The Velvet Underground (1969)

[Kronomyth 3.0]
The Velvet Overlord.

“I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!” – Brian Eno, in a 1982 interview with The Los Angeles Times, as verified by Quote Investigator.

With Nico and John Cale out of the picture, Lou Reed was the unquestioned overlord of the Underground, opening the door for him to deliver the sweetest, strangest record you’ve ever heard. Remember how you felt the first time you heard “Sunday Morning?” Apparently, that was just a warm-up for “Candy Says” (sung with complete innocence by Doug Yule) and “Pale Blue Eyes.” The Eno quote above may have referred to VU’s first record, but when it came time to pilfer from The Velvet Underground, this is where the artists of tomorrow came. Without “What Goes On,” there is no “Mother Whale Eyeless” and those transcendently strange rockers from Eno. Without “I’m Set Free,” Pixies and songs like “Velouria” aren’t nearly so magical. Artists and critics may have liked to say that they preferred “Sister Ray,” but I suspect most of them played “Beginning To See The Light” and “That’s The Story of My Life” behind closed doors. As charming a record as it is, The Velvet Underground isn’t a sell out. “The Murder Mystery” proves that Lou Reed didn’t need John Cale to create art (in fact, I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point of including it here), and you just need to scratch the surface of songs like “Candy Says,” “Jesus” and “I’m Set Free” to see the darkness underneath. Without Cale as a creative foil (a role that Yule doesn’t try to fill), the dual guitars of Reed and Sterling Morrison become more prominent, a style that would carry over into Reed’s solo career. It’s tempting to see The Velvet Underground as a Lou Reed solo record, which makes the opening and closing cameos from Yule and Maureen Tucker (on the wonderful “Afterhours”) all the more essential. Somehow, the record finds a balance between its members despite the magnetic presence of Reed, something The Pixies were able to achieve as well (though not easily, it seems). Truth be told, I expected The Velvet Underground to be a letdown after the loss of Cale. Instead, it’s a liberation. One thing worth mentioning is the yin/yang relationship that this record has with Nico’s The Marble Index. Where Nico challenges you to follow her distresses in a dark dreamworld, Reed comes back with the report, “I met myself in a dream and I just want to tell you everything was alright.” Here’s to hoping they’re both seeing the light now.

Original LP Version
A1. Candy Says (4:04)
A2. What Goes On (4:54)
A3. Some Kinda Love (4:03)
A4. Pale Blue Eyes (5:49)
A5. Jesus (3:23)
B1. Beginning To See The Light (4:40)
B2. I’m Set Free (4:04)
B3. That’s The Story of My Life (2:03)
B4. The Murder Mystery (8:54)
B5. Afterhours (2:07)

All songs written by Lou Reed.

The Players
Lou Reed (lead and rhythm guitar, piano, lead vocals), Sterling Morrison (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals), Maureen Tucker (percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals on B5), Doug Yule (bass guitar, organ, backing vocals, lead vocals on A1). Director engineering: Val Valentin.

The Pictures
Photos and convolutions by Billy Name. Art direction by Dick Smith.

The Plastic
Released on elpee in March 1969 in the US (MGM, SE-4617) {blue/gold label} and in 1970/71 in the UK (MGM, 2353 022).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in Japan (Verve, P28P-25075).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the US (Verve, 815 454-2/4).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc on May 7, 1996 in the US (Polydor, 1252-2) and Australia (Polydor, 531 252-2).
  4. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2000 in the US (MGM, SE-4617) {yellow label}.
  5. Re-issued on limited edition blue vinyl elpee in the US (MGM, SE-4617).
  6. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2008 in the US (4 Men With Beards, 4M156).
  7. Re-released on super high material compact disc on November 24, 2010 in Japan (Polydor, UICY-20066).
  8. Re-issued on 45th anniversary edition elpee in 2014 in the US (Polydor, B0022028-01).

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