Oct 092008

Closet time.

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.

“What Goes On”

“Some Kinda Love”


“I’m Set Free”


  33 Responses to “Velvet Intervention: Day 3”

  1. diskojoe

    Mr. Mod, I liked your description of the 3rd album (which was the 1st VU album I bought back in 1980; an original version, no less). I always thought that “Listen People” by Herman’s Hermits kinda sounds like the VU around that time; I would have loved to hear Lou ‘n the gang take a crack at it.

  2. hrrundivbakshi

    Ah, the third VU album. The one with the tightest songcraft, the least amount of noise. The one I’m supposed to like the most.

    But I don’t. In fact, with the exception of “Beginning to See the Light,” I hate it!

    “What Goes On” is okay, I guess. But that’s all it is. What’s the point of a guitar workout if it just plods along incessantly? At least this song’s counterparts on the first two albums had some feedback hash, screaming and incredibly awful production “touches” to make them interesting.

    Come on, people! Can’t you see that this is the album where Reed exchanged his engaging weirdness for run-of-the-mill hipster posing — and launched a lifetime of mediocre music? Ooh, “between thought and expression, lies a lifetime…” How many of you VU apologists dwelled on THAT pearl of wisdom when you were impressionable teenagers? Sheesh.

    And don’t get me started on the towering monument to banality that is “Jesus.” Because it’s LOU REED SINGING ABOUT JESUS, I’m supposed to marvel at its sincerity and simple beauty. Pooey. The song is pretentious and boring.

    At least “I’m Set Free” has some compelling dynamic changes and a chorus worth listening to. Still hate the production, though. HATE it.

    Maybe the reason I can’t stand this album is because it seems to present the “serious” Velvet Underground. At least the first two albums had a sense of humor, or abandon, or something.

    AAARRRGH! (Lunging for the mouse to shut this crap up.)


  3. diskojoe

    What version is being used for the 3rd album songs that HVB had to listen to, the original “closet” mix or the brighter mix that was used on the CD? I wonder if that would make a difference.

    I enjoyed reading HVB’s description of the 3rd album. Very entertaining. To be honest, judging from his RTH post about the Kinks he wrote a year ago, anyone who can get the Kinks doesn’t have to love or even like the VU in my book.

  4. mockcarr

    Why is Lou Reed singing about Jesus different than Alex Chilton doing it?

  5. hrrundivbakshi

    A reasonable question, mockcarr. I have no problem with anybody singing about Jesus. I have a problem with boring, dirge-y, “look into my soul” songs that sound like they’re about Jesus, but are actually about the singer. That thing is the ultimate rock-n-roll confessional, from the ultimate rock-n-roll image-monger. It’s so over the top in its “sincerity,” it’s funny — except it’s roped so many people. Mwall, tell me you don’t believe this song!

    To answer your question more specifically: the Chilton number is about Christmas. The Lou Reed number is about Lou Reed. The VU song is irritating for the same reason that most first-person accounts of salvation are irritating: because they’re about *them*, rather than about God.

  6. hrrundi says: “To answer your question more specifically: the Chilton number is about Christmas. The Lou Reed number is about Lou Reed. The VU song is irritating for the same reason that most first-person accounts of salvation are irritating: because they’re about *them*, rather than about God.”

    I say: I don’t understand that logic at all. So, “I Saw The Light” by Hank Williams is no good because it’s about Hank’s epiphany as opposed to being about God?

  7. Mr. Moderator

    HVB, my understanding is that God is everywhere and that Jesus, as son of God, is therefore everywhere, including in each of us. Why shouldn’t a song about Jesus be a song about any one of us? Seriously, without offending anyone’s religious beliefs, I think it’s preposterous to expect that any form of any god is so apart from us that a rock nerd can think he’s able to detect when any song about this god is really a song about the god or about the songwriter. Your dismissal of “Jesus” as a piece of music has yet to arrive on the scene. Let me know when you get around to listening to the song, Hrrundi. Your dismissal of “Jesus” on religious grounds doesn’t hold water for me. I just as easily find that the BEST songs about any religious figurehead are the ones in which the songwriter is, perhaps unknowingly, putting him- or herself in as the song’s subject. Otherwise they often sound as though they’re singing about Plutron 3000 or some other sci-fi creation.

