We filter music, not only through out own memories but through our collective consciousness and then add a dash of time distortion for good measure.
Take the Beatles for example, they haven’t existed since 1970 but they are constantly being re-evaluated. In the 70’s Sergeant Pepper was pretty much universally accepted as their best album ever, if not the best album ever, no questions asked, we could still remember the 60’s and SP captured our collective memory of those heady days. Skip forward a decade of so and Revolver had taken the number one spot, to be honest it probably had better songs and the summer of love was a more distant memory and also Revolver helped pave the way for britpop in the 90’s. For a while there seemed to be a flirtation with the White Album as the Beatles top trumps but now we have settled into Abbey Rd as the pinnacle, apparently ‘here comes the sun’ is the most played Beatles track on Spotify and despite an over reliance of half arsed tracks Abbey Rd is the nearest they came to a modern sounding record which hasn’t really dated sonically in the same way as their earlier records..
If you had asked me in 1979 what my favourite albums were the Velvet Underground with Nico would have got a namecheck somewhere in the evaluation. Bear in mind that the only way to hear a record was to buy or borrow it, I cant recall a whole lot of that record being played on the radio. On the other hand it was possible to read about the band who had been namechecked many times by the emerging punk groups. I liked the sound of them, at least culturally and visually so as soon as I had some spare money I resolved to purchase a record all of my own.
For my first choice I was seriously wrongfooted. I had been playing in a band The Aerials and we covered Sweet Jane so that was one song I knew fairly well. Rock and Roll had also had the occasional radio play because it was a straight-ahead pop/rock song. Putting the two together influence my decision to buy Loaded, the last VU album to be released.
Basically it was a big disappointment , it’s the Velvets most mainstream album, its also an extremely watered down version of the band. Drummer Mo Tucker was pregnant so wasn’t keen on squeezing behind a drumkit. Guitarist Sterling Morrison was around but was taking advantage of the time based in New York to study a college course. Lou Reed was about to leave, in fact by the time the record was released in 1970 Lou was gone. The one person who was committed to the record was most recent member Doug Yule. Originally recruited to cover John Cale’s departure on bass and organ, Yule had expanded his CV to singing, playing guitar and even drumming when his brother Billy wasn’t around to cover for Tucker. The album is at its best when Reed is audibly involved as in ‘Sweet Jane’ or ‘Rock and Roll’. Its at its worse when Yule is singing about ‘Lonesome Cowboy Bill’ it’s a question of degree, both of them were involved and I think Reed later won some lawsuit that confirmed he wrote all the songs.
For me in 1978 it wasn’t enough, I wanted to hear something more than good natured songs and as soon as I had a bit more money, I bought the first album with all the songs they wouldn’t play on the radio, it was challenging and edgy, it was so 1978.
A couple of decades on and I was engaged in the ongoing commitment of feeding the iPod, I had retired my vinyl but I would head to Leicester City library at least weekly and take out a few CD’s which, if I liked them I would load into my little white box. I made some great discoveries but there was also the option of downloading some old favourites including the Velvet Underground with Nico. Twenty-five years on though the record had nothing for me. I knew every track off by heart but there was no feel good nostalgia just a record that I had listened to as many times in my life as I needed to. I didn’t download it.
On the other hand Loaded sounds fine now, I still think ‘I Found a Reason’ is terrible but the rest is a good listen.
There was one other reason I bought Loaded though. Radio North Sea International used to play ‘Who Loves the Sun’ regularly. Naively I didn’t realise that this song was totally unrepresentative of the general Velvet Underground catalogue. Its actually possible that there’s no one apart from Yule on this track, its hard to find anything aurally to suggest Morrison or Reed were involved. Its not edgy or challenging at all it’s a song the Beatles or the Turtles could have created in 1965 but it’s a lovely song which I can still enjoy to this day.
Which is more than I can say for ‘Heroin’ or ‘Venus in Furs’