20190606_181153
I Found a Reason: The author pictured with a vinyl copy of Loaded at The Secret Book and Record Store, one of the last remaining record stores in Dublin that stocks vinyl. Photo: Keeley Moss ©2019

 

From Paths of Pain to Jewels of Glory

By Keeley Moss

 

“Can I have your autograph?”
He said to the fat blonde actress
“You know, I’ve seen every movie you’ve been in
From Paths of Pain to Jewels of Glory”

The Velvet Underground – ‘New Age’

 

The timeline…

1966. ‘The Exploding Plastic Inevitable’. The Velvet Underground break loose, touring the States as part of Andy Warhol’s travelling extravaganza of decadent delinquents, at the vanguard of a new form of artistic expression comprising multi-media happenings, a startlingly innovative approach to stage lighting and risqué S&M theatrics wedded to an entirely new form of music – effectively the birth of alternative rock. Combining spiky street aesthete Lou Reed’s cinema verite beat poetry with John Cale’s radical avant-garde edge in the form of the electric viola, an instrument that had never been utilised by a rock or pop group before, and certainly not in the savage, slashing way Cale attacked its strings. With a female drummer – a totally alien concept then – whose short hair and androgynous appearance led many to mistake her for a boy, playing in an equally-alien manner, standing upright and pounding the tom-toms. No snare drum, no hi-hats, no floor rack, none of the bog-standard percussive accoutrements virtually every other drummer since the dawn of time has assumed they must use. As if all that wasn’t groundbreaking enough, centre-stage, jostling for position alongside Lou, are the striking visuals and unique vocals of Nico, the tall blonde “German Queen” with the death-stare and the eerie, monotone funeral-march intonation, who Leonard Cohen would call “The most beautiful woman in the world”. And there’s a man who would know.

1967. The Velvet Underground & Nico. The much-delayed debut album that tumbled out with little fanfare a full twelve months after it had been recorded in an astonishing three days. The landmark album that as legend has it, “only 300 people bought on release but every one of those people went out and formed a band straightaway”. Rightly showered with garlands (eventually) as one of the greatest and most original rock records ever made.

1968. White Light/White Heat. What do you do when you’ve just pushed every avant-garde envelope there is to push? You go further. Deeper. Darker. Higher. And wilder. Wilder than any band had ever been. White Light/White Heat would be most extreme album of 1968, or any other year to come. The apex of the Velvets’ subversive sonic savagery, upon the release of the title track as its first single, it was hit by an immediate radio ban. The sound of a band intent on going to war with everything and anything around them, that same title track was – and remains – arguably the most electrifying 2 minutes 47 seconds in rock history. As a result of the airtime ban, it got no airplay. It sold no copies. It didn’t chart. And it didn’t matter.

1969. The Velvet Underground. What do you do after you’ve made the loudest, wildest record imaginable? You blow minds in reverse order with the quietest, most tender and meditative collection of sad-eyed lovelorn ballads possible. With some sonic savagery still there in the form of ‘What Goes On’ and ‘The Murder Mystery’ lest anyone get too comfortable. Along with buoyant beauties like ‘Beginning to See the Light’ that pointed the way towards an unlikely pop career.

 

VU 1970
The beginning of a new age: The Velvet Underground, 1970

 

1970. Now what? With miniscule sales of the three preceding LPs, the band’s star has never been lower. Their label MGM drops them one album in to a new two-album deal. Nico is long gone (forced out by Reed), Warhol is long gone (forced out by Reed), Cale is long gone (forced out by Reed. Anyone sensing a theme here?) As a result they’re down to the bare bones. But those bones aren’t so much bare as not even there. VU perennials Sterling Morrison and Maureen ‘Moe’ Tucker are also largely out of the picture by this point (Sterling distracted and generally absent studying for a PhD in medieval literature at City College of New York and Moe having to abdicate from being the tom-tom queen on account of her pregnancy). This leaves Lou – who by all accounts is in a very fragmented state by the time it comes for the band (or what is left of it) to record their fourth album – and Cale’s replacement Doug Yule, a talented multi-instrumentalist with a beautiful singing voice who has generally suffered the rawest of raw deals in VU folklore over the years on account of the apparent crime of Not Being John Cale. But more on the perennially-overlooked Yule later.

