There was a time when I just didn’t understand the fascination people had with The Velvet Underground. I had heard ‘a best of’ album when I was at school and I just didn’t get it. Maybe it was down to the fact that I was spending my time listening to Hendrix, Cream, Traffic, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and little else. The guitarists in those bands were some of the best that have ever lived. The guitar playing in VU was not up to their high standard. Too much noise, not enough clean notes, that sort of thing. However, three things happened to change that. First up, I heard Candy Says on a documentary about Andy Warhol and I thought that was a good song. Then, a friend at University played me Sunday Morning, the opening song on the debut album and I also thought that was good too. However, it was when I was working in a shop after leaving University that I heard the Loaded album. I really enjoyed this and could not believe it was The Velvet Underground. This was around the time when that album was released in a Deluxe Edition called The Fully Loaded edition which I snapped up and played quite a lot at the time.
This was it, until a few years later when I saw the Peel Slowly and See box set at a reduced price, so I took a punt. I was quite surprised by the first disc, which contained demos of some of the songs I had found impenetrable back in my school days. It was as though the early line up of VU were a folk band. There were multiple takes of the same songs, but with a bit of editing, I am sure these would make a good EP release for Record Store Day or equivalent (see below). I then worked my way through the entire box and I found that I enjoyed a number of the songs that in the past I would not have listened to. These include Heroin, Venus in Furs and Run, Run, Run. It was with this box set that I made my first attempt at a career overview, limiting myself to what was in the box and the Fully Loaded edition of Loaded. Like many others, songs from the Squeeze album were not considered for inclusion. It was not until the internet became a part of my life that I even knew that the band continued on for a few years after Lou Reed left.
The band can be split into two distinctive eras, the first with John Cale and the second with Doug Yule. The Cale era is definitely the more experimental, and it was due to Cale’s desire to go even further with the experimentation that led to his firing. Reed, being the principal songwriter, wanted the band to become more than just an underground act, so adopting a more commercial sound was necessary. Cale didn’t fit in with these plans, so he was out. CD1 covers the more experimental side, whereas CD2 covers the more commercial sounding material. The band did not achieve commercial success during their lifetime, but due to some notable fans (such as David Bowie), they have been an influence on those who came afterwards and the records have sold steadily ever since. It just goes to show how popular the band has become as not every band gets to have the majority of their albums re-released in multi disc box sets.
With the release of the 45th Anniversary editions of the four key albums (once again, Squeeze was not part of the reissue campaign), I decided to look again and see if the different versions of the songs including mono mixes, demos and alternative takes/mixes would improve the compilation. What you hear are the results with the different versions listed next to the title. What does surprise me is that all of the versions of these songs are available on Spotify, so both discs can be heard through that platform. The cover artwork was one I found online many moons ago so I cannot acknowledge who made it.
- All Tomorrow’s Parties (Mono)
- I’m Waiting For The Man (Mono)
- Run Run Run (Sceptre Sessions Acetate)
- Stephanie Says
- There She Goes Again (Mono)
- Femme Fetale (Mono Single Mix)
- I’ll Be Your Mirror (Mono)
- The Fairest Of The Seasons*
- These Days*
- Winter Song*
- Chelsea Girls*
- Heroine (Alt. Version)
- Venus In Furs (Mono)
- Here She Comes Now
- Guess I’m Falling In Love (Live)
- Sister Ray
* These songs are from Nico’s album, Chelsea Girl. When this was compiled, the sleeve notes from the 45th Anniversary Edition of The Velvet Underground & Nico album were used. Those notes suggested that the Velvet Underground played on every song of that album. This does not appear to be the case but I liked this mix of songs so I am going to keep it as it was.
- Who Loves The Sun
- Sweet Jane (Full Length Version)
- Rock & Roll (Full Length Version)
- Cool It Down
- Lonesome Cowboy Bill
- Head Held High (Alt. Mix)
- Foggy Notion
- Jesus (Closet Mix)
- New Age (Full Length Mix)
- What Goes On (Closet Mix)
- I Can’t Stand It
- Beginning To See The Light (Closet Mix)
- Pale Blue Eyes (Closet Mix)
- Candy Says (Closet Mix)
- I’m Set Free
- Ride Into The Sun(Demo)
- Oh! Sweet Nuthin’
As mentioned above, I said that the demo’s the band recorded before the release of their first album would make a good EP, so I thought I would put it together. I listened to all of the songs and picked what I considered to be the best take. The song Prominent Men only has one take so that limited the choice with that one. It also sounds nothing like anything else that the Velvet Underground ever did, being as it sounds as though it is Lou Reed trying to be Bob Dylan, harmonica and all. These acoustic versions are not the best sonically, being as they were outside of the studio environment, but there is a certain charm about them and show what the band could have been if they had decided to be a folk trio instead of the band that they became once drummer Mo Tucker came on board.
Annoyingly (even though we should be thankful these exist at all), on each take of Venus in Furs there is some sort of background noise. Be it a car going past outside the loft apartment in which they recorded them, or the squeaking of what can only be assumed to be a chair of some sort. Luckily, this is the only song affected in this way. As these songs were demos recorded in a loft, the arrangements are different from what they would become on the debut album. The arrangement for Heroin is already in place, building the tension and releasing again. All Tomorrow’s Parties sounds like Reed is once more channelling his inner Dylan where as I’m Waiting For The Man is reminiscent of a pre World War 2 blues record, with slide guitar accompaniment (and a spoken version of the lyrics, courtesy of John Cale by the sounds of it).
The artwork for this EP uses a logo found on line over the picture of the tape box that was used as the cover to the CD box in the version of the Peel Slowly and See compilation I bought all those years ago. I assume that it was the same box that contained the tape on which the songs were recorded. The songs are all on Spotify but have not been edited down into the individual takes. I have supplied the take and the time it starts.
- Venus In Furs (Demo) Take 3 – 10:24-15:36
- Prominent Men (Demo) Take 1
- Heroin (Demo) Take 5 – 8:33-13:31
- I’m Waiting For The Man (Demo) – 5:20-9:49
- Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (Demo) Take 12 – 9:50-15:30
- All Tomorrow’s Parties (Demo) Take 6 – 9:48-12:13
Even though these are demos, this EP would clock in at an impressive 27 minutes and 52 seconds. If this were to be released on vinyl, a 12 inch record would be needed.