30. Ride Into the Sun (1969)
The Velvets recorded two versions of Ride Into the Sun: a fabulous 1969 instrumental loaded with fuzz guitar and a quiet 1970s vocal take backed by organ. Somewhere between the two is one of his great lost songs; The disappointingly flat 1972 solo version of Lou Reed doesn’t do it justice at all.
29. Run, run, run (1967)
Despite all the commotion engendered by the lyrics to Heroin and I’m Waiting for My Man, the most evil-sounding track on the debut album might just be Run Run Run, a powerful R&B beat that provided a gripping darkness to the loud guitar. of Reed and the fuck-me-take-drugs the mockery in his voice.
28. Beginning to see the light (1969)
The title suggests awakening, the melody is bright, but the lyrics are dark and bitter. They may have been targeting John Cale, who played an early version of the song, which was subsequently re-recorded after Reed fired him, against the wishes of his bandmates. A fierce live version from 1969 increases the tension.
27. Notion of Fog (1969)
Reed was a lifelong doo-wop fan. His passion usually found expression when Velvet Underground recorded backing vocals for his ballads, as on Candy Says, but tough rocker Foggy Notion went one step further, gleefully stealing a part of the 1955 Solitaires single Later for You Baby.
26. The Gift (1968)
In which the band established a two-chord routine that may or may not have been based on their instrumental Booker T on one channel and a black comic Reed tale read by Cale on the other. “If you’re crazy like us, you’ll hear them both together,” offered producer Tom Wilson.
25. I guess I’m falling in love (1967)
Recorded in the White Light / White Heat sessions, but never completed, the April 1967 live recording of Guess I’m Falling in Love, recorded at the New York Gymnasium, will be more than enough. It features three chords, a distinctive rhythm and blues influence, Reed in streetwise mode, so-what punk, and explosive guitar solos somehow enhanced by rough sound quality.
24. Temptation within your heart (1968)
“It wasn’t Mein Kampf, my fight,” guitarist Sterling Morrison once reflected on Velvet Underground’s career. “It was fun.” A delightful deleted take from the late Cale era that inadvertently captured Morrison, Cale, and Reed’s giggling chatter as they recorded backing vocals, Temptation Inside Your Heart confirms that assessment.
23. New Age (1970)
New Age comes in two varieties. Choose between the weary early morning rumination of the world found in 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, or the more epic studio version suggested by Velvets biographer Victor Bockris, was “an attempt to present some encouraging statements to a confused audience like the The 70s started. ”Both are excellent.
22. Out of Hours (1969)
The Velvet’s 1969 self-titled album ends, improbably, with drummer, Moe Tucker, singing a song that could have dated back to the pre-rock era. The twist is that her childish voice and cute melody hide an almost unbearably sad song, seemingly a celebration of the late-night binge, but full of longing and regret.
21. I Can’t Stand It (1969)
Amid the Velvets’ songs about drugs and drag queens lurked the plaintive sound of Reed pining for his college sweetheart Shelley Albin, the theme song from Pale Blue Eyes, I Found a Reason, and I Can’t Stand It. The latter’s arrogance is interrupted by a desperate lyrical plea: “If Shelley came back, it would be fine.”
20. The song of the death of the black angel (1967)
There is something folk and vaguely Dylan-esque at the heart of The Black Angel’s Death Song, but when Cale finished with it, alternately strafing with an insistent, screeching viola and whistling into the mic rather than a chorus, it rang, and still plays, unique.
19. I found a reason (1970)
It’s one of the ironies of Velvet Underground that the most forward-thinking and innovative band of their day can occasionally sound like old-fashioned rock and roll revivalists. Buried on Side Two of Loaded was one of Lou Reed’s most beautiful loving tributes to doo-wop, complete with a section of spoken words.
18. A Little Bit of Love (1969)
Musically simple, sensual in tone, Some Kinda Love is a complex affair, part seductive soundtrack, part refusal to be enclosed by standard categories of sexuality: “No love is better than another … the possibilities are endless. / and for me miss one / it would seem unfounded. ”Killer line:“ Between thought and expression there is a life ”.