 

Sterl and Lou Loaded sessions cropped
Something’s got a hold on me: A triptych of shots of Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed in the Atlantic recording studio at the start of the Loaded sessions. Photos: Henri ter Hall ©1970

 

So then, 1970. The dawn of a new decade. A new year was one thing, but a new decade? After all that? It must have been a supreme shock to the system for a world that would take half a lifetime to finish processing the warp-speed changes the 1960s had wrought upon it, let alone be able for what the 1970s was about to throw at it. 1970 then, was many things. A new beginning for some. A head-on crash collision for a great many others. Gradually a new world order would adapt and evolve, in which only the strongest would survive never mind thrive. That would leave a lot of casualties to drift into the next decade, that is if they were to drift anywhere at all. Considering the way the Velvets had spent the entirety of their career up to this point utterly out-of-sync with the wider world, it is a great irony that by 1970, the state of confusion and dissolution within the ranks of the band would provide the ultimate mirror – ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’, indeed – for society’s scattering and scavenging.

And still this belated benediction as beholders of the zeitgeist spirit wouldn’t be enough for them to sell any records. No wonder Lou Reed couldn’t stop scowling.

Despite that, 1970, Lou’s last year in the VU, would culminate in the recording of an album that would become the most immediate-sounding thing they would ever record, as the dying of the light summoned one last emission of electric energy. It would be brief and bittersweet, but so very bright. Forged out of spare parts, cobbled together on the hoof, hewn out of hand-me-downs and the relics of Reed’s doo-wop youth. This time, for the first and last time, they would not just be loud.

They would be loaded.

 

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What you lookin’ at? The author copping a sneaky glance from a fellow disc-discoverer at The Secret Book and Record Store in Dublin. Photo: Keeley Moss ©2019

 

Loaded is my favourite Velvets record. There, I’ve said it (awaits brickbats. And actual bricks. And real bats. The baseball ones, and the ones that “swoop, swoop…”)

Granted, it is far from their most extreme artistic statement (that is undoubtedly White Light/White Heat). And it’s not their most beautiful album (that honour goes to 1969’s eponymous LP). And truth be told, it’s not even their most memorable, it just doesn’t come anywhere near The Velvet Underground & Nico in terms of the purity of purpose that spawned the debut’s creation. No, Loaded is something else entirely, something singular and difficult to define. But even so, if push comes to shove, it’s my favourite. And that’s from someone who worships the first three albums. I know in VU fandom circles an admission like that could see a girl tarred and feathered. Well, I say that with my Head Held High. Let’s find the reasons…

 

Lou Loaded sessions
And me, I’m in a rock n’ roll band: Lou Reed at his iconic best during the Loaded sessions. Photo: Henri ter Hall ©1970

 

“From Paths of Pain to Jewels of Glory” is a line in the first verse of ‘New Age’, the song that closes side 1 of Loaded. Ostensibly a movie reference, the line can be co-opted and perceived as a very fitting commentary on the process the band went through to make any of their albums let alone the masterly monument to eclecticism that is Loaded. Those paths of pain involved the loss of original drummer Angus MacLise (who quit the night before their first gig because they were going to get paid to play for a set amount of time), the loss of the perfect chanteuse Nico (ousted by the jealous Reed, who had never wanted her in the band in the first place, only bowing to Warhol’s wishes to include her after much lobbying from both he and Factory acolyte Paul Morrissey who were convinced the band would otherwise lack an essential element of glamour).

