The Velvet Underground - Loaded
Discounting Squeeze, the travesty released by Doug Yule under the Velvet Underground name in 1973, Loaded (released 1970) was the Velvet Underground's last album. It's quite disputed among some as to whether or not this is a *real* VU album; Mo Tucker doesn't play on it much (or at all, depending on who you listen to - Sterling Morrison (R.I.P.) has been quoted as saying he thought they should have waited until she was ready to rejoin them to record the album); John Cale was long gone, and Doug Yule sang many of the songs. But still, it's also many people's favourite VU record. It's certainly their most accessible; full of catchy, even poppy songs. Even better, in 1997, a two disc set was released consisting of a remastered version of Loaded plus a plethora of demoes and oddities. This mightn't sound too exciting, but previous compilations of Velvets demoes such as V.U. and Another View (as well as the demoes released on the Peel Slowly And See box set) were of a very high standard, and many of the songs would later turn up (mostly in inferior versions) on Lou Reed's solo albums of the 70's.
Second Disc (on the Fully Loaded edition):
- Who Loves The Sun
- Sweet Jane
- Rock And Roll
- Cool It Down
- New Age
- Head Held High
- Lonesome Cowboy Bill
- I Found A Reason
- Train Round The Bend
- Oh! Sweet Nuthin'
Bonus Tracks (on the Fully Loaded edition):
- Ride Into The Sun
- I'm Sticking With You
- I Love You
- Rock And Roll
- Head Held High
- Who Loves The Sun (Alternate Mix)
- Sweet Jane (Early Version)
- Rock And Roll (Demo)
- Cool It Down (Early Version)
- New Age (Full-Length Version)
- Head Held High (Early Version)
- Lonesome Cowboy Bill (Early Version)
- I Found A Reason (Demo)
- Train Round The Bend (Alternate Mix)
- Oh! Sweet Nuthin' (Early Version)
- Ocean (Demo)
- I Love You (Outtake)
- Satellite Of Love (Alternate Demo)
- Oh Gin (Demo)
- Walk And Talk (Demo)
- Sad Song (Demo)
- Love Makes You Feel Ten Feet Tall (Demo)
Straight from the off, it's clear that Loaded isn't going to be like any of the other Velvet Underground albums. Mind you, none of them were like any of the others; their début was kinda weird R'N'B numbers about kinky sex mixed with art experiment and Nico's wonderous voice; White Light/White Heat was kinda punky and loud and experimental again; their eponymous third album was mostly quiet, gentle and heartbreakingly lovely (due to the theft of their effects pedals and other noise-making equipment, apparently). Loaded sounds mainly like three-chord sixties guitar-pop, done very well.
Who Loves The Sun starts off the album in a jaunty mood; muffled giggling in the background seem to indicate that this is going to be the Velvets' "fun" record; most of the lyrics seem to be playfully taking the piss out of pop conventions of the sixties - conventions with which Reed was very familiar, having worked writing songs to order for Pickwick before founding the Velvet Underground. Who Loves The Sun has some beautiful harmonies between Reed and Yule, as well as some unexpected drumming; Mo Tucker had temporarily left the band to have a baby, and so her elemental pounding was replaced by the somewhat more sophisticated drumming (as in, they used more than bass and tom toms - despite Reed's alledged dislike for cymbals...) of Billy Yule (Doug's brother), Adrian Barber and Tony Castanaro.
The next two tracks rank alongside the Velvets' best - first, Sweet Jane, containing a classic riff (memorably "borrowed" by the Pixies on Gigantic), and then the semi-autobiographical Rock And Roll. Sweet Jane originally had a bridge involving "Days of wine and roses" which was crudely hacked off by some producer, something which Reed claims "damaged (his) relationship with the song". Being used to it, I prefer the original released version of Sweet Jane, as the bridge seems a little out of place to me. Rock And Roll is a wonderful song about the life affirming quality of simple rock music - "She started dancing to that fine fine music, you know her life was saved by Rock and Roll". The song was later covered by Jane's Addiction on their live début album.
Next up is Cool It Down, an amusing and kinda groovy little number, with some great double-tracked vocals from Reed. It's followed by New Age, a poignant ballad sung androgynously and without nuance by Doug Yule. The song itself is wonderful, and it sounds fine, but Reed is quoted as saying "No slight on Dougie, but he didn't understand one word of New Age". It's worth noting here that Doug Yule took over vocals on the Velvet Underground and Loaded only for convenience; most of the songs were recorded during quick breaks from touring, and if Reed felt his voice wasn't up to it on a particular day or song, Yule would take over.
Side two of the original album opened with the brash Head Held High. A lightweight and fun song, Reed sounds like he is having a ball singing this, and when Yule echoes him, it sounds like he's about to burst out laughing. But all of this in a good way. Morrison and Reed play some excellent guitar on this track too, reminiscent of What Goes On from their previous album. Next comes Lonesome Cowboy Bill, another fun song taking the piss out of the 50's country and western genre; it's about a cowboy called Bill who "rides the rodeo". A popular guy, this Bill, 'cos "all the ten gallon girls love to hear him yodel-eh-ee-oh!" Rumour has it that the titular Bill is actually author William Burroughs. Wonderful stuff, and certainly not what you'd expect from the same band who did Pale Blue Eyes or Venus In Furs.
Track eight is another pastiche; this time Reed mocks the sincere crooner (think Tom Jones' The Green Green Grass Of Home). Ostensibly a love song ("Honey, I've found a reason/And you know the reason? Dear, it's you"), with a "talky" bit as the bridge in classic style, Reed goes to town on the cod-philosophising that appears in such songs - "I've walked down life's lonely highways/Hand in hand with myself/And I realize how many paths/Have crossed between us". All sung with such aching sincerity, you can't help but laugh. Track nine, Train 'Round The Bend, is another rocky little tune, in a similar vein to Head Held High.
The album's finalé, Oh! Sweet Nuthin', is probably the album's most sincere moment (along with Rock And Roll); it sounds even more sincere given Doug Yule's delivery. The song is a beautiful paean to those who "ain't got nuthin' at all", something of an epic, and a great closer to the album. All in all, this is by far the Velvets' most accessible album, as I mentioned above, and is actually the only VU record to remain constantly in print since its release - a measure of Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun's faith in the band he liked to compare to Buffalo Springfield. Ironically, just as Loaded was starting to gain success, mainly through radio play of Sweet Jane and Rock And Roll, Lou Reed quit the Velvets to move back to Long Island and take a job as a typist with his father's company.
An interview with Doug Yule, where he goes over who played what on the VU songs of his tenure with the band.
Great review of Loaded.
Another review of Loaded.
- The booklet that came with the Peel Slowly And See box set