|GET LOADED WITH THE VELVET UNDERGROUND'S LOST CLASSIC.|
|Between the release of The Velvet Underground's eponymous third album and the recording sessions for their final proper album, Loaded, the band entered numerous recording studios to try out new|
material for an album that would never be released.
These songs turned up on numerous bootlegs throughout the seventies and were finally compiled together haphazardly over the space of two rarities compilations in the eighties, VU and Another View, but the album itself has never been compiled together, except by big honking geeks.
Viewed separately, the songs function as further ballast for the argument that The Velvet Underground crafted rock songs that far surpassed anything on the radio, and really should have received far wider recognition in its time. Assembled together, the songs document an album that might've just done that if it had been released. But what's truly special about these songs, today, is that they exist, the album was not lost, and with enough free time on your hands -- you can create your very own "Lost" Velvet Underground album.
The Velvet 2 Rocket Path.
If traced on a graph, the trajectory of The Velvet Underground would resemble the flight path of the V-2 rocket.
While managed by pop artist Andy Warhol, the VU shot towards the sky only to level off and begin their descent once Lou Reed fired Warhol, and then struck the ground shortly after Lou Reed left the band.
The members of the Velvet Underground couldn't have been more disparate. John Cale (bass, viola, organ) studied classical music and composition with such avant-garde figures as John Cage and LaMont Young; whereas Lou Reed (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) dashed out songs for Pickwick Records, a songwriting company that made B-grade quality rock music to be sold on compilation albums at supermarkets. Conversely, Reed studied writing under the poet Delmore Schwartz. Held together with the soaring guitar work of Sterling Morrison and the pounding of Maureen Tucker's mallets, The Velvet Underground created a sound that would set the stage for hundreds of bands to follow from Rocket from the Tombs to Television to Sonic Youth and on and on.
After firing John Cale, Lou Reed replaced him with a fan of the VU named Doug Yule. Yule is perhaps the most maligned person in the history of the Velvet Underground. The style of their music changed almost immediately from feedback and distortion to driving polyrhythms and quiet sad, sad songs. The fact of the matter is that Doug Yule was able to fill in steadily and create his own niche; however the driving force of the first two VU albums was the creative tension between Lou Reed and John Cale. In their final years, the creative tension came entirely
Meet the Underground.
from Lou Reed. The version of the VU that continued after Lou Reed's departure (and led by Doug Yule) is most definitely the cause of much scorn towards Yule.
What was once the prize of the downtown art/rock scene became a mediocre bar band playing at ski lodges.
Velvet on Wax.
After recording their third album for Verve/MGM they returned to the studio to begin work on a follow-up. The third album, or the self-titled album, was influenced by a number of heady things. The album itself is a much more quiet exploration of rock music than the all-out battle that White Light/White Heat was, and it would be a mistake to label the softness of the album to the departure of John Cale. For one, the distortion and feedback was gone as a result of the band having had their equipment stolen; and the content was greatly affected by Lou Reed's emotional state. Not only was his drug use beginning to affect his writing, but his college girlfriend, Shelley, had recently gotten married -- an act that stabbed the sexually ambiguous Reed in the heart.
And Shelley would turn up again, in "I Can't Stand It", one of the songs that was lost, in the line: "If Shelley would just come back, it would be alright." In Lou's post-Velvets career, he would resurrect many of the songs recorded for the "Lost" album on his debut record, subsequently changing Shelley for Candy. Candy would thus refer to Candy Darling, a deceased drag queen who was a friend of Lou's and also the subject of "Candy Says" the introductory song on the third album, and the first of Lou's song-cycle of "says" songs, which include "Stephanie Says" and "Lisa Says".
But anyway, what led to the album being deemed lost is that the VU had grown increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment by their label. Their albums were critical successes and they packed venues across the country; however they received no radio play and little to no sponsorship (i.e. press) from the label. So they jumped ship and signed a deal with Atlantic. As much of the material would be re-crafted throughout Lou's solo career, it's also possible that he wanted to revise the exposure of his feelings throughout the third album. While Lou certainly did go on to expose his demons and eccentricities throughout the seventies, he never again matched the earnesty of his work with The Velvet Underground.