Yet more paths of pain the band would endure would be the loss of Warhol himself, ousted by Reed in favour of shady supremo Steve Sesnick, the loss of John Cale (the perfect avant-garde foil for Lou, and another of the elements that made the Velvets so unique but ultimately a casualty of Lou’s dislike of having to share the spotlight), the loss of Moe Tucker from the Loaded sessions (not only the most original drummer in rock and roll history but Lou’s main ally throughout the turbulent history of the band), the partial absence of Sterling Morrison, whose quiet stability had long provided the band with an essential balance. And, as mentioned, by the start of 70s they had been dropped by their record label Verve, a subsidiary of MGM. Because in addition to falling victim to a purge of artists who the label believed were glamorising hard drugs (the Velvets and hard drugs?! Never!) the Velvets had sold almost no records in the four years since they had inked their deal, largely due to the Warhol connection.

But what they did have was a batch of magnificent songs, and two guys – Lou Reed and Doug Yule – whose singular gifts would intertwine on the same level one last time to take flight with one of the first – and one of the best – records of the early 1970s.

And then they got a new record deal with Cotillion, a subsidiary of the legendary Atlantic Records. Things were looking up. But as we all know by now, down for Lou is up.

 

Lou and Doug 1970
Shakin’ to that fine, fine music: Lou Reed and Doug Yule in the studio during the sessions for Loaded. Photo: Henri ter Hall ©1970

 

Still, that spirit of renewal was enough to carry the embattled group through the start of the sessions, which began in earnest in April of that year. So what if they didn’t have Cale, Morrison or Nico? Doug could play bass, piano, organ and guitar. Lou could play guitar and sing, except when he couldn’t, and then Doug would take over vocal duties. This was a patched-up ensemble if ever there was one. One that was unrecognisable from the solid squadron of three years previous.

They were about to become a whole lot more patched-up upon delivery of the news that Moe would herself be going into delivery, having fallen pregnant on the eve of recording.

They would need a replacement, and fast. “You know anyone?”, enquired Lou. “Sure”, replied Doug. “My brother Billy”. And so it was that Billy Yule, 17 years old and fresh out of high school, was hired to play drums, and paid the ludicrous fee of $6 per day. On the days when Billy couldn’t make it to the studio, his brother Doug, engineer Adrian Barber, co-producer Geoffrey Haslam (who otherwise was at the helm of the recording console throughout alongside co-producer Shel Kagan) and “a kid from Long Island” named Tommy Castanaro all took turns to play drums on the record. And that’s how they carried on, switching between five different drummers.

This was not the way records were supposed to be made, not even in those days. But since when had the Velvets ever done what they were supposed to do? Andy Warhol, producer of The Velvet Underground & Nico, was a visual artist with no discernible music background, making a grand total of zero production decisions during the making of that record, his role solely amounting to informing the engineer that he wasn’t allowed to change anything the band did. Which, as Lou would later concede, was the most helpful and supportive thing Andy could’ve done, ensuring the band established complete creative control. And then there was the band’s choice of the title track as the first single from the follow-up White Light/White Heat, a song featuring such lines as “Watch that speed freak, watch that speed freak!” and “Sputter, mutter, everybody gonna go kill their mother”. That was the single. It was banned outright, generating precisely zero radio play. This was truly a band who could have trademarked the concept of Not Giving a Fuck.

By the time they entered the Atlantic studio to record Loaded, they were starting to give a fuck, but only a tiny bit. Remarkably, of the five people who played drums on the album, Moe, the band’s actual drummer, wasn’t one of them.

