I didn’t realize the last time this discussion came up in the Halls of Rock was prior to the launch of the public blog. Few of you remain active from those days, so I’ll raise a question I’ve still not received a satisfactory answer to here: Who in The Velvet Underground actually sings “Sunday Morning?”
Personally, I think it’s neither Nico nor Lou. I think Doug Yule actually made his first appearance with the Velvet Underground a few years earlier than his official entry on the third album. We’ve tried to get Doug to do an interview with us to no avail. Maybe he fears being confronted with this question. There’s not a trace of Nico or Lou’s distinctive accents and difficulties with “sealing the deal” on notes. How many recordings of Lou Reed exist, and on how many of them does he sound anything like the person singing this version of “Sunday Morning?” I believe the answer is “0.” It’s got to be Doug! Or Bernard Purdie.
Is anyone willing to step forward to clear this up?
Recently I had the pleasure of being contracted to design the art for the latest release by Philly phaves, Nixon’s Head. The Enemies List (available for purchase here) cover was an exercise of almost pure creativity. Listening and then designing.
The back cover though was a joy for different reasons. The band wanted the back to be a take on the back of The BeatlesRubber Soul. (I derive an odd pleasure from finding/duplicating just the right font.)
This got me thinking about album parodies and more specifically album backs. There are loads and loads of album parodies. Not the least of which include Townsman mrclean’s band, The Dead Milkmen’sSmokin’ Banana Peels cover:
We ran a poll recently that asked “What musician is cited most frequently among rock nerds based on their relation to a famous band long before anyone has heard said musician’s own music?” The most frequent response was La Monte Young, the minimalist composer under whom John Cale studied and who presumably was a great influence on the music of the Velvet Underground. Young is a good example of what I’m seeking from you: Musicians outside the blues, R&B, jazz, and country (ie, North American) musical traditions who you would like to see have a greater influence on rock ‘n roll.
Be creative or call for greater influence by a previously cited influence, such as Pete Townshend’s “Baba O’Riley” influence, Terry Riley. How do you hear these non-North American sounds fitting into your rock ‘n roll? Paul Simon’s dipped outside the North American well with success. Prog-rockers have dipped into the European tradition with varying degrees of success. I know some of you listen to non-Western artists. Have you ever wished more of a particular artist’s sound could be worked into rock ‘n roll?
For my money, the third VU album, the self-titled “couch” album, is what cemented the band’s long-term reputation and influence. With one or two questionable exceptions (eg, “The Murder Mystery”, which I’m not saying is all bad and out of place, and “That’s the Story of My Life”, which I think influenced the future of indie rock in more negative ways than any of the out-of-tune jams that seem to bug Hrrundi) it’s a seamless and self-contained album.
Even more than the artfully monochromatic White Light/White Heat, this album has a definite identity, with newcomer Doug Yule smoothing out some of the gaps likely in any recording led by Lou Reed while also providing a taste of what the band lost when John Cale split. The guitar interplay of Reed and Sterling Morrison is as distinctive and rightfully influential as the interplay of any other famous guitar duo in rock, from Richards and Jones to Richards and Taylor to Allman and Betts to Verlaine and Lloyd and so on. I would go as far to say that this album set the course for the four-decade (and counting) journey of Lou Reed…As His Music Was Meant to Sound! All future Lou recordings would be judged against this album.
What’s this all mean to our friend HVB, who’s never been the least bit interested in the artistic journey of Lou? Nothing positive, I would think.
Hrrundi, here’s a quartet of VU songs that will enable you to get back in touch with your inner VU torment. Enjoy – or dislike – or whatever you feel is the appropriate emotional response. You’re among a loving, trusting community.
I hope none of us had unrealistic expectations for Day 1 of our Velvet Intervention. Townsman Hrrundivbakshi deserves Mad Props for hearing us out and responding in detail and with passion. It’s hard to be confronted by one’s peers and asked to come clean with veiled and long-harbored disdain for a band that’s not only critically acclaimed band but that’s at the juncture of one of Rock’s most significant points in the ongoing development of Cool. As you give your fellow Townsperson a piece of your mind, I want you to pause for a moment and consider how you’d feel in this trusting situation, surrounded by friends and fellow deep thinkers, all the while knowing the Cool Patrol is circling on the periphery of our more thoughtful, considerate dialog.
