The Velvet Underground – VU

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

It’s sort of weird having come of age when the Velvet Underground were finally getting their due. Although obviously I wasn’t a VU OG, it was odd to go back and listen to their stuff and wonder why the record labels and executives did not appreciate what they had until over a decade later. This is similar to my experience with the Smiths (for whom I was sort of an OG); I never imagined that this band I loved would end up becoming so influential and well-known twenty years down the road. As for origins of this disc, having recorded two albums on the Verve label, the VU signed a two record deal with MGM; The Velvet Underground was the first album in satisfaction of that contract. The band recorded fourteen tracks in anticipation of their fourth album, but were cut loose from the label in 1969, before the album could be released. MGM placed the tapes in storage, where they were forgotten about for about fifteen years. Around 1984, some genius realized what they were sitting on; they also found another five unreleased tracks from the John Cale years. But instead of releasing what should have been the fourth album, they combined all the forgotten songs and picked what they felt were the best ten of the nineteen for release as VU. The remainder followed on Another View.

What I Think of This Album

I have a hard time not thinking of this as the lost fourth album, even as I know that it is not. Still, it’s pretty cool, and I slot it (as well as Another View) in between The Velvet Underground and Loaded in my collection. I suppose I wouldn’t call it essential, but I also wouldn’t call White Light / White Heat essential. In fact, I think this is definitely a better representation of the band than that album.

Two songs feature John Cale:  the touching and delicate “Stephanie Says,” a veritable showcase for Sterling Morrison, with Cale playing a surprisingly straightforward viola part (as well as contributing the celesta part); and “Temptation Inside Your Heart,” a knotty rocker with some excellent lyrics from Reed (“electricity comes from other planets”) and apparently ad-libbed backing vocals from Cale, as well as superb percussion from Moe Tucker.

The other eight tracks are from the Doug Yule era. There are some energetic, electrifying tunes that would have been out of place on both The Velvet Underground and Loaded:  the prickly “I Can’t Stand It” (with a couple of fun, distorted Reed solos); and guitar workout “Foggy Notion,” on which Morrison shines (against Reed’s excellent rhythm work) and Yule does an admirable job on bass. “One of These Days,” however, sounds pretty close to a Loaded track; consistent with that sense, Yule is playing lead guitar on this one. Similarly, “She’s My Best Friend” (with Yule singing) would have been a standout on Loaded, while the somewhat bluesy “Lisa Says” is believable as an outtake from the third album. Most enigmatic is “Ocean,” a lengthy, moody piece with two distinct movements – the most legitimately artsy the band got in its post-Cale incarnation (nonsense like “The Murder Mystery” doesn’t count). I am too familiar (and besotted) with the Reed solo version of “Andy’s Chest” – a full six of these songs turned up later on Reed’s solo albums, in various forms – to properly appreciate this version. Tucker gets her second ever lead vocal opportunity on the slight “I’m Sticking With You,” which is nowhere near the success “After Hours” is but is still a decent little song (I dig the outro a lot, which is a throwback to Reed’s days as a songwriter for Pickwick).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Foggy Notion” and “Temptation Inside Your Heart” back-to-back is an unbeatable combination.

Release Date

February, 1985

The Cover Art

You know what, for a record company effort, this is a pretty cool cover. They did right by the band, the fans, and most importantly, the songs.

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