interestingness', while I have now drifted somewhat in the opposite direction again. The first thing I heard of them was when I spent the night at a friend's who hated the VU on the sole account that his older sister loved them and that he hated or pretended to hate his sister. Up early, I wanted to tease him (he had a hangover) and I wanted to hear the music of his sister -for I head a crush on her- so I put on, at maximum volume, a tape of Live 1969, a later Velvet recording, so not very 'interesting', but what a mindblaster! Out came the most impressive soaring wall of sound I'd ever heard, with the very extended instrumental part of "What Goes On". Next I liked the dark falling-apartness of Another View ("Coney Island Steeple Chase"!), followed by the beauty of The Velvet Underground. At the time I thought The Velvet Underground and Nico stank pretty much, while only half of White Light/White Heat could actually please me (ahem - I actually learned "The Gift" by heart and still can recite most of it - see how little adolescents have to do?). As I became more and more of an intellectual (even a condom won't protect you against this virus once it meets you), I learned to appreceate the first two albums, for therein lie the origins of their sound. And at least half of the songs are brilliant, while the lyrics of practically all of them are among rock's best, with some , like "I'll Be Your Mirror" ranking among the most perfect lyrical lines someone ever trusted to tape (especially Reed's rendition on the otherwise disappointing A Perfect Night makes this clear). Or, "Waiting For The Man"... maybe Leadbelly did it first, but I don't care who did what first (that's what causes wars): Lou Reed does it clear, in different observations, leading straight to the bottom line (literally and metaphorically) "...feeling good, feeling oh so fine/until tomorrow but that's just another time". You might want to note that "Waiting..." is not a straight rocker in an 'attempt to make a Stones song', but in fact an epic song. It can be rock - just listen to The Wasps' obscure punk version of the late 70's - but the epicness comes out more in other versions, like the Nico version on the Hanging Gardens cd (not on the Drama of Exile album!) or the Cale version on the bootleg Down at the End of Lonely Street (not the John Cale Comes Alive version). The main point is however, that while some of their qualities disappeared during their 5 year existence, others got more pronounced (the lyrics on some of the third album pieces are simply stuffed with brilliant observations and oneliners - especially see "Some Kinda Love"), which makes it difficult to pick out an album. Why? Don't The Beatles have exactly the same problem? Yes, but with the Velvet Underground it becomes more acute: everyone knows what is meant by the 'VU sound' (they claim), and it might be possible to point out some aspects of their sound (as I did above), but it's very hard to point at a spot or a song and say "there, that's it, that's the VU sound". I mean, can anyone tell me what it is about The Strokes' Is This It that makes them sound so Velvet? I can only think of 1 song that actually comes close: "Coney Island Steeple Chase", and most people don't know that one since it's one of the gems sadly left off the otherwise perfect box. In other words, while the Velvets' sound is unmistakably everywhere, it is also hardly anywhere completely realized. This I mean positively (The Strokes, although having made a fine album, so completely realise their sound in every corner of each song that the songs seem a bit formulaic - which they are). I don't mean they were never able to realise their potential (although Cale claims so), but I mean this: you need some band-historical perspective to piece together all the pieces of what is meant by 'VU-sound', which is exactly what happens with Byron - no matter how you look at it, the picture is never complete, but when you've looked at it from all the angles, peeped through all the little windows and picked every lock, somewhere in the back of your crane nests the very essence of what it's all about. Bizarrely, as it stands now, I personally get the best glimpse at the VU through very tiny peepholes, like the brilliant little live-only gem "Over You" on Live 1969, or the acetate demo version of "Ride Into The Sun" (on the unofficial Australian What Goes On collection), on Nico's "It Was A Pleasure Then" (Chelsea Girl), or the aforementioned "Steeple Chase" or "Real Good Time Together" or the proto-version of "Rock and Roll" (all on Another View). This may sound afwully "I'm the real connoisseur"-like, but take that early "Rock and Roll" version: there you hear Lou Reed with passionate though suppressed intensity proclaim his love for tha music, while the rest quietly but persistently jangle away. Not rock, but making a glorious statement to the muse in a subdued way, showing merely her naked ankle, while we are left to phantasise about how high her stockings reach. The VU pur sang. But perhaps Lou Reed himself stated it best, when he quoted Yeats at the beginning of the Take No Prisoners album: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity; now you figure out where I am".
bgreiser <firstname.lastname@example.org> (11.08.99)
Impenatrable? To whom? I guess that's the problem with criticism: it's sorely subjective. But I have to say, my fellow music lover, that your ears are untrained. You give yourself away when you admit that you don't know who did "Hitch-Hike." To understand this album and the work of this band overall, you have to have a firm grasp on soul, blues, and that intangibly catchy element known as "boogie." This album boogies like hell, in slo-mo on "Heroin," even and especially on "European Son." The "noise" that you hear is free-form improvisation along the lines of Ornette Coleman.It's art, alright. I'm surprised that when you use that word in your review, you put a slightly negative spin on it, equating it immediately with the fey, repulsive weirdness of Andy Warhol. It's Eastern, it's gloomy, it's all these innovative things. But mostly, it moves with the assurance of one of the concommitantly tightest and loosest rhythm sections in rock. Advice: listen to the Rhino compilation The Best of Booker T. and the MG's about 12 times in a row (which will not be an unpleasant task) and then listen to this album again. Tell me what you've learned. [Special author note: I really feel smaaaaaaalll.... so smaaaallll.... hey, don't you people think I oughta quit this job and go work in a bakery or somewhere?]
Gustavo Rodriguez <email@example.com> (25.08.99)
Finally--someone I can relate to! I HATE "Heroin"! I never understood the appeal of that song! A real boring, tedious drag! But I don't like Nico at all. Didn't miss her at all on the subsequent album.
Mike DeFabio <firstname.lastname@example.org> (25.08.99)
Yeah, Nico's TECHNICALLY better than Lou Reed, but she's a whole lot less listenable. There's more to singing than just hitting the notes.And "Heroin"'s not that bad. They just don't do it very well. It's a classic case of a good song done badly. [Special author note: sure, Mike. There is more to singing than hitting the notes. You can't deny that Nico's not just hitting the notes, right? Otherwise you wouldn't call her singing "less listenable". She is special, and it all boils down to whether one's ears are trained or not, like "bgreiser" mentioned here. Sorry, guess I don't need to play such an asshole and correct myself. Okay, here goes the magic catch phrase: IT'S ALL A MATTER OF TASTE!]
Simon Hearn <email@example.com> (11.09.99)
I love this album. Quite unlike any other album around at the time of its release, it has influenced generations of musicians. The album cannot be underestimated. 'Sunday Morning' is a beautiful song, as is 'Femme Fatale'. My faves are 'I'm waiting for the man', 'venus in furs' and 'heroin', YES GEORGE 'HEROIN'. I think this is one of Lou's greatest compositions and the song just has this un nerving quality that completely hooks me in - I never get tired of it. You have to remember NO ONE was writing songs like this in 1967. Dark and decadent best describes this album - if you do not own it you are missing out on history - go grab a copy and expand your mind.
