Friday, October 16, 2009

Underground Discography of Velvet

Remember this? These are some discographies that I love all the way. Not necessarily best bands or albums ever (but that helps)...

You might have heard once or twice that The Velvet Underground were largely overlooked in their own time, but have since become somewhat critically acclaimed. Don't be confused - those aren't unrelated. One thing leads to another. Anyway, the acclaim is right on, and those hippy beatniks were fools.

... and Nico
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) 10/10 - In addition to the actual VU, this has the model Nico - invariably referred to as a Teutonic chanteuse. She sings in the most feminine Germanic baritone imaginable. Andy Warhol "produced" the album, supposedly, and did the banana thing. Perfect balance of mellow balladry, art noise, and rock 'n' roll. Plus, the best S&M song ever. The subject matter (heavy drugs and kinky sex) always gets the attention for being out of step with the times, but it's the songs that still sting. Superb album.

White Light/White Heat
White Light/White Heat (1968) 9/10 - I think it's hilarious to follow up the rollicking noise-gospel of the opening title track with a Welshly goofy story from Cale on "The Gift." (Music and voice hard-panned to separate channels.) And there's more good stuff in here, but it all gets blown out by the mammoth tidal wave of "Sister Ray" [part 2]. Overall, slightly weaker on the song front, but more meaty on the experimental and jamming parts.

The Velvet Underground
Then everything changed. Up until this point, the VU made a noise that didn't sound produced by musicians. It was expertly crafted to sound like random scum/freaks that just happened upon some instruments and made an awesome racket. Not coincindentally, John Cale also left the band at this time. Going forward, they would drift away from more arty pretensions and put out their most musical music.

The Velvet Underground (1969) 10/10 - Definitely my personal favorite of these albums. Lou Reed and Doug Yule (John Cale's replacement) trade vocals, but sound eerily alike. It's got some great down-tempo songs like "Candy Says" and the classic "Pale Blue Eyes." As always, excellent rave-ups in "What Goes On" and "Beginning to See the Light." Quasi-religious hymns, such as "Jesus" and "I'm Set Free." And the grand finale: Moe Tucker's touching "After Hours"... so sweet.

Loaded (1970) 9/10 - This completes the transition, “Ba ba ba-ba!” Dynamite song after song, including an all-time one-two punch:
"Sweet Jane" then "Rock and Roll." Really, I'm going to just leave it there (that's plenty!) - but check out any of the clips with the great NYC-style cover art. It's quite the compendium of guitar-pop excellence.


The VU archives were raided for the next couple of decades as the legend grew. So, there's plenty of live albums, outtake collections, best-of attempts, reunion specials... The one package really worth noting is The Quine Tapes (2001, Bootleg Series Vol. 1). A mind-blowing 3xCD set of 1969 audience recordings by the future Voidoids guitarist, it is super-extra-double well worth getting. Along with any of the aforementioned albums you might be missing.

... and Andy Warhol

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