The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I used to own White Light / White Heat, but I didn’t like it. That’s the risk with a six song album, I guess. “Here She Comes Now,” the one sort of traditional song, is decent but not great (as Galaxie 500 reaffirmed with their cover). “Lady Godiva’s Operation” has an interesting (and oddly quiet) guitar part, but Cale’s vocals leave a lot to be desired and there isn’t much of a melody. The title track is tolerable. I never need to hear “The Gift” again. “I Heard Her Call My Name” has some ridiculous guitar sonics, though at its core, it is a fairly typical VU song, and would probably be really good with a better mix (as well as solos that actually related to the song). “Sister Ray” is really fucking cool – to call it a “song” is pushing the boundaries of definition – but it’s not something I would listen to often; interestingly, it was recorded in one take. I feel bad, because White Light / White Heat is the last album with John Cale, whose work on the debut I love. Lou Reed forced Cale out of the band after the second album, with the reluctant agreement of Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker. The formal association with Andy Warhol was also over by this point. In order to assist the move to a more accessible sound, Doug Yule, a friend of the band from Boston and about whom there is more to say, was recruited for the third album.

What I Think of This Album

The surprisingly quiet and sweet third album is not as influential as the first, or arguably the second, but it is highly enjoyable, with strong songwriting from Lou Reed. Still, there is an argument to be made that the band’s straightforward approach – particularly the evolving guitar interplay between Reed and Sterling Morrison – combined with Reed’s lyrical growth, is indeed significant in the indie world.

There are three uptempo songs here, and all are excellent. “What Goes On” features a hyperactive rhythmic strum, a supporting droney organ part from Doug Yule, and two killer solos from Reed; the texture of the guitar strums is otherworldly. The VU’s “What Goes On” is way better than the Beatles’ “What Goes On” – prove me wrong; the Feelies have a cool cover of this. Yule lays down an impressive bass line on “Beginning to See the Light,” in which Reed and Morrison seamlessly lay down the rhythm track. And “I’m Set Free” allows Moe Tucker to revert back to her playing style of the debut, while Reed and Morrison build up a head of steam behind her; the weepy solo sounds like Morrison to me.

For his part, Morrison outdoes himself with a beautiful guitar part on the tender “Pale Blue Eyes” (later covered by R.E.M.). Morrison likely plays the crystalline lead part on “Jesus,” on which Yule adds some very nice harmonies. You can hear the dueling guitars well on the “Some Kinda Love,” with throwback deadpan vocals from Reed and an insistent beat courtesy of Tucker. Morrison again likely plays the curlicue lead guitar and solo on the country-ish “Story of My Life.” Finally, Tucker gets a vocal turn on the charming and slightly heartbreaking “After Hours.”

Reed’s lyrics and singing on this album are wonderful. Relying on previously untapped reserves of warmth, humanity, care, and longing, Reed convincingly displayed additional facets to his persona. Whether the sympathetic portrayal of trans woman Candy Darling in “Candy Says” to the never-to-be romance of “Pale Blue Eyes” to the despair of “Jesus” to the quiet satisfaction of “After Hours,” Reed rose to new heights here.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Oh someday I know / Someone will look into my eyes / And say ‘hello, you’re my very special one’ / But if you close the door / I’d never have to see the day again”

Release Date

March, 1969

The Cover Art

It’s a little weird to see the Velvet Underground in sweaters, but I guess everyone gets cold sometimes. The use of dark and light is cool, but I don’t much care for the photo.

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