Meanwhile Sterling would drop by the studio to lay his parts down, but even by his own later admission his mind increasingly wasn’t there. Having returned to college that fall, and growing ever more disillusioned with Lou’s Napoleonic tendencies and what Doug would later call “Sesnick’s bullshit”, Sterling’s spirit – not to mention his tolerance for the politics swirling around the band with the machinations of the manipulative Sesnick central to the fast-fracturing dynamic between Lou and Doug – was waning. And he hadn’t forgiven Lou for, well, pretty much everything over the previous three years. Sidelining Nico. Firing Andy. Ousting John. And that was in addition to Lou entering the studio without anyone’s knowledge in order to remix ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ so that his guitar parts drowned everything and everyone else out (even though the end result did sound incredible, making what was already the most explosive and subversive record in music history yet more explosive and subversive). But Sterling, an intelligent and studious character with an abiding sense of loyalty at his quiet core, wasn’t to forget Lou’s mounting Machiavellian manoeuvres quickly. When Lou was on his game, the guy was so damn talented he made all the bad stuff almost worth it. But almost isn’t enough when you’ve been broke for five years playing every flea-pit and frat party in whichever hick town will have you, while bands with a fraction of the Velvets’ brilliance were selling stadium-loads of records to leave the hip cats of yore looking increasingly like yesterday’s men.

Still, the songs were coming.

And what songs they were.

’Who Loves the Sun’ – Pure pop founded on melodic smarts a world away from the deranged darkness of White Light/White Heat. Boasting harmonies from heaven and topped off by a Doug Yule vocal that’s the epitome of sweet summer serenity, Lou reportedly having “not felt up to singing that day”.

‘Sweet Jane’ – Driven by a riff so classic it had to have been written by someone else already. Except it hadn’t. Lou, as usual, had gotten there first. Nowadays regarded as such an obvious classic that it may surprise you to know the chart position it reached upon it’s belated release as a double A-sided single in the UK (coupled with ‘Who Loves the Sun’) in 1971. It didn’t chart. Never mind a #1 single, it wasn’t a top 10 single either, nor a top 20 single for that matter. It would similarly miss out on the top 30, the top 40, the top 50, the top 100, and any other chart you could care to mention. As for the US, it wasn’t even released there. “And the ladies, they rolled their eyes” indeed.

‘Rock & Roll’ – A fast-driving anthem that encapsulated the whole point of the bloody beast that is rock n’ roll better than anyone had ever nailed it. Even after having been belatedly crowned the unwitting originators of indie-rock and spawning a million pallid imitators, a track such as ‘Rock & Roll’ remains a testament to the fact that the Velvets still sound like no other band in the world.

‘Cool It Down’ – The funkiest thing the VU ever committed to tape. With two Reed lead vocals panned left and right, and an amazing piano break in the middle-eight, the sheer street sass of this tune is hard to top.

‘New Age’ – Possibly the greatest song the Velvets recorded (aside from ‘Sister Ray’ which is my shout for the greatest song anyone has ever recorded). The magic of this gossamer-light grower lies in the beauty of Lou’s writing, the fragility of Doug’s voice and a ghostly piano drenched in reverb that shadows every soft, sad, sublime second of the song until around about 3.35 it bursts into a glorious redemptive hymn of a coda, powered by Doug Yule’s organ. That’s him on the drum kit as well. And again, that magical, ghostly, reverb-drenched ivory-tinkling. Sadness never sounded more seductive.

 

 

And that’s just Side1. On Side 2 the Velvets properly turn it up to 11.

‘Head Held High’ – With Doug and Lou duelling on guitars, and Lou belting out the rawest and wildest vocal he would ever record (to the extent that he literally screams the line “And just like I figured, they’re always disfigured!”) this bad-ass bruiser was power-pop before anyone had even coined the term. With some deep-fried country-rock swagger in there for good measure. Suffice to say, it works. More than that, it ROCKS.

 

 

‘Lonesome Cowboy Bill’ – Featuring another Doug Yule lead vocal, this was the Velvets’ first full immersion in country-rock, a genre that had originated only a couple of years prior with The International Submarine Band’s Safe at Home and The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo bringing it all back home, two visionary long-players that showcased the Cosmic Americana of Gram Parsons, that looked backwards and forwards simultaneously, and that like many great albums mystified listeners and sold sod-all at the time of release but which would go on to be belatedly recognised as immensely-influential, seminal works. With its jaunty twang, ‘Lonesome Cowboy Bill’ gallops along with a brisk breeziness, riding the same rodeo as The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin (Parsons again… Is there a musical landmark that doesn’t have his genius somewhere in the mix?) But lest it be pegged as flippant froth, just get on those guitars… Like the rest of what is a quintessentially American record, this track could only have been recorded in the good ol’ U S of A.