    It’s a shame you can’t ride along with this without getting back to your hangups over Reed’s perceived “run-of-the-mill hipster posing.” I’m still waiting for an accounting of the Teutonic Ice Goddesses who’ve turned you down.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    And to be clear, my request for an accounting of dismissals by Teutonic Ice Goddesses may be off the mark, but we’re missing something personal. When I was dragged through the ringer over Jackson Browne some time ago (maybe on the old list), I came clean about the assholes from my youth who ensured that I’d never be able to embrace Browne’s music. After I got that off my chest and listened to that one album about a dancer that BigSteve, Dr. John, and others told me was worth giving a fair shake, I was a slightly better man. I still see those assholes in their tennis shorts circa 1978, but I’m set free.

  9. One unintended positive outcome from this intervention: “How Does It Feel To Be Back” by Hall and Oates was stuck in my head since this morning until “Jesus” knocked it out just a few minutes ago.

    Thank you, “Jesus”!

  10. mockcarr

    Mod, he probably doesn’t like those songs because they do have too much of that non-Hrundi-endorsed method of personal questioning combined with patchouli-scented acoustic guitars that rankle him. Here, the smell is metallic, but not that heavy variety.

    Actually, it may have been a Chris Bell song I was thinking of – Try Again, perhaps. But I guess the larger point is that pesky “sincerity” issue. Consult your RTH glossary, dude. What if he’s singing as a “character”? What if another person wrote the lyrics? You are allowed to say you find this “character” unconvincing in his performance, but I prefer to keep Pandora’s britches on, and allow for the subject matter to matter less than the song itself. Perhaps you have typecasted Lou Reed as a poseur, and now he’s not allowed to do anything outside that box besides stand in for Nico. Surely, you’ve enjoyed a song without thinking the singer meant it.

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    Mod, once again, you could stand a few lessons in rebuttal logic from mockcarr. That sounds harsh, perhaps — but mockcarr has most definitely scored a point against me, and I am chastened. You’re after — what, an account of my love life and my thoughts on satin gym shorts? Huh?

    For the record, I covered all the musical bases I needed to on that “Jesus” thing when I used the word “boring.” You just don’t like the fact that I *have* listened to it, and found it desperately wanting.

    And it escapes me how you can assume the best about Lou Reed’s sincerity — probably in the same way you’re appalled by my assumptions that he doesn’t believe a word he’s saying.

    To mockcarr’s point, though: I dunno, singing a song in character about needing God’s salvation — to me, and perhaps me only — is like saying you didn’t do your homework because your grandmother died. Saying you didn’t do it because your basement flooded is a white lie, and big deal. The other lie is a much bigger thing. I’m sure you see no such parallel, but there you go.

  12. hrrundivbakshi

    Come to think of it, and extending my point a bit further, I would *much* rather hear Lou Reed singing about how his basement flooded than about his grandmother dying. One is something truly revolutionary, as far as songwriting goes. The other — like songs about Jesus — is overblown, overdone and unnecessary.

    Don’t use shower… don’t use shower…

  13. Mr. Moderator

    Hrrundi wrote:

    You’re after — what, an account of my love life and my thoughts on satin gym shorts?

    Aren’t we all?

  14. mockcarr

    I guess my point would be more that it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t about him. You found the song boring, and not enough arrangement and production features to liven it up, lyrics unmoving, OK. It’s not as though it’s some sort of beatific Christian rock. That would be overdone and overblown. It seems like a Reed minimalist take on gospel or hillbilly. Be careful, Lonesome Cowboy Bill will be next.

  15. mockcarr

    Is there a Lou Reed song that incorporates the sound of a hot high school girl running in satin shorts?

  16. BigSteve

    Writing about God directly is hard. There’s a lot of those “He is great, He is good” songs by ‘praise’ bands, and they’re usually pretty icky. I myself love Pete Townshend’s Parvardigar (The Universal Prayer), because I love the way the music sounds on Who Came First, but the lyrics are a hard sell. I would guess most good religious songs are about the singer’s relationship to God, not about God. How far are you going to get saying anything about someone with, as the aforementioned songs says, “infinite attributes”?

