The Velvet Underground: Lou Reed (gtr/vocals), John Cale (kbds), Sterling Morrison (gtr), Maureen ‘Mo’ Tucker (drums), Nico (vocals).
The Velvets’ popularity in the early days of the mid 60s (‘screeching rock’n’roll…reminiscent of nothing so much as Berlin in the decadent 30s’, said one reviewer), is of course inversely proportionate to their influence on music. They experimented with rock’s form and content so radically that they transformed it into something altered and yet curiously familiar. However, change takes time to become acceptable and mainstream, and their debut (the Warhol-designed ‘banana album’) sold pitifully on first release: yet forty years on, it is selling consistently in a new remastered edition. It was said (possibly by Brian Eno) that everybody who bought a copy went out and started their own band.
The album has a variety of styles: the opening track, Sunday Morning (played by Peely on his last ever Perfumed Garden), is poppy in an almost Monkees style. Yet the hindsight gained by listening to this in the context of the whole album gives it a sinister quality. By the time we get to side two, we have had a droning tribute to sado-masochism (Venus In Furs), Bo Diddley-style rock’n’roll (Run Run Run), a guy bemoaning the difficulties of scoring a drug fix (Waiting For The Man), and then side two opens with the real deal…a graphic description of Class A drug addiction. Over 7 minutes, the imitation of the singer’s feeling of gradually getting high is screwed to fever pitch: Cale’s initially droning viola squeals and screeches in an atonal miasma, until it finally subsides to a pedal point. No rest here: Reed intended the song (2000 All-Time FF #42) to help drug users exorcise their demons, providing objectivity and not endorsement, and was horrified when he was told tales of fans who shot up to this song.
Every album should provide a journey for the listener to follow, in my view: the journey on this one is hard and painful, and, out of context, this song the highest obstacle. Nevertheless, it is an unforgettable one.
Buy: Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground And Nico