Nick Karn <Awake600@aol.com> (15.09.99)
I just borrowed this album out of the library, after hearing scathing comments about it on the Mark Prindle and Brian Burks sites (that it was the most overrated album in history and it's musically incredibly dull), then read your opinion on it and I have to say I pretty much agree with your basic assessment on it. It's a revolutionary album (because it's truly the beginning of underground/alternative music and it sounds highly unique to me even now), but it is a bit flawed (not as much as people seem to think, though).First off, I don't really understand everyone's criticism of Nico's vocals -- I think they have tons more personality than Lou Reed's voice, which I think is very dull and lacks any sort of color (not unlike Bob Dylan). I enjoy "All Tomorrow's Parties" in particular quite a bit, with that great eerie piano and atmosphere, "I'll Be Your Mirror" is a nice tune, and I really can't see anyone else pulling off "Femme Fatale" in such an effective and distinctive manner as she did. And that opener "Sunday Morning" -- I totally shake hands with you on that one. It's undoubtedly the highlight of the album and it absolutely is one of the "most intoxicating soft ballads ever written". "Venus In Furs" is that dreary and unsettling drug song which has simply phenomenal darkness... I love it, and I've never heard anything quite like that addictive, pulsating beat to "Waiting For The Man". I think "Run, Run, Run" and "There She Goes Again" are really good, if a bit derivative like you said, rock songs, but my main gripes with this album (which really prevent me from giving it a 10 on my scale) are the horrible production, the quite unnecessary, irritating noise on the last two tracks -- "The Black Angel Death Song" and "European Son" are pretty much all distortion (the latter going on ridiculously for almost 8 minutes!) with almost no melody and the "epic" track "Heroin" I don't really care for either because the arrangement seems to be a bit wasted, and it's too slow. This album is certainly not as great as the other albums of 1967 that I'd give a "9" or "10" (the debut albums from The Doors, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues' Days Of Future Passed, and of course Sgt. Pepper) but it's still an outstanding piece of work. It's a bit overrated, but certainly not the most overrated of all time. That honor for me would be either the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks (The Clash's debut was more revolutionary and made the point much more effectively) or AC/DC's Back In Black. Overall, I give it a solid 8.
Steve Maffei <firstname.lastname@example.org> (21.11.99)
Thank God I finally have someone to help assure me I'm not going insane. I mean, isn't "Sunday Morning" the kind of Velvet track you wish punk would have been more influenced by? Beautiful, beautiful stuff...heck, I don't even know why "Heroin" is even recognized so much. The best lyrics on the whole album are on "Sunday"...no "shiny, shiny" on this one. Man, it's great. Hold on, I'm gonna go get that record off the shelf one more time.
Dan Luban <email@example.com> (25.06.2000)
Hmm...like with Mark Prindle's review of this album, all of your criticism makes sense, but somehow this album just works for me on some level. "Sunday Morning" and "Femme Fatale" are, as you said, great ballads. I've always liked "European Son" and, to a lesser extent, "Heroin"--sure, they're drones, but what hypnotic and whacked out drones they are! For me, though, the two highlights are "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "The Black Angel's Death Song". They both seem to capture a moody, mesmerizing, almost mystical tone (if you'll excuse the cheesy alliteration). I find that this album holds together remarkably well, and isn't overrated at all. This is not true of their next two albums, though: White Light/White Heat goes overboard with the experimental drones, and ends up sounding rather pretentious (though I still enjoy it somewhat). The third album, on the other hand, isn't nearly ambitious enough, and sounds rather boring (except "What Goes On" and "Pale Blue Eyes"). Well, nice site you have...keep up the good work.
Fredrik Tydal <firstname.lastname@example.org> (14.08.2000)
One of the world's most overrated albums, from one of the world's most overrated groups. Yes, I agree completely with both Prindle and Burks on this matter. Them and others have perfectly explained how the Velvets reached such levels of overratedness, so I won't go into that. So, when all alleged roots of influences and importance attributed to the group are removed, we are left with a fairly decent album. The opening "Sunday Morning" is a beautiful little gem - I would like to see the face of a punk fan putting on this album for the first time, eager to hear the alleged roots of punk rock and hearing this. No, this ain't punk. It ain't avant-garde, either. "I'm Waiting For The Man" desperately wants to be a dirty Rolling Stones song, but makes the same mistake the Glimmer Twins eventually did - focusing too much on the dirt instead of the actual song. I know how much you like her, George, but I personally just can't stand Nico. I normally don't have a problem with unusual voices, but she's apparently the exception. I admit "Femme Fatale" is quite a solid song where Nico actually doesn't bother me that much. "All Tomorrow's Parties", on the other hand... Ouch. It might have been good in Lou's hands, since the song itself is good - reminding me of Dylan's "Gates Of Eden". "Venus In Furs" is one of the better songs on the album, in spite of Cale's pretentious viola playing. I don't care much for the guy, seemingly doing nothing else then bothering people with that viola, desperately trying to be artsy and avant-garde. The whole Eastern vibe on the album seems to be inspired by The Byrds' Fifth Dimension. When they're ripping somebody off, they're at least up-front about it; as in "Run Run Run" and "There She Goes Again". And I have to disagree with you about "Heroin"; I actually like it. At least they were conscious about their drug problems. But the real stinkers are the two closing numbers. Ouch. Please leave the feedback to those who can use it creatively. So, I guess I disagree with you on this one, George. This is a five, perhaps a six in my book. This one can't stand up at all to those great records of 1967 (yeah, I know it was mainly recorded in '66, but there were pretty good albums that year too).P.S. Now, wait a second here... I've always thought that "I'm Waiting For The Man" was about Lou waiting for a male prostitute. You know, hearing how daring, controversial and revolutionary the song was for its time. Imagine my surprise when I'm skimming through the Velvet book "Uptight: The Story Of The Velvet Underground" and the writer states that the song actually is about scoring drugs up in Harlem! What's so freakin' revolutionary about that? Folk blues singer Leadbelly beat them by roughly thirty years with his ode to cocaine dealing "Take A Whiff On Me" ("went down to corners of 4th Street and Main, tryin' to get some good cocaine - oh, oh baby take a whiff on me..."). So where's the revolution? One of the few blues artists partly succeeding in crossing over to a white audience by incorporating folk material in his reportoire, Leadbelly was certainly more well-known than the Velvets in 1967. Not to mention all the other countless, though less famous, blues artists writing and singing about drug dealing and dependency problems. So, the Velvets were not revolutionary at all in this aspect. Not even with "Heroin".
