Standing On The Corner, Suitcase In My Hand

Velvet Underground Loaded 07

It is an interesting experience going back and listening to my older records, most of the time my views on ones I’ve had for decades don’t differ too much from back then once you allow/adjust for the ravages of time/diminishing of the mating urge/accrual of wisdom and the onset of male pattern baldness.  Occasionally though it is healthy to have your nice cosy views on an LP ripped up and burnt in front of your very, umm, ears.

Loaded was the first Velvet Underground LP I got around to buying on vinyl, simply because it was the only one my friend Matt couldn’t tape for me; he didn’t own a copy because he thought it was crap despite having two of the best Velvet’s songs on it, ‘Sweet Jane’ and ‘Rock & Roll’.  After all, Moe Tucker didn’t feature, for maternity reasons, John Cale had already left, Doug Yule sung a few and Lou Reed left the band three months before it was released – how could it be any good? I bought it on 1 October 1991, agreed entirely and I hadn’t listened to it, in its entirety/with an open mind for almost 22 years until last weekend.  My main thought is ‘what was I on? this is a really great album? you freakin’ simpleton!’  I had assumed the title was a drug reference, but that was just another instance of freakin’ simpleton-itis striking, it was in fact named after their new label boss, Ahmet Ertegun, told the band that he expected an album ‘loaded with hits’.

Velvet Underground Loaded 02

It’s really interesting sifting through all the interviews just how determined Velvet Underground were to fulfil the brief Atlantic Records had given them and did their absolute best to create a very ‘up’ commercial album.  As a spotty 19 year-old with a twin fixation on ‘Sister Ray’s unwholesomeness and Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit To Brooklyn, this wasn’t what I wanted at the time – I wanted the full-on Velvets experience deluxe with extra helpings of drug references, black polo neck jumpers and sheer sunglasses-at-night cool.  Instead of all that I got …

Personally I think Loaded doesn’t do itself any favours by opening with ‘Who Loves The Sun’, the drippiest 60’s-est Velvet Underground ever got.  Try as I might I can’t embrace this track, like someone you don’t like at work, I’m happy to acknowledge it with a brief nod of my head in passing, but please, please don’t let me get stuck in the lift with it because, if that happens, only one of us is making out of there alive. Hell, yeah!  ‘Who loves the sun / Who cares that it makes plants grow?’, me – I do, and I’m calling you out on it, song!

Rush Hour
Rush Hour

I like ‘Sweet Jane’ and ‘Rock & Roll’, almost too much to sully them with my writing*, almost.  The former is very much in the same vein as Velvet Underground III, classic ‘Beginning to see the Light’, the same playful vocals and real sense of fun, I wouldn’t want to cheapen it by saying it too often but I really don’t think music gets much better than ‘Sweet Jane’; every line is a straight knock-out punch Lou Reed playing with each syllable to maximum effect, very much like Dylan at his absolute best.  The music is so simple too, settling down after the chiming, joyous intro to, mostly, just strummed bass, guitar and drums, it’s the vocals and the harmonies that make this track soar the way it does.  I know blood was shed over the edited version that appears on Loaded, rather than the longer ‘Wine and Roses’ version that Lou Reed apparently favoured and claimed was edited after his departure** – for what its worth I prefer the shorter version, as did Lou Reed eventually as this was the version he would, mostly, play live thereafter; it’s punchier.  ‘Rock and Roll’, is as basic as the title suggests, a simple ode to the life-affirming joys of the radio and, stone cold classic that it is, I’ll leave it at that!

I’m starting to love the sneery, playful joy of ‘Cool It Down’, which really does sound like a burnt-out band being forced to play happy songs at gun point and I mean that in a good way.  I can hear the first stirrings of Transformer in this tune more so than any of the others in the Velvet Underground canon.

But me I’m down around the corner
You know I’m lookin’ for Miss Linda Lee
Because she’s got the power to love me by the hour
Gives me double you L-O-V-E

Velvet Underground Loaded 01

Next up is the most typically Velvet Underground track on Loaded, ‘New Age’ sung sweetly by Yule it is a weary little song about, what exactly? weariness with the music industry? an opportunistic, contemptuous starfucker? an ungallant dig at Shelley Winters?^ originally an ungallant dig at a girlfriend of Lou Reed?  in the final analysis it doesn’t really matter, not when you achieve 1537 bonus points for convincingly rhyming ‘Robert Mitchum’ with ‘never catch him’. Possibly not.

Extra rocking juice is liberally smeared all over ‘Head Held High’, a great crackling little number which sounds like the Stones, Lou Reed doing his best gravelly Jagger impression – forget ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, cover this tune tomorrow Rolling Stones!  I can see Velvet Underground laying this track down and thinking, ‘yup, commercial, hit material, cracked it’.  I think it’s also a good example of the musicality and melody that multi-instrumentalist Doug Yule brought to the proceedings, poor Doug his place in VU history forever being tarred with the version of the band that lurched on after all the original members had left, producing Squeeze – a universally loathed LP with good cover art which I’ve never heard^^.  Billy Yule, who stood in for Moe Tucker also plays it pretty straight forward throughout, maybe a little less primitive.

Velvet Underground Loaded 06

There are echoes of ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ in ‘I Found a Reason’, but the former’s raw heart having been replaced by a sweet pop-doo-wop sensibility and a very passable soul vocal from Mr Reed, until it gets to A SPOKEN BIT!!!!! Sweet Lord I love a song with a spoken bit in, no matter how tongue-in-cheek it may be.  Ironically the whole vibe of ‘I Found a Reason’ is something akin to (long-time Reed sniping target) Zappa’s Cruising With Reuben & The Jets transposed to NY.  I’m also developing a real thing for the relentless ‘Train Round The Bend’, with its’ arty guitar backing being the most out-there musical aspect of Loaded, it really is the type of song I find myself repeating and repeating.

