Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)


Released November 1970

This was the final album, to all intents and purposes, from The Velvet Underground (yes I know there was the Doug Yule-led album in 1973) and the last to feature Lou Reed, who was about to embark on a solo career. Despite that 1973 album, it surely really ends here for VU. Doug Yule is highly prominent on the album, however, John Cale had left and Maureen Tucker was away giving birth. Sterling Morrison was still there, though. It does have a bit of a feel of a Lou Reed solo album, you have to say.

It was far more commercial in its feel, leaving behind the avant-garde, experimental art-rock of their three earlier albums. It is not full of lyrics about drugs and sex anymore. They wanted, here, to produce a more radio-friendly, poppier album. Record label head Ahmet Ertegun had apparently asked for an album "loaded with hits". To a certain extent they achieved that, but they were still The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed was still the lyricist. It wasn't going to be a "I really love you, baby" type of album, was it?


1. Who Loves the Sun
2. Sweet Jane
3. Rock And Roll
4. Cool It Down
5. New Age
6. Head Held High
7. Lonesome Cowboy Bill
8. I Found A Reason
9. Train Round The Bend
10. Oh! Sweet Nuthin'                                

The album begins with the gentle, rhythmic and almost country rock strains of "Who Loves The Sun", with its already throwback hippy-ish "ba-ba-ba" backing vocals. There are hints of The Beatles circa 1964 in this. It really is rather delightful. "Sweet Jane" has that iconic riff and catchy melody, together with its perplexing lyrics. David Bowie surely borrowed the "just watch me now" line, too. Similarly infectious is "Rock And Roll", with another insistent riff and some great guitar. Both songs are done with far more rock power on Lou Reed's 1974 "Rock And Roll Animal" live album, it has to be said. Also, Mott The Hoople's 1972 cover of  "Sweet Jane" isn't half bad, either. Still, this was 1970, and these two tracks were pretty ground-breaking at the time, being a pop type of rock, but also thoughtful and mysterious. They managed to merge riffiness with a lyrical poetic appeal. The Doors had done so earlier in slightly different ways but there was something quite unique about this material. There is no doubt that this album paved the way for artists/bands like David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music and even T. Rex to do their thing a few years later.

"Cool It Down" is a track that I am sure influenced The Rolling Stones' out put from 1971-74. Again, it is infectiously riffy. After three solid, rocking songs, it was time for some Lou Reed laid-back quirkiness. We get it in the beguiling, contemplative "New Age". It is full of cynically observational lyrics. It ends with some heavier, rock passages, despite the quiet beginning. "Head Held High" surely was a blueprint for the New York Dolls in its frantic, glammy rock sound. "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" was a wild, upbeat Velvet Underground meets country rock romp. These songs were really bringing out the "fun" side of Reed and a personality that was sensitive and wryly humorous as opposed to depressed and angst-ridden over sex and drugs issues and the demi-monde.

"I Found A Reason" is a sixties-ish Beatles-influenced number, with some Doors-esque guitar. "Train Round The Bend" has echoes of "White Light/White Heat" in its underpinning beat. There is still a grainy edginess to it that leaves you in no doubt that this is The Velvet Underground. "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" is an understated but gloriously soulful and atmospheric Reed song. It is a true classic on which to end the original album. Check out the guitar after Reed sings "let me hear ya...". There is something special about this track. Great stuff indeed.

This was, overall, a commercial-sounding record that the band had only just discovered they had in them, but they didn't sell out their musical personality and uniqueness in producing it, either. It still has lots of Lou Reed/Velvet Underground hallmarks. What was so great about The Velvet Underground was that they pretty much changed their style for every album the released. Quite an achievement.


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