Rich Bunnell <email@example.com> (12.10.2000)
I guess that mean people like to act like this album sucks, but that's why they're mean. This is a really cool album, and when I popped my $7.99 copy in expecting to hear nothing but dissonant noise and under-produced drug songs (from what everyone was saying about it) (well, I never said that - G.S.), I was surprised to find a fairly normal-sounding, welcome album. Oh sure, there are the long drugged-out things like "Heroin"(which rules) and "European Sun"(which blows), but they also provide neat little pop songs like "There She Goes Again" and "Sunday Morning"(the basis for half of the songs that Yo La Tengo have ever written - not that they're a bad band, mind you). The rest of the album is somewhere inbetween, alternating between bouncy, bizarre rock ("I'm Waiting For The Man"), intriguing drones ("Venus In Furs," the namesake of super-cool '80s postpunk band the Psychedelic Furs) and...well...Nico's songs.Regarding Nico, I agree with most people that she has a really bad voice (and she looks like a man, if the back of the CD isn't lying to my eyes), and I also agree with Mike that there's really more to singing than just hitting the notes. Lou Reed might have a rambling, growley baritone, but it's much easier to listen to and actually manages to hit the emotional notes he aims for (which are mostly "I like drugs," but still). Nico sounds like she's just sounding off the syllables like some five-year-old who's just learned how to read. That said, the three Nico songs are all melodically perfect, especially "Femme Fetale"(covered later by Duran Duran, not that anybody cares) - "All Tomorrow's Parties" in particular has a neat slow-burning vibe; great song. Great album. Lester Bangs may have been a drug addict, which probably aided his listening to these guys, but there's still a whole lot of truth in his appraisal of the band. A nine. P.S. Wait a second....that's not Nico, that's Sterling Morrison. And Maureen Tucker has her hair cut short on the back cover, so I thought she was one of the guys. Even though she's wearing lipstick. Stupid confusing bandmembers!!!
Kevin Baker <firstname.lastname@example.org> (12.02.2001)
After much internal debate, I decided to take the plunge and get all the mp3s for this one. It's a tough call for me; some of the songs are great, and others really bite the big one. Then one has to take into account that the purpose of the VU was to say in music what had previously only been discussed in novels. That's part of why I think they never hit the big time commercially; they were simply too literate and complex for the average listener. This is not to imply complexity a la Yes or Genesis; instead, they have a unique complexity of ideas and musicality that is if nothing else totally unique. My principal complaint against the concept of a "record as a novel" is that in this case, it lacks what makes a novel a novel--- a plot. To expect a plot WOULD be too much, though. It seems to be a collection of tableaux about the gritty, Bohemian, underground culture of the big city. This explains the songs---they all deal with some aspect of the city, whether they be the wistful reflections on life in 'Sunday Morning' or the ominous creeping of the heroin-filled syringe on 'Heroin' or the insane dissonance of 'The Black Angel's Death Song.' I think this is the proper way to view the song cycle, and this in turn leads to greater enjoyment of the music. Here then are my opinions on the individual song tableaux.'Sunday Morning'---Very gentle and wistful. Reminds of me The Glass Menagerie in all of it's darkly innocent glory. It sounds like a distant memory or a whisp of a conversation. 'I'm Waiting For The Man'---Rough and dirty, but appropriately so. It's ONLY about getting smack in Harlem. Perhaps 'Sunday Morning' should have gone after this one to represent the wistful euphoric effects of the purchased drugs. Reminds me of The Naked Lunch. 'Femme Fatal'e---Serene but approaches gothic darkness on a subconcious level. How, I don't know. The song is practically a lullaby compared to the song before it, but it bears a feel of dreariness and weariness. Nico's voice does it perfect justice (even if it drives me nutso when she says cluwn instead of clown). Reminds me of someone I know......my love life sucks, in case you haven't noticed. 'Venus In Furs'---Can you say Roman orgy? 'Nuff said. Reminds me of some naughty scenes with Assyrian dancers in Quo Vadis. 'Run Run Run'---Hectic, paranoid, and totally drugged out. Why? Because Union Square was one of the big sites for drug peddlers. Represents the desperation of the drug addict. Reminds me of The Naked Lunch. 'All Tomorrow's Parties'---My favorite on the album. Stately, hauntingly anthemic, and seemingly an underground city dweller's combined ridicule of the bourgeouisie and a lament that they aren't in the aforementioned social group. Reminds me of Steppenwolf (the book not the band, who are worth looking into for reviewing I might add:-) 'Heroin'---This song encapsules the hopelessness of the addict and the horrible short-lived euphoria of heroin. It is maybe the perfect picture of the addict. Say what you will about 'Sister Morphine', this is the definitive drug song. Reminds me of The Naked Lunch. 'There She Goes Again'---The return of the 'Femme Fatale'. This song takes either a more upbeat look at the conniver, or else takes a diabolicly sadistic look at her. Or maybe she's just the type of girl Bill Clinton would like to acquaint himself with. Reminds me of The Starr Report. 'I'll Be Your Mirror'---I do not find this to be the sweet love song some many other people do. The singer sounds like she only wants to be "your mirror" to hurt your self-esteem and shatter your heart for her own perverse gain. Reminds me of the girl that 'Femme Fatale' reminds me of... 'The Black Angel's Death Song'---The insanity of the city. 'European Son'---More insanity.
Didier Dumonteil <email@example.com> (02.03.2001)
A classic.Except for the last track,it's full of great moments.It seems to me that the V.U.-and Nico,John Cale and Lou Reed- are much more popular in decadent old Europa.In my native France they are genuine icons.The sames goes for Italy.:you should take a look at the mammoth scaruffi.com site.(Beatles 'fans,avoid it at any cost unless you're masochists)The V.U.and Nico is highly melodic:"sunday morning"-the tune ressembles Phil Ochs's "there but for fortune"- and the two songs "I'll be your mirror " and "femme fatale" are unforgettable.At the time,before her solo career,Nico is a chanteuse in the tradition of Zarah Leander or Marlene Dietrich.She passed away at an early age,as Edith Piaf.That explains the strong cult she enjoys in Europa,particularly in non-anglophone Europa. "heroin" is awesome and John Cale's viola on "the black angel death song" give goosepimples."I'm waiting for my man" has Moe Tucker's famous drumming(it's simple... when you know about it!)
My best fried in college invited me to her uncle's funeral, Sterling Morrison. I was completely blown away by this. Being a V.U. fan since age 5, I couldn't wait to meet the rest of the band. (and pay my tribute, of course) Everyone was great, too bad Andy wasn't around. Needless to say, named my new puppy NICO....