The closer ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin” is another intriguing one, I could almost hear The Band, or Neil Young in this track.  I know Lou Reed was later credited with all the song writing credits on the LP, but this sounds the least Reed-like (the most Yule-like?) tune here, a gently building guitar driven number with a gorgeous heartfelt vocal from Yule.  If you’d played this song to me blind a few weeks ago I would never have guessed the band – which in a nutshell is possibly my, former, problem with Loaded.  When I heard it I wanted more of the same VU NY cool archetype, drug-addled avant-garde sleaze and at least two song titles with girls names in per album and I wasn’t really ready for, or receptive to an LP made by, effectively, a different band for different reasons; who quite obviously made a different type of music.

Velvet Underground Loaded 04

Look at the cover, a sound wafting up from the underground, how much clearer could they have made it?

Freakin’ Simpleton! Taken entirely on its’ own merits, which in the final analysis is all an LP ever should be taken on, Loaded is a good listen, an interesting listen and if it doesn’t hit the same psychic depths as their earlier albums then they had the answer already prepared, this was their rock and roll LP and,

Despite all the complications
You know you could just go out
And dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station
It was alright

374 Down.

*I did, however, think that Jane’s Addiction had written them for about two years after they were both covered on Jane’s Addiction, their live debut.

**Doug Yule denies this, saying that the mixes were Reed’s.

^a bit unkind, I was always a big fan of Schnorbitz!!  (obscure UK TV reference).

^^on which Deep Purple’s Ian Paice played drums – cementing the unlikely link between the Purps and the Velvets – Deep Velvet? Purple Underground?

19 thoughts on “Standing On The Corner, Suitcase In My Hand

  1. Mate, this site is so big I can’t get enough of it. Always interested in what other people think of the Velvets, so decided to take a gander here. Would love your thoughts on White Light/White Heat if you have any. I’ve heard it again and again, and I still don’t like it. But it’s so unique that I keep coming back! Or maybe I just like flagellating myself, who can tell?

    Ever checked out this site Far as music reviews go, that’s the best. Give it a try. Might as well; it’s free, after all.

    1. Thank you that’s really kind – I found you because I spent so long in those Bethesda games I was starting to get confused as to which life was mine and which was a game.

      WLWH – not listened in years, bits of it have that really horrible harsh production that sets my teeth on edge; so maybe it is just masochism. I really can’t get enough Sister Ray though, I can play that four times in a row easily. Tell you what I’ll review it properly in the next couple of weeks if you like?

      1. Wow, that would be grand! But don’t feel like you have to if you being feeling like someone is ripping through your eardrum with a chainsaw, haha. Sister Ray and White Light/White Heat are the definite highlights in my book. I would love to hear your thoughts, too.

        Fallout:New Vegas sucked me in for all the reason I listed and more. Fallout 3, as much as I liked it, I never felt they went as far as they could have, so it always lagged behind as a distant second.

        I’m curious, did you find the blog through a search engine or just your reader?

        Oh, and I love the Lego motif. Bloody brilliant.

      2. Nah, I often get record paralysis where I don’t know what to go for next – so that’ll do me just fine!

        Through the WP reader – I was looking for a more intelligent approach than all the various wikis out there; and gt it.

        Cheers – Lego just works brilliantly, I realised early on that you need some good visuals, otherwise how do you get noticed? the Lego on LP covers came before the writing actually.

      3. Fantastic, and thanks for the compliments. When I realised I wouldn’t find the smart content myself, it hit me that I would have to go and generate it myself.

        Sorry to say I’ll be switching gears and analysing something different from now on, the tv show Deadwood, which it ain’t for small minds, either, and even that will be a bit more infrequent.

        Anyway, look forward to your review. Godspeed.

  2. That’s a good balanced review, Joe. One ‘Loaded’ song I really like is ‘New Age’. Worth hearing the rambling ‘1969’ version (unless you’re constitutionally opposed to live albums, of course).
    Funny about the cover. I always saw it as dope smoke drifting up outta the subway. Doesn’t make commuter sense, but there you go.

    1. Thank you, I normally bang these things out in hours but I took a bit longer over this because I enjoyed it so much.

      I have heard the Live ’69 LP, but a long time ago – I need to find a reasonably priced copy of that and the VU one with ‘Foggy Notion’ on it.

      Have you bothered with either of the rerelease of the first two LPs? – I’m a bit torn.

      1. Temporary Velvet madness descended recently and I acquired White Light-White Heat with the bonus album. After reading your post I thought I should perhaps bring it forward on the listening list.

      2. I love the original album, but I wasn’t too tempted by the extras on that one. I think a compare and contrast between that LP and one of the first few Stooges ones would be good – beauty/beast, brain/body, cerebral fluid / bodily fluids.

  3. I’m going to put out an album called Deep Velvet/Purple Underground. Thanks for the title buddy, I’ll be sure to credit you in the album notes. (runs away)

    Anyway if you don’t mind me asking, what are you using for photo editing? I’m using a site now called PicMonkey but I’m having a hard time achieving what I’m envisioning.

    1. There was an 80’s indie band I dimly remember called The Velvet Underpants, which remains one of my favourite band names ever.

      I use a Windows 8 App called Fhotoroom – it has pretty much everything I need and they add bits and pieces onto it all the time. It’s better than most of the free ones I’d tried and whilst I’d love to be able to fathom out how to use a ‘proper’ one like Paint Shop Pro, I can’t – they always leave me feeling like a freakin’ simpleton!

      1. No on a PC – basically it’s my youngest and by far my favourite, child!

        There is a Fhotoroom HDR you can download and try out for free, which will run on Windows 7?

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