‘I Found a Reason’ – The most diverse album the VU would make enters another stylistic gear-shift, with Lou’s teenage love for doo-wop finding an unlikely outlet. The romantic side of Lou’s writing had always been there, even in the S&M-referencing days of ‘Venus In Furs’ and The Exploding Plastic Inevitable revue that saw Gerard Malanga and Mary Woronov act out all manner of sadomasochistic acts onstage with the Velvets providing the soundtrack. Sharing space on the same album as ‘Venus In Furs’ were songs of twisted tenderness such as ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’. This romantic side of Lou’s writing would rapidly come to the fore following Cale’s 1968 departure, after which the avant-garde edginess brandished by the band up to that point would take a backseat to a softer sort of songcraft. ‘I Found a Reason’ would be, after ‘Pale Blue Eyes’, the most vulnerable the street-tough Lou would ever allow himself to sound on record.

‘Train ‘Round the Bend’ – The most eccentric track on the album, this fuzzy stomper almost defies categorisation. Vocally Lou sounds almost as unhinged as he had on ‘Head Held High’, howling more than singing, and adding another element to the melting pot of what is a truly shape-shifting album. Fading in on wild waves of screeching feedback and propelled by a weird, insistently chugging riff that continually pans from left to right and back again, further adding to the sonic disorientation, ‘Train ‘Round the Bend’ is the wonderfully-ugly, urgent, grimy outlier on an album that otherwise showcases the little-seen sunnier side of the band’s oeuvre. Fittingly it fades out just as it had faded in: with more brash blasts of furious feedback in a nicely-knowing nod to the restless inventiveness that was the band’s stock-in-trade.

 

VU Loaded sessions
Sterling work: Moustachioed maestro Morrison laying down licks at the Loaded sessions. Photo: Henri ter Hall ©1970

 

‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ – And so to the closer, with which the Velvets play their trump card. World-weary and gloriously resigned, it’s the perfect sign-off not just for the album but for the spirit-sapped soul of the band and the trail they blazed for six years to widespread public indifference. Sat, legs-splayed, on the dusty turf of country-rock’s saddest path, ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ is a masterful last stand. At 7 minutes and 25 seconds it is by some degree the longest track on the album. A magnificent, melancholy epic with a scorching solo that I’m willing to bet good money was recorded in a mere one take, so fabulously off-the-cuff and semi-scuffed does it sound. The song also features Yule’s fourth lead vocal on the album, rubbishing the prosecution’s tiresome assertion that he was merely a lowly hack unworthy of sharing column inches with the Reeds, Cales, Morrisons and Tuckers of the world. Doug’s contributions, on vocals, guitar, bass, piano, organ and drums are the second-most influential factor (after Lou’s songs of course) that elevates Loaded into classic album territory. The guitar solos on ‘Rock & Roll’, ‘Cool It Down’, ‘Head Held High’ and ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ were all played by Yule. The lead vocals on ‘Who Loves the Sun’, ‘New Age’, ‘Lonesome Cowboy Bill’ and ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ were all sung by Yule. I emphasise this in an effort to redress a balance that has gone largely un-redressed for far too long. Credit where it’s damn well due – Yule rules.