This is probobly the the toughest thing i'll ever have to do. Critically reveiwing one of my all-time favorie albums. Allright here goes nothing. Sunday Mourning- Not the best, but awesome. Great song to wake up to on Monday Mourning before school, a very tough thing to do sometimes. The bells are superb and Lou Reed's talk singing is at a high.I'm Waiting for the Man- The first classic on the album comes next. Lou must have thought," Well, before we write any real drug songs, lets buy some drugs in a song!!" Moe Tucker is also drumming well here. This song can get hyptmotizing but may get boring after the 400th listen or so. Femme Fatale- Hey, who's this german chick?!? Nico's best song on here. Strong vocals and gothicy feel. Quintessential Nico! However she makes on of the worst rhymes ever with her pronunciation of clown. Yech Venus in Furs- Eastern Influences are very strong and Mr.Cale is really jammin' on 'dat Viola. This song also has some of Lou's best dark songwriting and is almost equaled on a truly strange version on the anthology. A classic Run,Run,Run- Second drug song on here. Classic. Ultra-fast beat with excellent viola making loud noises which I seem to love I guess. All Tommorow's Parties- Dig the experimentation and the gothic feel but this song, to me, is very long and repetitive. I mean how many times can you listen to the same lyric. I hear Andy Warhol loved it though. I dunno, its just not as awesome as the others. Heroin- THE ALBUM'S SHOWCASE. Bar none. This seven minute epic is the greatest drug song ever writen.How can you say this is a bore? Just listen to the end of it and please change your mind. Classic x2 There She Goes Again- Fine pop song. Great duh duh duh chord sequence. One of Reed's best poppish songs. A pleasant change of pace. I'll Be Your Mirror- Femme Fatale but shorter. Solid, but not amazing like Femme. The Black Angel's Death Song- Great experiment. Great viola. Great songwriting. Great song. A classic. European Son- Words dont do justice...for the first 30 seconds. If I wanted to write an accurate review I would write on and on and on and bore you. Useless jam but listenable to me because of the cool noises! Overall- 10 out of 10/ Not overrated at all. Deserves any praise it can get.
Mattias Kalander <firstname.lastname@example.org> (25.08.2001)
Hey I just wanna say that it's not a glockenspiel John Cale is playing on the opening track 'Sunday Morning'. As a matter of a fact it's a instrument called a celesta, it's kinda like a piano but it sounds just like a glockenspiel. Anyway I know that this sound naggy but I just want to help you out a little. But now you know.
Mike D <email@example.com> (12.09.2002)
I ran across your review the first Velvet Underground album..."There's quite a lot of Eastern (aka Indian) influence in the songs" It's a very accurate comment! John Cale was heavily borrowing from his earlier group, La Monte Young's Dream Syndicate (also with Angus Maclise and Tony Conrad). Their shared obsession with drones/repetition in music was admittedly influed by Indian music. Once Cale left, the Velvets changed directions.
Nick Vesey <firstname.lastname@example.org> (22.10.2002)
Hey, I like 'Heroin'! Okay, you're right, it is clumsy and slow, but theres just this presence about it that I (and many other people, I guess) find captivating... something in Lou's nihilistic vocals and the dismal acoustic strumming that makes it sound so desperate and dangerous. But I completely understand how you could dislike it, because there are obvious faults. But I agree that 'Sunday Morning' is the best on here, theres something really dreamy and misty about it, and the idea to put those twinkling bells throughout was a stroke of brilliance. It reminds me of New York on a, well, sunday morning. 'I'm Waiting For The Man' is excellent too; alot of people label is as just bashing the same piano notes over and over and over and over and over again for almost five minutes, but I can get such a rush from it that I'll take this relentless key-hammering. 'The Black Angel's Death Song' is cool too, its so creepy and grim that I manage to be very entertained by it most of it.. it sounds like the soundtrack to a nightmare to me. 'European Son' annoys me most of the time as well, even if I really like several moments of it quite alot. I can only listen to a chaotic, aimless jam for so long before I start getting bored. But that mirror-shattering part is pretty cool.
Joshua <email@example.com> (04.12.2002)
I understand that enough, and more than so, has been said about this album. But I just feel I need to defend 'Heroin' a bit. It's drags on forever and the speed changes are kinda clumsy. But to me it seems it's all supposed to pretty literary paint a heroin trip. I haven't tried the drug, so I'm on thin ice here, but as it's been descibed to me, the song seems to fit amazingly well.The song seems to me to be quite genial, viewed in that light. The tempo changes, in all their clumsyness, the droning style and the "crappy" singing, all fits in well. It can be compared to other songs of the kind, for example The Door's 'The End' (which isn't about a heroin trip but certainly feels like one), which gives the same feeling but it's not as strong. If nothing else, try to listen to the song when you're drunk!
Crew Glazjev <firstname.lastname@example.org> (25.04.2003)
Here are some notes on The Velvet Underground and Nico. First, there is no Indian flavour in the thing at all. Trust me, I truly tried to find it after reading this in your review, but failed. I'd say there is a lot of European (well, it would be 'eastern' for Americans); particularly I find there some reminiscences of French chanson (though I'm not a big expert on it); 'German cabaret music' is probably there too. Viola line is more of vagrant musical bands, a sort of Gypsy stuff, you know. As to Indian... even if there are two or three notes played in Indian way, that doesn't give any right to talk about Indian influence. You could say that harmonic minor scale sounds 'eastern' as well but that's not so. Maybe your own associations on what Indian thing should be like... You also should treat term 'ballad' more cautiously for neither 'Sunday Morning' nor 'Femme Fatale' are definitely not ballads, though they do have slow pace and mellow mood. You could note that they are twins in fact having the same melody shared but I don't mind as they are not so long and nearly perfect. Right time to say that I admire Nico's voice very much. She doesn't have what's called 'good singing voice' but it's so beautiful and impressive! And you're right, 'Femme Fatale' is her best on this record though other tracks are marvelous too.Strangely you did not say anything about 'The Black Angel's Death Song'. It has some messy arrangement with mad viola scraping and recitative manner of Reed's delivery doesn't help to catch the tune but it's alright. If there is any track on the album to be called 'impenetrable', it's this one. This 'tsssshhhhhh' sound is very interesting and in situ. Perhaps it's the only thing Tucker did properly here (though it could be not Tucker...). And 'European Son' is really a disaster, it's out of place here and moreover it's too long. I think they'd better curtail 'Sister Ray' on the next album and shove 'Son' there.
Michael Willems <email@example.com> (19.10.2003)
Hey there,In your Velvets review you say "not that Heroin bore..." Well, no doubt boredom like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But let me tell you that anyone who has ever been a junkie will not consider this a boring song. On the contrary, the combination of the nihilistic "Life sucks and it is tough and cold and I might as well be be dead I would be better off" theme and the gripping rhythm, where the song starts slow and depressed, and then the rush the rush oh yeah the rush as the heroin enters the bloodstream and yes it hits the brain yes yes and now you are alive aaah. That is not a bore, that is a very accurate representation of what it is like to be a junkie, and every junkie recognises it, which is one reason Lou Reed and the Velvets were so popular with people in the drug subsulture.
