As I posted a compilation of The Velvet Underground earlier this month, I thought I would continue by looking at the lost forth album the band had been recording in 1969. This seems to be a staple of many of the what-if album websites but the beauty of these things is just that. It is a what-if album. It was never released and so anyone can take the songs and speculate as much as they like about the running order would be, cover imagery etc. The story of this album has also been told many times but here is a summery.
By the time the band had come to record their third album founding member John Cale had been fired, they had moved to MGM from Verve (an MGM subsidiary) and the sound had changed. This was down to the removal of Cale, who seemed intent to drive the band towards a more drone, noise infused future. Reed on the other hand, seemed to want to achieve some sort of commercial success with the band and having Cale in the band would have stopped this from happening. The fact that the band did not achieve much success during their life time is neither here nor there. They have definitely sold a lot more units since. Multi-instrumentalist Doug Yule was brought in as Cale’s replacement and he was there in time to record the third album. This album had few of the rough edges that had been present when Cale was in the band, and the subject matter of the songs had become more intimate. With the album recorded by the end of 1968, the band hit the road opening a good deal of 1969 playing live.
In between live dates, the band was also in the studio laying down fourteen songs that the band members do not seem to have been in agreement as to what the purpose of recording them was. Lou Reed and Maureen Tucker both said that these songs would have been the basis of the next album. Doug Yule says that these songs were professional demos and Sterling Morrison says that this was just a way of looking busy whilst they were looking to get out of their contract. Whatever the reason, these songs have been released numerous times down the years but it is the versions that were included on the 2014 Super Deluxe Edition of the ‘Velvet Underground’ album that will will form the basis of this release.
Out of the fourteen songs that were released as part of the compilation, two did did not make the cut. That was Rock & Roll as this came out as part of the ‘Loaded’ album and I did not want an overlap of songs. The other is I’m Sticking With You’ which sounds a though it should have been added to an album that was directed towards children or a B-Side. Out of the remaining songs, Andy’s Chest was relegated to a B-Side of whatever song was released from this album as an A-Side. Most probably an edited version of Foggy Notion, even though it no doubt would have been banned due to its lyrical content. That means there is a gap to be filled in with the running time as labels like to release albums with similar playing times on each side. Therefore I had a look at other unreleased material and there was a demo recording of Countess From Hong Kong, Though it was a co-write between Reed and Cale, the demo dates from the second half of 1969 so would fit into the time frame of this record. This takes the album up to about 23 minutes per side, which is long for an album of the time but not unheard of.
So why didn’t the album come out? If, as Morrison says, the band were just killing time, then there was no intention of releasing it at all. However, if we go with Tucker and Reed’s version of events, then it could have been down to the fact that in 1969, MGM were in financial trouble. One of the ways of reducing this would have been to strip their artists roster of any band that were proving to be unprofitable. The Velvet Underground would have fit this category and so they were out. What MGM did not allow the band to do was to take the master tapes with them. By the time The Velvet Underground had signed with Cotillion Records, they had moved on and only a few of the songs were taken forward to what would be the ‘Loaded’ album. What this ‘lost’ album does is nicely bridge the gap between the recording of the ‘Velvet Underground’ and ‘Loaded’ albums showing the progression the band was making. As it was, these songs lay in the MGM vaults until the mid 80s when they were released along with some other outtakes from the Cale era.
Would this album have turned The Velvet Underground into a commercial group? Doubtful but Lou Reed did not abandon the songs completely as many of them would appear on his solo records throughout the 1970s’. The front cover of this collection was adapted from a gig poster that band played at the Paramount Theatre in Springfield. Unfortunately, I don’t know the date of the gig as the poster didn’t say.
- Foggy Notion
- One Of These Days
- Countess Of Hong Kong
- Ride Into The Sun
- I Can’t Stand it
- Coney Island Steeplechase
- I’m Gonna Move Right In
- Lisa Says
- Ferryboat Bill
- She’s My Best Friend
- We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time
- Andy’s Chest