Hearing Loaded for the first time as a 16 year-old, I flipped. I had gotten it on cassette when my grandmother purchased it for me as a present from Freebird Records in Dublin, a record store that in those days was literally underground. Back then, Freebird had a floppy-haired staff member who possessed an almost boundless contempt for anyone who dared approach him to buy a record. The guy was notorious, years later I read a reference to him in State magazine as “That floppy-haired prick in Freebird who treats all the customers like shit” or words to that effect. It was some consolation to learn of this egalitarianism, that he apparently doled out the same level of mistreatment to everyone equally, god bless him. He was the living personification of Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity, except without the humour, which sadly defeated the purpose. Even when someone insists on behaving like an epic arse, if they can sweeten the pill by being hilarious or at least occasionally amusing, you’ll forgive them almost anything. But that guy was about as funny as a ruptured colon (can you rupture a colon? I don’t know, and I sure as hell hope I never find out).

Back to Loaded, hearing it for the first time turned my world upside down. I was going through the worst time of my life, a time when I literally had oh sweet nuthin’ – no friends, no job, no love life, no life at all actually and worst of all, no band. At that time I was a virtual prisoner at one of the most brutal secondary schools in north Dublin, a harrowing place that even at many years remove I would best describe as being like a cross between a concentration camp and a gulag. The only thing I ever learned there was how to endure having a sharp compass being thrown at the back of my head. To this day I have never, ever been anywhere worse – and that’s from someone who’s been to Neilstown. Most days consisted of being physically and verbally attacked only to have to drag myself home to face a fresh barrage of battery there. The four years I spent in the glorified borstal of that so-called school felt like I was perpetually drowning in a sea of shit and as is the teenage tendency, you assume it’s never going to stop – because you’ve never had to go through it before, you can’t actually believe that it’s not going to last forever. Of all the songs on Loaded, ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ was the song my invisible, miserable teenage self could relate to most of all. The feeling of aching desolation embedded in its grooves, the sense of being cut adrift from everything and everyone around you but trudging on through the sludge regardless, ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ was the sonic personification of ‘lonerism’ a full four decades before Tame Impala thought of going there.

 

 

With Loaded, the Velvets did something that no one who had witnessed The Exploding Plastic Inevitable or heard White Light/White Heat would have believed possible – they proved they could make a commercial record if they wanted to (and this time they really did want to, even Lou, or at least that’s what he claimed in press interviews in the run-up to the album’s release). And what’s more, they proved they could do it without losing what made them great. It has as much Power as it has Pop. And in contrast to the view the critical cognoscenti have of it as the Velvets’ cleanest record, the sheer amount of fluffs on the record that no one bothered to fix in the mix, is all the better for it. Witness one of Lou’s double-tracked lead vocals coming in late (and him slurring the words) at 0.20 on the squalling ‘Train ‘Round the Bend’. Hear the guitar solos thrillingly skidding off the rails at both 6.00 and 6.30 of ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, with not one but two bum notes. And do these errors diminish the power of these recordings? Do they fuck. On the contrary, they enhance them, proving that as much as the Velvets were in effect a very different band by the time they made Loaded, they were ultimately the same type of very different band as they had been in 1966 while recording The Velvet Underground & Nico (a record that lest it be forgotten the Velvets’ label delayed the release of for an entire year, tantamount to two whole lifetimes in that era of pop music. And people wonder why artists hate record companies…)

 

Loaded sessions
Don’t you know that it ain’t gonna last: Band members and production staff in the control room towards the end of the Loaded sessions which coincided with Reed’s exit from the group in August 1970. Photo: Henri ter Hall ©1970

 

Reed and Yule would later reveal that Loaded was so called because the band went in with the intention of making an album “loaded with hits”. Reed would later reflect bitterly on his departure from the group when he claimed, “I left them to their album of hits that I made”. But for an album of ‘hits’, the sad fact was that the album’s single ‘Who Loves the Sun’ c/w ‘Sweet Jane’ (in the UK) and ‘Who Loves the Sun’ c/w ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (in the US) would fail to chart upon release. And the accompanying album wouldn’t fare much better either. Released on November 15th 1970, Loaded would eventually enter the lowest reaches of the US album charts, crawling to #202 on January 30th 1971 before dropping out for good a mere one week later. To this day the only other country in the world where it has appeared on any chart is France – home to the band’s most fervant fans – and even there it only peaked at #188. One of the few people hip to Loaded upon its original release was a prescient college student in Berkeley, California who would later comment on his doomed attempts to convert any of his co-horts to the Velvets’ fast-flagging cause, “Imagine trying to get anyone from Berkeley in 1970 to listen to Loaded?”