Ryan McKay <firstname.lastname@example.org> (13.02.2004)
Dear George, I enjoyed your review of this album, but have to admit that I too was a bit disappointed at your reaction to "Heroin". I've loved this song for quite a time now, and am still overwhelmed by how such an emotionally desolate musical utterance could be so beautiful. The way Reed juxtaposes the blood and the needles with the spare imagery of the "great big clipper ship sailing from this land here to that" always gets to me, but the best comes when he sustains those long notes on the word "Heroin". Nihilism rarely feels so good! And what's with the neglect of "I'll be your mirror"? I thought a melody fiend like yourself would be hard pressed not to fall for that gentle little gem. Anyway, keep up the good work!
Bob Josef <Trfesok@aol.com> (26.08.2005)
Never has a group done so much with so little, as the saying goes. Four musicians with, face it folks, very limited technical abilities (Sure, Cale could play multiple instruments, but wasn't particularly talented at any of them at this stage); a female "singer" added by their manager more as a "special effect" than for her voice; and next to no production budget. Basically, the most stunning album by a garage band in history.The main reason for this success is that Lou Reed wrote brilliant POP melodies. Sure, maybe the lyrics are about the darker aspects of drugs, sex and love (nobody wanted to hear this stuff in the year of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "All You Need is Love"), but they're almost all carried by accessible tunes. "I'm Waiting for the Man" -- that is a damn catchy song! "I'll Be Your Mirror" would have been a huge hit in the hands of somebody like the Mamas and the Papas. However, aside from the lyrics, there is a lot here that makes the album's commercial failure perfectly understandable -- the crude production, Cale's dissonant viola effects. And Nico's voice - - well, at first hearing, it sounded downright comical to me. But then, I sort of got it -- her detached monotone certainly conveys, intentionally or not, Reed's disdain for the characters in "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Femme Fatale." In "I'll Be Your Mirror," she sort of sounds like a little girl trying to please her parents with a crude drawing, but it does work sincerely. I also have to give a thumbs up to "Heroin" -- I agree that the alternating tempos perfectly simulate the desperation of a drug addict. It sounds totally convincing -- I really hope that this song isn't directly autobiographical! I do, agree, though, that "European Son" isn't very good -- the group's musicianship just wasn't good enough for them to handle feedback experimentation. I don't care for "The Black Angel's Death Song" (another cheerful title for the Summer of Love), either. Reed's attempt to pull a Dylan doesn't cut it, either. Still, this is essential for anyone's collection. I came to it a bit late, since almost half of the group's Best of.. consists of tracks from here, which suggests a lot about the quality of the following albums. The version that I came across is a double CD deluxe edition, which consists of the stereo mix, the mono mix, four mono single mixes (which don't sound all that different from the mono album mixes to me!) and the tracks that the VU wrote for Chelsea Girl. The title track of that album is SO sad -- makes me feel really sorry for the lives of the prostitutes depicted in the song. Nico sounds far more convincing here than she does on her one VU album.
Lisa Joy <email@example.com> (01.11.99)
This album is more influential than any Rolling Stones album, which in my opinion is what makes a band or its work great.
Michel Franzen <firstname.lastname@example.org> (13.01.2000)
I would give this lp at least a 13. It is one of the great roaring disaster albums of all time--nothing ever sounded like this before it. No one outside of jazz had ever attempted an album as sonically ferocious as this, with no regard for distortion meters or public taste. It may sound horrible and is difficult to digest, but this album is as pure a statement of white noise and dirge jamming as it gets, and it is daring in its indulgence. It also has its moments of understated droning as well. Historical, at least.
mjcarney <email@example.com> (22.07.2000)
White Light/ White Heat, was the record that the Velvet Underground were supposed to make, it is totally uncompromising, loud, screechy, punky, and near brilliant, but it also has several flaws on it that make it short of being perfect. Also, just because this was the record they were supposed to make, it isn't necessarily there best--I think Loaded is that just because of Lou's increasingly superb songwriting on it to match another set of typically brilliant lyrics. Anyway, this album takes all of the experimental noisy parts from VU+Nico, expands them, and then turns them all inside out into a record that sounds like nothing else before it, and almost nothing else after it--Funhouse by the Stooges is the closest that I have heard, but they are not quite in the same league as the Velvets as far as mass experimentation goes. This is THE ALBUM, in my opinion, that started punk rock as it is today. It even has probably the first ever full fledged punk song in "I Heard Her Call My Name" and of course "Sister Ray". But anyway now onto the album itself not just its history. It opens with a true velvet classic, and perhaps the most instantly likable song, with the title track. This is probably the only song that could have fit quite well on VU+Nico, and it is brilliant. Next comes, what some could call boring, but what I think is revolutionary, in "The Gift". This song has Cale, just unemotionally reading a story amidst some bluesy/punky rythyms which progressively get stronger as the story continues. The story is about a guy Waldo that is half way across the country from his girlfriend Marsha. He thinks she is cheating on him (which she is), so he tries to surprise her by sending himself in a wooden box (the gift). The package gets to her and she and her friend have trouble opening it, so they take a chainsaw, and split the package open in the middle, killing Waldo. It is quite depressing once you learn the lyrics, but with all the noise and the almost uncarring/monotone format that Cale reads it amongst the growing noises in the background make it hard for the average listener to pick up the entire story. It is a brilliant song though, so revolutionary in its simplicity and I for one can listen to this song over and over and never tire of it. "Lady Godiva's Operation" continues with the "unlistenability" of the album. It is a fine, yet very strange song with a bizarre melody, like "The Gift" before it, it starts out rather slow then progresses into a weird mess of noise, dual singing, and guitars. Another supremely experimental track, if even in a more pop oriented tone but nothing that the average pop listener would be able to stand. This entire album demands a few listens--actually a lot--before you can get past its noisy/punky sound. "Here She Comes Now" is the most pop-oriented song on here, it also is the most listenable despite its lyrics, which continue with Lou's sexual overtones in a rather graphic format. Next comes the punky "I heard her call my name". THis song takes the basic track and sound of "Run Run Run" speeds it up, adds a lot of noise to it, and basically invents what would become punk rock 7-8 years before the fact. Another revolutionary track, and a definite highlight. Finally, the so-called classic "Sister Ray" ends this one. It is another, extremely uncompromising/ unlistenable song on the record, with punk overtones, and Lou's graphic sexual lyrics again. Many consider this to be a classic, but for me it goes on WAY TOO LONG! 18 minutes or whatever of a punk rock/ 2-3 chord progression, with absolutely no hooks--like the rest of the album, but yet it just doesn't work. Although, the basic track isn't bad, and there is a whole lot of experimentation on it, I just don't care for it, or its length and it definately drags the album down somewhat. Overall though, this album is not for the uninitiated, do not get this album if you are purely a pop fan, or if you have never heard anything by the group (if that is the case buy either Loaded or VU+Nico for some excellent, more instant, somewhat pop-oriented material). If you already own one of these albums, and love them, then definately buy this one. It is probably the most challenging record of all time (Zappa, Beefheart, and Tom Waits included). That said, it is very rewarding. I would rate the album an 8/10. For its historic reasons it deserves nothing short of a 10, but for the rambling jam at the end, it can't get much higher than an 8.