The new material for Loaded was recorded while fulfilling a summer long engagement at Max's Kansas City in New York, and beyond a new version of "Rock and Roll", which was originally recorded for "The Lost Album", all of the material was brand new. With his voice breaking from spending his days in the recording studio and his nights at Max's, Lou Reed relinquished much of the vocal duties on Loaded to Doug Yule. Finally, unable to deal with the pressures of keeping the band afloat while struggling to make ends meet and then battling against the VU's new manager Steve Sesnick's machinations to place Doug Yule at the forefront of the VU -- Lou Reed unceremoniously quit before Loaded could be sequenced or mixed and the record deal could be fulfilled. The songs on Loaded were intended to be hits, every one of them, just to prove that the Velvet Underground had it in them. They wanted to prove their commercial viability while still retaining their artistic credibility. To that end, Loaded was a success and produced such lasting songs as "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll", but the album was far from a success.
How to Track Down the Lost Record.
The songs that fall under the banner of "The Lost Album" retain that yearning for commercial viability, but smack of the drugged out quest that the third, self-titled album, embarked upon. Had "What Goes On" or "I'm Beginning to See the Light" been Top 40 hits, "I Can't Stand It" and "Foggy Notion" could have been their B-sides, if not singles in their own right. Due to their inaccessibility and status as rarities, it's difficult not to relegate these songs to b-side status. But sequenced together in the shape of a proper album, these lost songs indicate the existence of an alternate world.
So how does one find it? It helps if you're already a VU geek and can easily sift through box sets and rarities compilations, but if not - it's still a relatively easy matter to put this thing together. Previously the songs only existed on difficult to find bootlegs and the sound quality was often abysmal. But after the release of VU and Another View and then the box set, Peel Slowly and See, all of the proper ingredients were made available. And to clarify, neither VU or Another View made any pretense at assembling the "Lost" album, they merely collected together songs that had fallen off to the sides. They're excellent collections.
So what goes on the album? A track list and suggested sequencing can be found over at The Velvet Underground Web Page. If you're a smarty-pants, you can arrange the songs according to how you think they flow best together, but the simplest route is to assemble them in the order in which they were recorded. However you choose to do it, it doesn't matter. The important thing is to have the experience of listening to this cluster of songs together, as they were intended to be.
And the material is strong. Really strong. On the surface, "Foggy Notion" is the closest the VU ever came to capturing their live sound in a recording studio. The song just drives on and on becoming more complex as it goes. If anything, "Foggy Notion" is a subtler version of "Heroin" in that it details the aftermath of a drug binge, but in the perspective of this guy who just got in trouble with his girlfriend for hitting her while she was nodding out, but he was trying to keep her awake and not to harm her. So now he's buying her flowers to make up for it. How's that for making rock music literary? It's like John Cheever for doped up bohemians.
Other songs like "I Can't Stand", "Real Good Time Together", "She's My Best Friend", "Andy's Chest" and "Lisa Says" would pop up throughout the first leg of Lou's solo career, and with the exception of the version of "Andy's Chest" on Transformer each song lacked the drive of the Velvet Underground. "Lisa Says" would undergo a major rewrite before being included on Lou's first solo album, but the complete revision would take place during the VU's 1969 tour. So what does this all mean?
For all intents and purposes, the "Lost" album was the final official Velvet Underground collaboration. The recording sessions for Loaded were fraught with imputations and computations leaving most of the vocal duties to Doug Yule and the drumming to his brother, Billy Yule. Maureen Tucker was unable to make the sessions, as she was pregnant with her first child. She was also not present for their stay at Max's Kansas City. Maureen Tucker's drumming was instrumental in the creation of the VU's sound. Her kit was stripped apart with the bass drum facing upwards, and she played standing up beating mallets, keeping time, and producing a steady primitive sound. Billy Yule was a more than able drummer, but strictly vanilla in comparison.
The inclusion of "Rock and Roll" on the "Lost" album is reason enough to lament its obscurity. While the song would be revised for Loaded and updated during the seventies, this was the song where Lou documented his love of rock music, and while the "Lost" version doesn't have the same urgency as the version on Loaded, it has the charm of a priceless classic tucked away with other priceless obscurities. It indicates not only what might have been, but also proves the tenacity of the Velvet Underground in a time when no one outside of their prescribed circle was listening anymore, but they knew they were too important to be lost, and it was alright.