Widely regarded as being massively influential, the Velvet Underground was an amazing rock and roll band from New York City who made music in latter half of the sixties. They got their name from a book documenting the S&M scene in New York at that time.
The original members were John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed, and Maureen Tucker. Lou Reed was by far the most dominant member, as he wrote almost all their lyrics and music and had a great knack for singing about profound destruction and despair in a monotone voice.
In the beginning, the Velvets were sponsored by artist and flaming queer Andy Warhol, who had them perform in his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. He produced their first record, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Nico, previously an actress in Andy's films, sang lead vocals on 3 of the 11 tracks. All Tomorrow's Parties was Andy's all-time favorite Velvets song. (Nico later became a solo artist and obese heroin addict.) Thanks largely to the publicity from being associated with Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground and Nico peaked at an amazing #199 on the charts.
In 1968, after getting out from under Andy's wing, the Velvet Underground recorded White Light/White Heat. IMHO this album was decidedly their best effort, a true masterpiece; it was like the Empire Strikes Back of all the VU records. It was produced by Tom Wilson who in
fact added little if any "production'' to the album; he spent a lot of time in the studio making out with women and letting the Velvets record whatever they wanted. They took full advantage of their creative control and made some of the most compelling noise ever recorded. Side 2 of White Light/White Heat is Sister Ray, the 17-minute epic about a drug-induced orgy. Live performances of Sister Ray sometimes lasted more than an hour. Needless to say, the record was not a commercial success.
Shortly after White Light/White Heat was released, John Cale left the Velvets because of differences with Lou Reed about the direction of the band. John was soon replaced by Doug Yule. The band did a lot of touring around this time, playing in mainly small clubs around the country. They shared the stage with various bands such as MC5 and the Grateful Dead. Recordings of some of the Velvets' live shows from this time later became 1969 Volume 1 and 1969 Volume 2, two excellent live CDs that are a must for any fan.
After touring, they made their self-titled third album. The Gray Album is distinctly mellower than the previous two, with thoughtful, introspective songs such as Jesus, Beginning to See the Light, I'm Set Free, and Pale Blue Eyes, a song Lou wrote about an affair he had with a woman with hazel eyes. By the time The Gray Album was released, the Velvets' fans were thoroughly confused about what exactly the group was doing.
The final studio album Loaded was so titled because they intended it to be "loaded with hits''; the band made a concious effort to record a bunch of radio friendly pop songs, or as near as a band like them could possibly get.
Some of the songs are indeed catchy. If I'm not mistaken, the only Velvet Underground song to ever get played on commercial radio is Rock and Roll, Lou Reed's autobigraphical song about how his life was saved by rock and roll. Loaded is generally considered by fans to be the worst of the four albums. It suffers from overproduction. Also, Lou's vocals and Maureen's drumming are absent from some of the tracks. Perhaps worst of all, the coda in Sweet Jane ("heavenly wine and roses...'') was tragically snipped without the band even
Just when the Velvet Underground was getting mainstream recognition, Lou Reed quit, possibly because he was sick of all the mainstream rejection for the past five years. The band couldn't continue without Lou, so they didn't. More than two decades later, in 1993, there was an unlikely reunion tour featuring
the four original members. After the tour, the media seemed to be becoming aware of the enormous influence the Velvets had on rock as we know it.
The Velvet Underground simply made brilliant music and will continue to be remembered for a long time. If you've never heard them, you should. Their art can't be described.
There are problems in these times
But wooooo! none of them are mine!