Didier Dumonteil <firstname.lastname@example.org> (02.03.2001)
Side one has its moments:the title track is catchy and "lady Godiva's operation" is spooky!"The gift " is an "experiment " John Cale would reiterate on his slow dazzle solo (1975):this time,"the jeweller's eye turns into a vagina.Side 2 can be listened from time to time..when you need "something different" .The second side of live peace in Toronto too.
Very much a weaker album. Kicks off with a classic on the title track, which has some great energy and a cool conclusion. But then, BANG, the album starts to suck."The Gift" is easily the second worst song they ever did (behind "sun"). I have to admit, a year ago when I first heard the song I was totally freaked out, amazed. mesmerized if you will, but Its like hearing the same joke twice the next time. But, thank heavens, following it is a great song. "Lady Godiva's Operation" is one of my all-time favorite Velvets songs.What a creepy subject. Failed surgical operation,huh. I never got into "Here She Comes Now", but nothing is wrong with it. Then comes "I Heard Her Call My Name with its great guitar and little else. Now, the big point of contreversy...'Sister Ray'. I'm gonna take the middle ground. Its boring,yes, but cool in some parts. It would have been great if it ended at about ten minutes though. I do like it more than Zappa's "Freak Out" at the end of his debut, though.
Sterjanova Ksenia <KSIJ@mail.ru> (13.03.2003)
I think White Light/White Heat to be the greatest albums ever released. Forgive me my poor eglish if it matters at all. I'm a Velvet Underground fan, the one u mentioned. I agree with everything you wrote 'bout Nico. So I think that's all.P.S. Don't u think the album was greatly influenced by the Last Escape to Brooklin - a book by Selsby P. P. S. Your ideas about 'The Gift' - just ruubish
Crew Glazjev <email@example.com> (25.04.2003)
There is not much to say on 'White Light/White Heat' for I mainly agree with your statements. 'The Gift' may be an avant-garde exercise but it begins to bore on the second or third listen. No, I haven't noticed how they actually borrowed the melody of 'Sunday Morning' for the verses of 'Lady Godiva'. I think they didn't. It's my favourite track here by the way. And 'Sister Ray' is not embarrassment, it's just overlong. Though I would give it a lower grade be there no organ (maybe it's Farfisa? I love Farfisa!) and the moment where distortion is suddenly cut off - it really brings relief. The main embarrassment FOR ME are those screeching noises on 'I Heard Her Call My Name' which sound almost europeansonish. And here I'm through.
Francis Mansell <Fgmansell@aol.com> (28.01.2004)
Well George, you'll be glad to know I won't go on at great length about this one - my verbal diarrhoea's almost dried up for tonight! Gotta say I'm surprised no one's really tried to defend 'Sister Ray' yet though. Too long?! Hell, if they continued in similar vein I'd happily take another 10 minutes (there's some very long live versions but they ain't as good ... no Cale for a start).Why is it so good? They take a brilliant idea (one chord, metronome beat, battling guitars and organ, amusing ultra-sleaze lyric) and run with it. Wouldn't be right if it was shorter. I guess my idea of what constitutes rock&roll is fairly abrasive (not that I don't like a whole heap of more mainstream/tuneful/even gentle stuff) and I just love the sheer glee with which they bash this out, they never let up. The constant battle for volume supremacy between Reed's guitar and Cale's organ, with Cale pulling out more and more stops and then Reed cranking up to 11. And they did it in one take. No overdubs. They knew they had to get everything they wanted in that one time, there was never going to be a second take. Take it from me George, this is the best. It totally rocks. I love a lot of music but this is the one for me, nothing else is as concentrated as this for so long, I've been known to put this on three times in a row (especially once when I was left by a really special girlfriend! really cathartic!) Sadly, I guess I'm in a minority here, never mind.
mjcarney <firstname.lastname@example.org> (24.07.2000)
After the sonic roar of the classic White Light/White Heat, Cale left, and Reed carried the band on into a startlingly different, almost subdued direction with their self titled release. Gone are all of the noises, thunderous guitar, and mass experimentation--except for in 'Murder Mystery'. What is left is almost a singer/songwriter type of album in the Velvet Underground style. Full of Reed's typical lyrical nature, yet lacking the bite of the first two albums, this sees the band in a transitional period. Highlights are the Yule sung Reed written "Candy Says", which is almost a lullaby, and sounds like nothing the band put out before it. "Pale Blue Eyes" and "I'm Set Free" are the two great ballads--if you want to call them that--on the album and "After Hours" is just fun (it sounds like a club song) The rockers "What Goes On" and "Beginning to see the light" are really the only rocking moments on the disc. They add some refreshment to the subdued nature, but the cannot add enough to make this album be nearly as strong as their other three. The other songs are just too slow, and subdued. It is easy to fall asleep to this music, and I for one miss the experimentation and punch which was all over their other albums. "The Murder Mystery" has some of the experimentation, but it is in no way a classic. By this time, the Velvets were selling next to nothing, and this album, although it seemingly tried for some commercialism, was doomed to fail too. It probably turned off more record buyers than what it would have added for the band simply because by this time they had a huge reputation for their harshness. It has its moments, but is nothing near a 10. I would give it a 6/10. Easily their worst release, and that is why it gets such a low rating. This was just such a step downward, but Reed would make up for this with the beautiful Loaded.
Didier Dumonteil <email@example.com> (10.03.2001)
By and large,this is a SLOW album.Only 2 tracks "what goes on" (much better on the live 1969),"beginning to see the light " can be counted as "rock"For the rest ,it's most likely "antirock" ,the same "antirock" LR will use on the side 2 of the Berlin album."Candy says " "pale blue eyes " and 'i've been set free" are so delicate,so soft,so smooth,that it's hard to think that the same group produced,say, "sister Ray".But it's the same group that produced "Julia" and "Helter skelter" too."I wonder whether "Jesus " is to be taken seriously .If it's funny,it must be to the umpteenth degree."That's the story of my life "has a pleasant country feel and goes on and on repeating the same verse."The murder mystery" is V.U.' s only claim to avant-garde on this effort.M.Tucker's childish voice-recalling that of ... er a certain Japanese- creates some kind of Henry James 's atmosphere ."After hours" is a cabaret song,featuring Tucker's vocals again.The best Tucker rendition,however is in the bonuses:"I'm sticking with you" (cause I 'm made out of glue,hilarious,isn'it?)This album or loaded are good starts for those who wants to discover this important group "safely".
