I played snooker last week and, after my glorious and emphatic victory, I walked to the Samaritans’ office. On the way, deep in thought and reliving my lucky potting of the black ball, I was interrupted by two women calling my name. I stopped and looked at them and, for a second or two, I had no idea who they were. Whether or not they could tell from my face that I was having a senior moment, I couldn’t say but, luckily, I eventually recognised them as two of my fellow Samaritans’ volunteers. I often think I have a very poor ability to recall faces. If I ever witnessed an offence and was asked by the police to describe the offender, all I would be able to do is to describe their hair. This flaw meant that, when I was teaching, I quickly learned the names of the girls because I could associate their names with their hairstyles. When it came to good looking, six foot tall boys, with a deferential manner and neat hair, it could take me months to learn their names. I used to let students sit where they wanted in the first lesson but asked them not to move in subsequent lessons. This meant that I could associate their name with their physical position in the class. This was a strategy that worked well until it came to parents’ evenings and one of these anonymous looking boys would turn up with their parents and expect me to be able to recognise them. The worst scenario was identical twins who, on one evening, split their parents evening duties between their two parents – Daniel went to see his teachers with Mum and Andrew went with Dad. When I was confronted with someone that I had been teaching for 18 months and whose mathematical progress was under my tutelage, I had to try and hide the fact that I had no idea what their name was. I just waffled on about how they were both going to get a top grade and how wonderful they were in class and they seemed to leave quite happily. I never learned to distinguish between them.
Doug Yule moved from New York to Boston in 1965 to attend University. He saw The Velvet Underground play at Harvard University in 1968 and when the band played at the Boston Tea Party later that year, the band stayed at his apartment, which he was renting from their road manager. The Velvet Underground’s original lineup consisted of Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale and Mo Tucker. In September 1968, John Cale was fired from The Velvet Underground due to “creative differences” between him and Lou Reed. Whether these differences were musical or simply that the band wasn’t big enough to contain two huge personalities, isn’t clear. Sterling Morrison had heard Doug Yule play guitar and he was invited to join the band as John Cale’s replacement.
In the early 1960’s, Ken Pitt was responsible for publicising the U.K. tours of Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington and Jerry Lee Lewis. He moved into management and was successful with Manfred Mann and Cristian St. Peters. In 1967 he became David Bowie’s manager and on a trip to New York, he met Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, who were seeking publicity in the U.K. They gave him an acetate copy of The Velvet Underground’s first album, which he passed on to David Bowie on his return. At the time, David Bowie was a member of The Riot Squad, a London based band whose membership at various times in their career included Mitch Mitchell (of The Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Graham Bonney (who had a Top 20 hit in 1966 with “Super Girl”). The Riot Squad recorded a version of “I’m Waiting For The Man” (included on the excellent compilation of British Avant Pop/Art Rock, “Lullabies For Catatonics“) but changed some of the lyrics, e.g. “I’m just looking for a dear dear friend of mine” became “I’m just looking for a good friendly behind” and “He gives you sweet taste then you’ve gotta split” became “He gives you sweet taste, then you’ve gotta spit”. Despite (or because of) this, it’s a great version.
In a tour of the U.S.A., David Bowie was very excited to go backstage and meet The Velvet Underground. Doug Yule recalled what happened next. “We played at the Electric Circus in New York, and somebody came up to us afterwards and said: “Someone here wants to meet you guys.” And I said: “Okay” So he came back and he was enthusiastic and we talked a little bit. He had an English accent, and since the invasion of The Beatles I have been enamoured of things out of England. I was thrilled to talk to someone with an English accent. We had a conversation and then he took off. About 15 – 20 years later David Bowie told the story that he thought he was talking to Lou Reed.” A completely understandable mistake in my opinion, especially when you consider their similar hairstyles at the time. In fact, looking at pictures of the band, if I had been in David Bowie’s position, I might well have had a chat with Mo Tucker and wondered why Lou Reed had such a high pitched voice.