Today we’ll ask Hrrundi to share his thoughts on 3 songs from The Velvet Underground’s second album, White Light/White Heat. Even for fans of the VU, unless you only got into them to piss off your square parents and live vicariously through the band’s “F-U” factor, this is usually the challenging one. For starters, there’s no Teutonic Ice Goddess for shy college boys to fantasize over and/or project onto. Then, if the production of the first album was typically shoddy, this one sounds real bad. No one’s testing out hi-fi equipment with this album. Finally, the album has almost no diversity, and the second side is hogged by a 17-minute-plus middle finger of a noisefest jam, the legendary but not always listenable “Sister Ray”.
Overh the course of this album, much of which I have not included for today’s session, this might be the point at which Cale’s grating side outdoes Hrrundi’s appreciation for the Welshman’s formalist leanings. We’ll see. I do think that, beyond predictable laments over two of these songs, Hrrundi will be challenged to push further into his own psyche and share with us points of view that we’ll find more enlightening than we witnessed on Day 1. I’m pretty sure he’s going to have a much less stressful day today, as he develops trust with the group. Let’s let the man himself take some time to assess and comment on these tracks!
Over the years Rock Town Hall’s preeminent hippie hater, Townsman Hrrundivbakshi, has made numerous threats to explain what it is that makes him incapable of appreciating the artistry of a couple of more Beat-indebted rock legends, Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground. We’ve granted Hrrundi his hatred of The Jefferson Airplane, and we’ve given up on him ever fully explaining his overall dislike of hippies. After years of grilling, he’s been man enough to occasionally come to terms with Dylan. However, to date we can recall no time when he has attempted to ellucidate his feelings on The Velvet Underground.
This week a gentleman and a scholar has agreed to air out his thoughts. He has requested we select 7 songs representing the scope of The Velvet Underground for his consideration and assessment. We will respect his request, in concept, but demand that he responds to a few more songs to accomodate for the band’s scope. Considering that it’s taken HVB a good half dozen years, dating back to Rock Town Hall’s roots as a listserv, to come clean, we will allow him a few days to assess our selections. I think this is only fair to the man.
Today we will focus on the band’s debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. I would suspect that most VU fans of my generation probably learned about the band in reverse order, from hearing Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n Roll Animal version of “Sweet Jane” to hearing the VU album version (without, I must add, the momentum-draining middle eighth that was cut back in on later digital reissues) and that song’s radio-friendly mate, “Rock ‘n Roll”, before digging back to this mystical “banana” album. I’ll leave it to our VU-digging Townspeople to share with Hrrundi what this album meant to each of you.
For me, a college freshman far from home and entering some new psychological territories, it meant that a lot of pent-up fear, anger, and desire was all right to be expressed. More than any of John Lennon’s primal scream stuff, which may have been better on paper than on record, songs like “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Heroin” allowed me to work out some serious self-doubt. I was already well aware that all I needed was love and told myself things were getting better all the time, but I had to touch ground first. I had no idea how I’d go about getting all the love that was promised or where it even was. The Velvet Underground provided a foundation consistent with the state I was in.
Musically, it meant there were new possibilities for expression that were only hinted at by all the ’60s psychedelic and garage bands I’d been into since boyhood. The way the band played gave me hope that pounding out my own repetitive, innervisions was a valid way to make music. I never had time for “jazz chords” and reading music. Harmony groups like The Byrds did little for me. I wanted my ass kicked by the records and movies I was digging into at that time.
What was especially cool about the VU compared with the ass-kicking garage bands they often sounded like on the surface is that they were not retarded. As much as I love a song or two at a time of third-rate Rolling Stones, like The Chocolate Watchband or countless other Nuggets bands, I get tired of cars and chicks. I was a realist: the cars and chicks were never coming my way when I was 18. I had to look ahead and plot some more sophisticated, sensitive, and cynical course toward attaining cars and chicks, maybe by the time I reached my mid-20s. The lyrics of The Velvet Underground helped me prepare that course, and lord knows it worked wonders as I drive the love of my life and our two kids around in my 2003 Toyota Camry!
Without further ado, Hrrundi, your first mission is to listen to and comment on three representative selections from The Velvet Underground & Nico.