Sergey Zhilkin <firstname.lastname@example.org> (07.07.2001)
Never have heard their debut album, so maybe my opinion will change soon, but I have no doubt that Velvet Underground is much better than White light or Loaded. It's all because I could never expect Velvets writing such songs ( which sound more like prayers as 'Jesus': 'Jesus, help me find my proper place, help me in my weakness cause I'm falling out of the grace' or 'Pale blue eyes': 'The fact that you are married only proves you're my best friend'. And 'Beginning to see the light'? What a catchy (and optimistic) song! Really resonant. And what a wonderful closer they've chosen this time - a very calm, somewhat childish tune with a cozy vocal. And so-called 'lullabies' are darn sweet, too. 'Candy says' and 'Some kinda love' give me a very sleepy, or better to say slack mood. Why so many people call them boring and completely inadequate is far beyond me. Maybe it's because VU exploded their reputation by such unsexy songs?As for boring experiments, don't worry, they are still here - 'Murder mystery' is just a tape wasting/filling piece of (guess what!) sound (you lost! heh heh heh). Though, if you have this album on CD, you can simply skip it. Still, agreement with the rating.
The start of the most consistent part of the band's career. Unfortunately, John Cale left and took most of the group's groundbreking qualities with him, but thats A-OK, 'cause Lou has prepared us ten songs that are great (or good) all the way through,.It starts off with "Candy Says", which is one of their best ballads, sung by Doug Yule ( who is not cool at all, he made the band become dorks, just look at a band photo of them in '67, then one in '69, HUGE DIFFERENCE). Then the best song hits. "What Goes On" is the finest traditional rocker in the bands catalogue, featuring great drumming by Mo Tucker. 'Some Kinda Love' is solid, with some great lines. "Pale Blue Eyes" drags a bit, but "Jesus" is a great song. Next comes "Beginning to see the Light" which is almost as good as "What Goes On" and rocks just as hard (which isn't really that hard). The next couple of songs are also very good. "The Murder Mystery" holds up well over repeated listenings in my opinion, and I adore "After Hours", with Mo taking the lead vocal. By the way, this is my all-time favorite late-night album,too.
Evan Williams <Evan.Williams@mailbox.uq.edu.au> (05.12.2002)
Hi George Love your site visit almost every day. Now comments. The photo of the group on the cover of VU was taken in Andy's "loft/performing space" in 67 and shows that the group wern't really mad bad and dangerous at any time! Dont forget that lou is a product of upper middle class Long Island (Jenny in 'Rock and Roll' is him).
Brenner, Elliot T. <BrennerET@hiram.edu> (15.04.2003)
George, simply amazing and sincere album; way underrated. This is still in my top five favorites of all time. Songs such as "What Goes On", "Begining to See the Light", "Story of My Life", etc., are so mellow, despite the rockers, that one can hardly despise this album, period. No one expected this sudden turn in style from the Velvets as they were quite controvesrsial to begin with. This proves that they weren't out for creating a white noise scene in the long run. Conversely, this album has quite a lot to do with the addition of Yule as a replacement of violinist Cale. With this addition/replacement, the band was off to set a new sound in combination with the desire to be a more commercial and succesful band. The result is something I never heard before; a complete transition from avantgarde to the realms of sincerety and straightforwardism. You rating is a just one as it explains the differences and advancements the band put out in 1969.
Francis Mansell <Fgmansell@aol.com> (31.01.2004)
First off: despite the fairly constant recording sound, this album comes from a whole bunch of different concerts at two venues: End Of Cole Avenue (the name of the club describes its location!) in Dallas, Texas (they played two nights there in early November 1969) and the Matrix in San Francisco, where they played quite a long residency a few weeks later. I've no idea where you get the Alabama reference, or the campus one either - both of these were rock clubs, pure and simple. Not sure about them having been recorded on cassette either - the Matrix recordings were done by the club, and the Dallas one allegedly by someone working on a film who happened along with a tape recorder (according to the sleeve notes of a bootleg of this gig which I would take with a pinch of salt - mind you, the bootleg interestingly sounds a bit better so perhaps comes from the original tape rather than a copy) and the implication is that both were done on something like a portable reel to reel of reasonable quality - they don't sound like crappy cassette mike in the audience jobs, particularly given their age. Anyhow, I think all but about 5 of the songs were recorded at the Matrix over a period of perhaps 10 days. The editing involved is interesting - the version of "Some Kinda Love" which follows the spoken introduction on this album is not the one that follows the same introduction on the Dallas bootleg, so presumably they've cut in what they considered a better version from the Matrix after the essential intro; and then Lou says goodnight to the audience after "Sweet Jane" at what was the end of side 1 of a double lp. Cri ticisms of the sound quality are, I think, pointless given a) it ain't that bad - good bootleg quality, with little distortion or unpleasantness beyond rather more hiss than one would like; b) in the light of the sound quality, releasing music of this quality is essential.So, to the music. It's fair to say that in quite a few cases, this album contains the best available version of a particular song (in a few cases because the song has never appeared anywhere else) and this can be said quite firmly for the following: "Lisa Says": far better both musically and lyrically than either the Lou solo debut version or the much later issued VU studio version, a fantastic reflection on the difficulties and misunderstandings involved in men and women getting it together; "What Goes On": always a standout even on this excellent album - Lou's right arm control to strum away at that tempo for 9 minutes is incredible; no bass, incredibly minimal drums and very credible organ mangling from Doug Yule with never a note out of place; "Sweet Jane": another album standout, the best version of one of Lou's greatest songs, absolutely riveting despite its gentleness; "New Age": again slightly different lyrics from Loaded, plus Lou sings it instead of Doug (and let's face it, he puts way more meaning into it) and played with considerably more verve; "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together": we most certainly are, a lively and unironic ode to the joys of having fun with what I can only describe as a rhythm guitar solo - manic but very tight strumming from Lou. The rest of the album is quite a mixed bag - there are some low points, and for me the worst of these is "White Light/White Head", which gets a bit cacophonous in the middle in a far less focused way than some of the more extreme tracks on the first two albums that you don't like, George. I'm also not that knocked out by the two versions of "Heroin", or "I Can't Stand It" - far better versions of the latter on bootlegs. But none of these are rubbish. "I'm Waiting For The Man" is wonderfully different from the original (and other performances from this period show that it could be wonderfully different from gig to gig) and almost country in parts before rocking out towards the end; "Rock And Roll", "Beginning To See The Light", "Some Kinda Love" and "Pale Blue Eyes" are all excellent versions; the two Nico numbers I have no issue with your comments; "Ocean" isn't that great but I prefer it to shorter versions, it's more ... "oceanic" ... and that just leaves the completely new stuff (well, more of the songs were completely new when this first came out in 1974), the rock'n'rolling "Sweet Bonnie Brown/It's Just Too Much" medley which I've always liked despite its essentially rather banal lyric (quite odd though: "She looked real nice like a real old lady, coming up over me ...") because, well, it rocks in, as you say, a quite 50s manner; and the inoffensive but not great little ballad, "Over You". So I guess there's enough top notch material here to fill a single CD, but what's interesting is what they left out. It's fascinating to compare this album with the 3 CD Quine Tapes which came out a couple of years ago, which was all recorded in 1969 and includes a lot of material from the Matrix, only overlapping once (same version of "Rock And Roll"). George, I guess you'd be horrified to know that it includes no less than three versions of "Sister Ray", one of which goes on (and on) for a staggering 38 minutes (that's the best one, oddly enough, though not because of its length, just because they never get boring) so I guess such material was left out because it was too long for an album side - none of them are remotely as abrasive, in the absence of John Cale, as the studio version, but they're all very good. One begins to realise that despite the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, the Velvets had more in common with the Grateful Dead than they or many fans of both bands would care to acknowledge - they were actually one of the great improvising bands of the period, and Lou Reed had an extraordinary facility for varying and reinventing lyrics, sometimes to considerable advantage over the studio versions. And there are more utterly different versions of various songs on The Quine Tapes, notably "I'm Waiting For The Man". This box isn't as consistent as Live 1969 (some of it is frankly boring, especially the 17 minutes long "Follow The Leader") or as well recorded (it was recorded on a cassette recorder, I guess it's not bad in the circumstances, certainly perfectly listenable) but it's well worth checking out if you like Live 1969.