After the uncompromising nature of the first three albums, “Loaded” was a conscious attempt to produce material that was commercial. Lou Reed said “I gave them an album loaded with hits“. Sterling Morrison said “It showed that we could have, all along, made truly commercial sounding records”. Doug Yule said “Every song is a different view as to what a commercial song is.”
Adrian Barber was the lead singer in Cass And The Casanovas, who later transformed into The Big Three. Based in Liverpool, they were signed by Brian Epstein in 1962, soon after he signed The Beatles. They had a residency at The Star Club in Hamburg and in December 1962, Adrian Barber recorded The Beatles on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The resulting low-fi album, “Live At The Star Club”, was released in 1977 but was withdrawn in 1998. Adrian Barber left the U.K. to live in the U.S.A. and he subsequently engineered “Goodbye Cream” and “Last Time Around” by Buffalo Springfield. He also produced The Allman Brothers’ eponymous debut album in 1969. He was the engineer for some of the sessions on “Loaded” as well as drumming on some of the tracks, although nobody can remember exactly which ones, as three drummers were used. Mo Tucker was the regular drummer with The Velvet Underground and is credited on the album sleeve but, due to her pregnancy, she doesn’t appear on the album at all. She did sing on a song, “I’m Sticking With You”, which was not released on “Loaded” but was recorded during the sessions and released in 1985 on “VU”, an album of outtakes. At the start of the song, Adrian Barber can be heard saying “Lou. I particularly like the guitar action at the end. Beautiful.” “I’m Sticking With You” was included in the 2007 film, “Juno”, and the soundtrack album reached Number One in the Billboard Charts, selling over one million copies. Arguably, this makes “I’m Sticking With You” the most widely heard Velvet Underground song of all time.
Doug Yule sings lead vocals on “New Age”, which was originally a song in which Lou Reed explored his bisexuality. However, in order to release a commercial song, he completely changed the lyrics to be about an actress who is past her prime. On “Velvet Underground Live 1969”, Lou Reed sings “it seems to be my fancy to make it with Frank and Nancy”, but on “Loaded”, the vocals are handed to Doug Yule who sings “When you kissed Robert Mitchum, Gee, I thought you’d never catch him.”
Lou Reed’s first band was called The Jades and, in 1958, they released a single with a B side called “Leave Her For Me”, a song which Lou Reed wrote. The arrangement is full of doo-wop harmonies and these harmonies are evident on a number of songs on “Loaded”, especially “I Found A Reason”.
Doug Yule sings lead vocals on “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'”, which lasts over seven minutes. It tells the stories of Jimmy Brown, Ginger Brown, Polly May and Joanna Love who are all in dire straits – homeless, poor or unloved. Despite the sombre tone of the lyrics, musically the song makes for a life affirming album closer as Doug Yule’s drumming kicks an improvised coda into overdrive. Sterling Morrison’s guitar escalates into outer space as the pounding drums build the song to a climax. The final reprise of “She ain’t got nothing at all,” feels like an accolade instead of a requiem.
The best two songs on the album are “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll”. These are both FM-friendly songs that have become classics. The introduction to “Sweet Jane” consisted of three intros that Sterling Morrison had tried out before the band decided to overdub all three at once. The final coda of “Days and wine and roses” was omitted on the original release of the album but reinstated for subsequent reissues. The Cowboy Junkies recorded a wonderfully understated version of this song on “The Trinity Sessions”. The very simple guitar riff was only created immediately before the recording and Lou Reed later said “I love that lick. I still, to this day, love playing that lick. And, you know, you can make up lyrics to that lick all day long. I had to settle on something, at some point.”
“‘Rock & Roll Music’ is about me“, said Lou Reed in 1994. “If I hadn’t heard rock’n’roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet.” The song describes a girl, Jenny, whose life was saved by hearing music on the radio. “One fine morning she turns on a New York station. She doesn’t believe what she hears at all. She started dancing to that fine, fine music. You know her life is saved by rock ‘n’ roll.” And amen to that.