    Because someone just mentioned Chris Bell, I was thinking about I Am The Cosmos as a song that internalizes a religious impulse in a personal way very successfully, but it’s really about how far the singer is from grace. Which come to think of it is what the song Jesus is about too.

  17. Bakshi, to answer your question, I don’t have a huge horse in this race. I like the Chilton Jesus song better, myself, but the VU one is pleasant enough.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of VU’s third record. The moodiness is good if one is in the right mood for that moodiness, the lyrics are okay but nothing outrageously great. The music is tightly and minimally rendered, and I think the performances hold up well. Overall I think the record is a little too dully monochrome to be a truly great record, but I do think it’s a very good one. Comparable to Dylan’s John Lee Harding maybe? Quiet tight performances that add something genuinely important to the band’s resume without being a towering achievement.

  18. One of my favorite later-period Lou Reed songs is “What’s Good,” written after the death of his friend, Doc Pomus.


  19. alexmagic

    Isn’t the trick to writing a successful God song to write the song so it sounds like you’re singing to someone you got the hots for?

  20. trolleyvox

    Big Steve wrote:
    “I would guess most good religious songs are about the singer’s relationship to God, not about God.”

    I think some of the best songs about God debate and struggle with God’s existence. Much more interesting and thought-provoking than preaching to the choir, so to speak.

  21. Ok, so I am kinda new here, I own all of the “Must Own” records with the exception of ANY VU. What is my VU-101 CD? I’m more POP than noise (I like The Bends, hate the new Radiohead for example)I’d rather hear Hall& Oates ” How Does It Feel To Be Back” thank Lou singing about Jesus (I think).. SO the short version is “Why should I like VU” and “”Why should I like any band” as oppoesed to just liking them.

  22. Isn’t the trick to writing a successful God song to write the song so it sounds like you’re singing to someone you got the hots for?

    You mean like Eric Cartman, right?

    Here are my belated thoughts on the third VU album: This used be my favorite Velvets album, when I was in college. It’s very good for late-night, sozzled contemplation. It might be the second-ever late night album, after Blonde on Blonde. Nowadays, I prefer the Cale albums.

    I think there’s a fair mix of character songs, where Lou is not writing autobiographically, and “Jesus” is among those songs.

    The appeal of this album is that it’s so different from the previous two. I think it’s a credit to the band’s range, which is something that’s rarely said about them. Is that backstory? Or something else? You have to know the rest of the catalog to really get this album — that’s not a bad thing, right?

    Oh, and jungleland2, judging by your qualifiers, you may not be into the Velvets at all. But I guess Loaded is their poppiest, although some people –okay, Lou — barely consider it a VU album. But I guess that can all be discussed in Velvet Intervention: Day 3

  23. I meant Velvet Intervention: Day 4 at the end there.

  24. BigSteve

    Tvox, what are these great songs that “debate and struggle with God’s existence”?

  25. Jungleland,
    You say you have all of the “Must Own” albums but then you ask why you should like any band. That sounds contradictory. If there are such a thing as “Must Own” albums, isn’t the reason that they are “Must Own” because you’re supposed to like them? I’m not having a go, I’m asking sincerely. I have my own list of Must Own albums but it doesn’t include a lot of acclaimed albums like Pet Sounds or Sgt Pepper’s.

    I should clarify that I am pro-Hall and Oates but that song was stuck in my head for the better part of the day so it was driving me nuts. Now thanks to your post, it might be lodged in there again.

  26. trolleyvox

    “Tvox, what are these great songs that “debate and struggle with God’s existence”?”

    Well, Dear God, for one. Which is sort of a debate with then ultimate dismissal of. I had a few more lined up, but they escape me at the moment. I even tried my hand at writing one (came out pretty well, if I do say so), and I’m not what one would call a religious man.

  27. general slocum

    Crikey! No one’s still checking in with Hrrrundivie on this, are they? I mean, even I know more about his psyche than is polite, and I don’t even know him. Everyone on this site plays both parts in the endless debates about music so dear to the RTH soul on behalf of Hrrundivie. Since he will never belly up and state anything, coyly teasing the sad truth out of others who know him better, just feel free to state your own opinions, and put every other entry in the mouth of this fellow. If he didn’t occasionaly bring it with thrift store finds, he’d be brought up on blog-crimes charges.