Gustavo Rodriguez <email@example.com> (25.08.99)
George, I think you entirely missed the whole point of this fine album. It's a POP album, but it's also a parody of pop cliches and for the most part I think it suceeds.First off, George, you have to get one fact straight. Doug Yule didn't write "Who Loves The Sun?" or "Lonesome Cowboy Bill". Reed was pretty much the main author of all of the songs on the album. "Who Loves the Sun" is a humourous piece! How did you miss that? It's obviously a take off on "Here Comes The Sun." As the opener of the album, it perfectly underlines a major theme of the album. And to add another layer of irony, it's a fun and catchy song to listen to, in short, a well crafted pop song. There is a neat chord change in it I like a lot. "I Found a Reason" is both comedic and touching. Again both a parody of doo wap that portrays a real (but warped) sentiment hardly common in doo wap. I agree that "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" (again--Reed wrote it--blame him) is a failure (nice cheap Gram Parsons dig, pal) but the rest of the album is a classic. "Oh Sweet Nuthin'" is flawed and is too long but it's not a complete waste. I prefer the Velvet's later "pop" phase to the first two records. I'm not hip, I know, I know!! [Special author note: I'm not hip either, Gus, but if it's a parody, it's a failed one because I can't see the parody on here. A mishmash of styles, yes, but much too dumb to be a good parody. 'I Found A Reason', comedic? Well - only because it's sung by Lou Reed!]
Ben Greenstein <firstname.lastname@example.org> (08.09.99)
Well, I actually like "Who Loves The Sun" quite a bit, and think that there are many more obvious Dylan ripoffs than "Sweet Jane," but, for once, my main argument lies not with George, but with Gustavo Rodriguez.A parody? That's honestly the agrument that you're going to use? There is not a hint of irony on this album - it's simply a collection af fun little pop songs, as unlike the Velvets as it may be. If you think that there was any more to it than that, then you are WRONG. I enjoy it as much as you do, but I think that Lou DID try and write a collection of accesible pop tunes - something he's actually done quite a bit in his solo career. Are you going to defend Sally Can't Dance or Rock 'N Roll Animal next, complaining that "he was mocking other groups!" First and foremost, we must recognize that Lou Reed, talented songwriter or not, is a HUMAN BEING, and humans are eager to give into temptation. So when asked to make his sound more mainstream, Lou did just that. I mean, why do YOU think John Cale left the group? As for the album, I love "Rock And Roll" and "Cool It Down," and most of the others. The last few tracks are kind of weak, but the good material more than makes up for it.
Gustavo Rodriguez <email@example.com> (01.10.99)
Greenstein:Wrong? A little objectivity wouldn't hurt.. There's plenty of irony on Loaded and yes, in Reed's solo work. The irony being that Reed is writing 'pure' pop (as in 'popular') or "accesible" music with lyrical content/imagery that is anything but. "Walk on the Wild Side" is the best example of this. Loaded is full of irony and I don't think Lou ever thought that "Who Loves theSun" or that silly spoken passage in "I Found a Reason" or "Cool it Down" would ever endear him to a mass audience. Lou is more conventional than John Cale, yes, but that's only because Reed was always writing the only kind of music he truly understood--pop music. Loaded is not as superficial as you make it out to be. Reed wanted commercial success, sure--all the greats did, but at the same time he made it hard on himself by clinging to his idiosyncracies. We could go on and on, Ben, but it's late.
Sergey Zhilkin <firstname.lastname@example.org> (07.07.2001)
Right, the first thing that makes you think whether seller at the store gave you the right CD is 'pa-pa-pa-PAAA, who loves the sun'. Gee, what a disappointment - I missed a good chance to hear the word 'fu*k', though maybe only for better. Things get better with 'Sweet Jane' which contains one of VU's first hooks (TRAITORS!!!): 'Swe-e-e-e-et Jane, wo-o-ow!'. And, yes, VU is becoming more poppy. 'Rock'n'roll' really proves it.Believe me, I really like all new melodies (and not one riff coppied 1000 times to fill the song, which we faced before) - I mean, I like that they went away from monotonous sound, but, man, they still make boring songs too long an good ones too short. And, besides, they lost their lyrics' style. Should I cry for this? I guess, yes, since VU was planned to be a dirty band from the very beginning. Damn, and why they had to put such boring tunes as 'New age', 'I found a reason' and 'Oh! Sweet nuthin' between good ones? Why they couldn't just put all the boring and ve-e-e-e-e-ery long tunes in the very end? PS. 'Head held high' is an obvious rip-off of 'Beginning to see the light'.
Finally, the VU become your normal poppy band, and with good reason, this album is every bit as good as its predecessor, if not better.On a song-by-song basis, its better. The first three tracks all rule. 'Who Loves the sun' is a fine pop tune (love the chorus!), 'Sweet Jane' is the best song on the album, and 'Rock and Roll' is fantastic, too. The album really never lets up, either. Other Highpoints: 'Lonesome Cowboy Bill', 'Train Comin' Round the Bend', and 'I Found a Reason', but every one is a gem. This one and the debut get a ten from me, with the self-titled getting a nine and White Light getting a 5. The main problem with this album is, as you said, it lacks the VU coolness and thus makes it a bit less satisfying. When I bought it, I was expecting another debut and was thoroughly shocked. This album grew on me, though and is one of the most entertaining records I own.
Victor J Chang <email@example.com> (06.03.2000)
Some quick fact-checking...The songs on VU were actually remnants of the lost FOURTH album (rec. circa 1969 - some of the other tracks are on the Another View collection) - after the failure of The Velvet Underground, Verve/MGM rejected the fourth album and kicked them off the label, and then they went on to Atlantic records and recorded Loaded. (See site below for more info) Also - "Caroline Says II" on Lou Reed's Berlin is a rewrite of "Stephanie Says" on VU. Lastly: a VERY good website for VU info.