It is one thing not to crack the Top 10, and another thing not to crack the Top 100, but failing to crack the top 200 in your home country? And that was with major label backing. And with what was by far their most commercial record. Those were different times, indeed.

But time would reward the band, in a way that would have been inconceivable back in 1970. Gradually they would rise up the rankings of critical acclaim to become regarded as the founding fathers of both punk and post-punk, as well as the originators of indie-rock and as the second-most influential group of the 1960s (after The Beatles, no less). Despite the fact that to this day the Velvets have still never had a hit single or album, either on release or re-release.

A brief but deserved word for the fantastically-named Stanisław Andrzej Zagórski, one of the finest graphic designers of the 1970s or any other era, whose artwork adorns the front cover of Loaded. Maligned in some quarters for his very literal translation of the band’s name in the form of the underground subway featured on the cover and the various shades of pink and red to denote the ‘velvet’ of the first word of the band’s name, I personally love the artwork, from the colours he utilised to the beautiful (and very 1970) font he chose. For this reason I have an original vinyl copy of Loaded on display in the kitchen of my flat (along with White Light/White Heat and Lou’s solo masterpieces Transformer and Berlin).

 

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Kitchenware: An original vinyl copy of Loaded adorning the kitchen wall of Moss Manor. Photo: Keeley Moss ©2019

 

Before I wrap this up it would be remiss of me were I not to “say a word” for not only “Jimmy Brown” but also for one of the finest moments of the Loaded sessions, namely ‘Ocean’. A song that in a moment of madness was left off the album (I blame the “wheat husk diet” Lou was on in the Summer of 1970, that’s a decent enough place to start). ‘Ocean’ would belatedly see release in a vastly inferior and lifeless form on Lou’s eponymous 1972 debut solo LP. Actually, numerous versions of the song abound. Aside from the anaemic cut featured on Lou Reed, an adequate rendition recorded by the Velvets appeared on 1985’s collection of outtakes VU, and another, longer band version appears on the ‘Fully Loaded’ 2-disc edition of Loaded that saw release in 1997 – but all three sound, at best, like demos. The version of the song taped during the Loaded sessions however not only wipes the floor with the others, it stands as one of the greatest things the group ever recorded.

And here it is. “Here come the waves…” indeed.

 

 

With a running time of 5.45 and featuring one of Lou’s best-ever lead vocals, the dark drama of this nocturnal nugget gleams with a gritty grandeur. One of the creepiest and most chilling tracks in the Velvets’ canon, ‘Ocean’ would make the perfect sonic accompaniment for a late-night trawl of New York’s mean streets circa 1970. I maintain no copy of Loaded ought to be considered complete without it. As for where it might have fit, thanks to the wonders of modern-day music-players, on my Zune I have sequenced it to follow ‘New Age’ and close Side 1, balanced out by the fact that the epic-length ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ closes Side 2. Perhaps some of you may feel the album has enough on there without it?

I beg to differ.

After all, the album is called Loaded.

 

Loaded rear cover
Lonesome Cowboy: The rear cover of the original 1970 Cotillion vinyl pressing of Loaded featured Doug Yule alone in the studio, underlining the extent of his contribution to the record. Photo: Henri ter Hall ©1970

 

________________________________________________________

Copyright: Keeley Moss ℗&©2019. All rights reserved.

________________________________________________________

Acknowledgements for Part 2

‘New Age’, ‘Head Held High’, ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ & ‘Ocean’ written by Lou Reed.
Published by Sony ATV Music Publishing LLC ©1970

Photography by Henri ter Hall ©1970 and Keeley Moss ©2019

Published under Fair Use policy

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