11/15/70: The Velvet Underground – Loaded
The shifting of rock’s tectonic plates in 1970 continued this day 50 years ago with the fourth studio release by the Velvet Underground, Loaded. In a year that gave us legendary swan songs by Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles despite their respective disintegrating songwriting partnerships, the finale from the second phase of VU shows us once again that great music can be created despite discord. While technically not the final VU album, it was the last one to include Lou Reed, who left the group prior to the album’s release. John Cale had departed after White Light/White Heat.
Loaded is an outstanding album arising from multiple streams of conflict within the band, from Doug Yule’s increasing role to bad feelings between Sterling Morrison and Reed over Cale’s departure. Additionally, drummer Moe Tucker was on maternity leave, her duties assumed by three session players including Yule’s brother Billy. Finally, Atlantic wanted an album loaded with hits, hence the double entendre in the title. Despite Reed’s pop leanings, he was not pleased with edits made in the name of shorter, radio-friendly songs. These factors led some purists to think of Loaded as something other than a “real” VU album. The group would finally dissolve after their next release in 1973. There was also plenty of controversy after Loaded’s release. Among other song edits not authorized by Reed (this is disputed by Yule) was the “heavenly wine and roses” bridge on Sweet Jane, which I didn’t even know about until I heard Cowboy Junkies’ version in 1990. It was restored on later releases. Also, it took legal proceedings for songwriting credits to be restored to Reed after the initial release credited the entire band.
I’ve always liked the Velvets, but don’t consider myself a hardcore fan, whatever that may look like. This includes some of the heavier, avant-garde contributions of John Cale. I came to Loaded well after becoming familiar with the previous three albums, and as a result it’s not an album that usually comes to mind as being among my favorites from 1970. But it never fails that when I listen to it I have an “Oh yeah, that is one of the best” epiphany. I love a well-crafted pop song like anyone else, and there’s no shortage of them with its singles including Who Loves the Sun, Sweet Jane, Rock & Roll, and Head Held High. The B-side Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ is also one of my favorites. Simply put, it’s a very accessible album, which is not something I normally associate with this band. Yet despite the radio promotion the album didn’t chart. As is often the case, retrospective reviews have been quite kind, as they should be.
- Who Loves the Sun
- Sweet Jane
- Rock & Roll
- Cool It Down
- New Age
- Head Held High
- Lonesome Cowboy Bill
- I Found a Reason
- Train Round the Bend
- Oh! Sweet Nuthin’
One thought on “November 15 – The Velvet Underground’s Swan Song, Sort Of”
I haven’t paid much attention to The Velvet Underground and only know a handful of their songs. After having sampled all tunes on “Loaded”, I have to agree with you this is a pretty good album. Perhaps I should pay more attention to this band going forward! 🙂
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