    That said, Jungleland2, I’m curious to hear what some of the “must have” albums are, if VU isn’t any of them. If you don’t know where to start, I’d say, at the beginning. It was many people’s intro, and still makes sense. Very pop. But since we are discussing music from the mid/late sixties, if you’ve gotten this far, don’t feel pressured. This would be like the fifteen-year-old me feeling empty because I hadn’t payed enough attention to the Ben Webster’s All Stars records, or to Cab Calloway. Veritably messozoic, from the 21st century…

  28. sorry, I meant the must have records ON THIS SITE – the “required listening” page http://astore.amazon.com/rotoha00-20 , the page that lists Beatles, Replacements, Kinks, Buzzcocks, Clash, XTC records that you “must own” I didn’t make this up

    I was saying that VU was the ONE band out of this 3 page list that I have no connection to (I own no records of theirs, am a passive Lou Reed fan at best)

    And I am not exactly new to the record collection stuff, 1500 CDs easy and owned a CD store for a few years in the 1990s when that had the chance of supporting my rent & car payment (aka the good old days)

    The better question is What am I missing here?

    Here is your chance to “sell” me on giving them a chance/my CD money

  29. hrrundivbakshi

    THANK YOU, Jungleland2! Thank you for making these oafs step up to the plate and tell us why they LIKE the Velvet Underground. Fair is fair — especially for you, General Slocum!

  30. general slocum

    Oh, THAT “Must Own.” No, I. missing many must owns, then. I don’t think I’m a very big believer in turning people on to bands they don’t like. It happens once in a blue moon, in the course of things. Particularly when you try to describe the quintessence of something like VU: Limited instrumental and singing chops, stylistically all over the map, hell – read any of HVB’s put downs, they’re not wide of the mark overall.

    But I accept all that and say they’re still in my top 5 musical artists/groups ever. Even when I’m in a period of not listening to them a lot, they have, like Dylan, Miles, Mozart, a permanent and seemingly irrevocable pass for me. I’m a big fan of the RTH-underrated third album, I’m a pretty huge Lou Reed fan, at least up through Blue Mask, anyway.

    I think my lack of drive for convincing anyone is because I have spent all that capital on Dylan to little effect over the years with various friends.

    The first VU album I really listened to was 1969. I had heard some of their stuff and asked for any album of theirs for Christmas. My sainted mother went and bought the double lp with the ass cover to celebrate Our Saviour’s Birth. I put it on (later, in my room – I wasn’t a heretic) and I thought, “WTF?!? This hissy, drony thumpa-bumpa shit is the legendary band that”… well, ok I *did* go start my own band within a few years, but still. It took a long time for that to become my favorite VU record.

  31. This all might be academic anyway. Even though, the Velvets are in my Holy Trinity of Rock, I also think that an important component to them is that they have the potential to make the listener realize that the rules don’t have to be followed in order to come up with something cool or interesting. Their recordings hold up on their own merits but the impact of hearing them for the first time when I was 14 or 15 after a steady diet of AOR radio was life changing. I’m not sure how old hrrundi is, but at this point, there might not be any room in his life for the VU. Maybe he can grow to appreciate them on a certain level (although that sound unlikely) but he simply won’t experience the same type of epiphany that I suspect brought so many of us into the fold.

  32. The first two VU records (with John Cale) are like Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, Joyce’s
    Ulysses, Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise, or Charles Bernstein’s poetry. Taking these in is like being dropped into a foreign country. You can’t follow your assumptions or expectations; it’s a whole new experience. I don’t know how I would “sell” this argument–I’ll just say some experiences don’t have a price tag.

  33. Mr. Moderator

    One of the things I’ve always loved about the Velvet Underground – especially Lou Reed’s contributions as a songwriter- is that they’ve got a certain ’50s and early ’60s Sound of the City (the book and the music it covers)-style and vibe combined with some nervy, noisy stuff that sounds modern and loaded with inner turmoil. When I watch Taxi Driver and that movie’s bizarre mix of brutality and romanticism, I’m often reminded of the sound the VU had established a few years earlier.

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