Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

8. The Velvet UndergroundThe Velvet Underground

This opens with ‘Candy Says’, which is sung by Doug Yule, which is not so far away from how Lou Reed could sing. You get to The Velvet Underground’s third record via the first two and they had their own peculiar momentum and they also seemed to mutate drastically from record to record. Whether it was a change in the song writing style or the recording approach or the personnel or the mood of Lou Reed or John Cale, it’s hard to tell but Cale had gone. They had got rid of him.

I asked Andrew Loog Oldham once, “Do you think all great bands hate each other?” and he just looked at me and said, “I hope so!” Taking John Cale out made it easier for the group to function but it took out a certain kind of tension. Those last two Velvet Underground records are more relaxed than the first two, less intense. I don’t know if he’s on this but the organ play-out on the end of ‘What Goes On’ suggests that it is him because it’s so simple and one of the great things about The Velvet Underground was their ability to be simple. You know, Maureen Tucker’s half drum kit and the fact that she didn’t whack the hi-hat and the snare like every other bloody rock drummer in the universe; the fact that she hit the drums on the beat on ‘I’m Waiting For My Man’ exactly the same time as the guitarist did and if you don’t do that then covering the song is kind of pointless. All those touches that she added to it and she’s also singing ‘Afterhours’ and ‘The Murder Mystery’ which is an inexplicable piece of music and in those days you could test whether you had mono or stereo by panning that track!

It’s quite an inscrutable record; it appears to be telling some kind of story and Lou Reed would hint in interviews that it was but he might have just been playing the interviewer along. He might have been flattered by the interviewer into thinking that it was a concept album. After the previous two records it’s mercifully low on fuzz and overdriven sound. White Light/White Heat is an exercise in overdrive and this one is quite gently recorded. There’s a lot of hypnotic, narcotic sort of lower mid bass and rhythm guitar and ‘Candy Says’ particularly has it. It’s like what The Beatles had around the same time on things like ‘The Sun King’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. It’s quite warm. I don’t know what The Velvet Underground’s drug intake was at the time but if you hear the demos from around that time there’s quite a lot of scratchy stuff like ‘Foggy Notion’ and the stuff that popped up on VU which is nice but quite scrappy and really is like early garage but this record is quite purely and deliberately done.

And the guitar solos! I don’t know if Sterling Morrison does it but there’s a lovely guitar solo on ‘Jesus’ and there’s a lovely one on ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ that’s extremely melodic and it’s not that screechy guitar that Lou plays on ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ but that’s why I don’t think it’s Lou because it’s quite delicately worked out.

It’s restrained and after the previous two records it comes as a surprise. I bought it when it first came out when I was 16 and I had a smoking license and I was straight away taken by the atmosphere. It’s a record with a lot of depth. It goes down a long way and it has a kind of sense of compassion and sort of regret, sort of wistfulness, stuff that Lou Reed doesn’t seem capable of doing now because he’s so kind of defensive. He’s such a body builder these days. There’s a vulnerability here that he doesn’t seem to allow himself anymore and I’m assuming that Lou was the songwriter. I don’t know if it was the people he was writing about but I know that he wrote in character a bit or whether it was because he was living with his parents in Long Island or whether it was something they were putting on his toast or whether his bowels had relaxed because he wasn’t with John Cale anymore but it’s a very humane record.

I love singing the songs off this record. When we got together the other night in Mexico, Peter [Buck] had gone to bed but we sat outside and we managed to play through all of the songs on acoustic guitar apart from ‘The Murder Mystery’.

Selected in other Baker’s Dozens: Teenage Fanclub, Brian Eno, Echo & The Bunnymen
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