Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

13. The Velvet UndergroundThe Velvet Underground

I had to pick a Velvet Underground album and everybody I know who’s in a band loves The Velvet Underground and is influenced by them. This is the first album with Doug Yule in the band.

I love every Velvet Underground record but this has very distinctive mood about it and there are some very down songs on it like ‘Jesus’, ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ and ‘I’m Set Free’. They’ve got a real down sorta vibe. And then you’ll get something like ‘Afterhours’, which is like this jaunty little song to finish the record off. There’s something about this album that I love.

I think every band that I’ve been in has covered ‘What Goes On’ – you just have to do it. And if you have a keyboard, then yeah! I’ve been in bands that have spent 45 minutes playing that song.

In terms of rock and roll music post-1970 in this country, everybody has been influenced by The Velvet Underground. I love how they married art and music and they sang about real things. It’s mind-boggling how they got that first album out when there’s a song about heroin addiction that doesn’t pejoratively talk about the drug, and that was pretty much a first in rock & roll. People didn’t really talk about that in rock and roll.

Lou Reed was a really interesting character. Obviously, he was difficult and mercurial but he was so, so influential. This is the first album without John Cale so it’s got a different feel about it. But then, you’ve got ‘The Murder Mystery’ on it, which is this strangely constructed piece of music and it’s really hard to decipher the spoken word parts on it and it crosses over into the music during the uptempo spoken word parts. It’s really interesting and experimental in its approach to song construction. But also has moments of tenderness like ‘Pale Blue Eyes’.

I remember [musician and producer] Don Fleming telling me he’d done something with him in New York and they were sorta hanging out and it was quite touching. He’d gone backstage and there were Lou Reed and his wife Laurie Anderson having a little cuddle and he says you could see the love they had for each other; it was really tender, so Lou Reed had that side to him, too. He was a very complicated person.

But I also remember one of Sons & Daughters telling me how they were on a plane. They were making their way to economy class and they saw Lou Reed sitting there wearing a big, orange puffa jacket and listening to headphones. So one of the band said, ‘Oh I have to say something to him’. So they walked over to him and said, ‘Excuse me’ and he sorta looks up and pulls off one side of the headphones and says, ‘Yeah?’ And they said, ‘Mr Reed, I just wanted to say that I’m such a big fan and thanks for being such an amazing influence and I love all of the music you’ve made and without you we could never have done what we did’. And Lou Reed just kinda looked at them in the face and said, ‘Fuck off!’ and put the headphones back on. But Sons & Daughters said that it was kinda perfect to be told to fuck off by Lou Reed!

I could listen to The Velvet Underground all the time.

Selected in other Baker’s Dozens: Brian Eno, Echo & The Bunnymen, Robyn Hitchcock

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