17. European son (1967)
European Son is not so much a song as an eruption. It sounds like a band overturning the established order of rock’n’roll, almost literally: after two short verses, it erupts into frenzied and thrilling chaos with a literal crash, like the contents of an overturned table hitting the floor.
16. Rock & Roll (1970)
It’s hard to see Loaded’s joyous hymn to the redemptive power of music – “his life was saved by rock and roll” – as anything other than a disguised autobiography on Reed’s part. The suggestion that the music will endure “despite all the amputations”, meanwhile, seems to await his departure from the Velvet Underground.
15. Candy Says (1969)
No one else in 1969 wrote songs even remotely like Candy Says, a stunning, cuddly pencil portrait of Warhol’s transgender superstar Candy Darling, with soft doo-wop-inspired accompaniment. Her melancholy seems to presage the note that Darling wrote on her deathbed in 1974: “I had no desire to live left … I’m so bored with everything.”
14. Sunday morning (1967)
Sunday Morning was written at Wilson’s urging. I wanted a single that could possibly make it to the radio; got a brooding, brooding sigh from a song, its battered melancholy and undercurrent of paranoia – “watch out, the world behind you” – the perfect encapsulation of the regret of the day after.
13. What Goes On (1969)
Morrison argued that the studio incarnation of What Goes On was not a patch on the live versions the band played with Cale on organ. Maybe, but the studio incarnation with Cale’s replacement Doug Yule is great. It’s chopped up with nervous energy, Reed’s guitar is amazing, his choppy coda takes up half the song, and it still feels too short.
12. Fatal Woman (1967)
Seemingly sparked by the damaged and doomed Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, with whom Cale had a brief affair, Femme Fatale is as beautiful and fragile as her inspiration. The story of a wary and broke ex-suitor who warns others about the titular anti-heroine is given an icy twist by Nico’s delivery.
11. I heard her call my name (1968)
In the early days of the Velvets, Reed pretended to be “the fastest guitarist in the world.” A crazy claim, but his Ornette Coleman-inspired solos on I Heard Her Call My Name are some of the most extraordinary and viscerally moving in rock history, often atonal, filled with deafening commentary and embarrassing pauses.
10. Ocean (1969)
The Velvet Underground recorded Ocean multiple times, one version is supposed to feature Cale’s return on the organ, but he never released it in his life, which seems extraordinary. It is one of the greatest of their later songs, its beautiful atmosphere, the epic ebb and flow of its completely immersive sound.
9. I’m waiting for the man (1967)
An unadorned lyrical representation of music-bound punctuation drugs in which Reed’s rock’n’roll intelligence and Cale’s expertise in minimalist classical music, the single-chord piano part, merge into one kind of relentless perfection. Interestingly, there is now a pharmacy at the legendary Lexington 125 song location.
8. I’ll be your mirror (1967)
A song about Reed’s romance with Nico that could easily be about Andy Warhol’s art focus, I’ll Be Your Mirror is one of those Velvet Underground tracks that makes its initial commercial failure seem puzzling. How can such a wonderful pop song not attract attention?
7. White Light / White Heat (1968)
A delusional hymn to amphetamine, its theme reflected in the lyrics – “I sure love seeing those things lean” – and the turbulent, distorted torrent of its sound. The band seems to be barely in control as it progresses; the chaotic ending, where Cale finally loses his grip on the bass line, is just fantastic.
6. Heroin (1967)
Heroin was the deciding factor in Velvet’s early concerts, provoking a “howl of bewilderment and outrage.” The impact of his theme has faded over time, but his waves of folk lament to sonic disturbances still sound impressive. Weirdly sweet moment: Reed’s laugh when Tucker loses his place in the middle of the maelstrom and suddenly stops playing.
5. Pale blue eyes (1969)
“High energy doesn’t necessarily mean fast,” Reed once argued. “High energy has to do with the heart.” Silent, limpidly beautiful, and almost unbearably sad, Pale Blue Eyes’s description of a strained and adulterous relationship proves her point. In its own vulnerable way, it is as powerful as anything Velvet Underground has recorded.
4. Sweet Jane (1970)
Sweet Jane started life as a ballad, see the versions recorded live at The Matrix in San Francisco in 1969, but, sped up and hardened, it became a rock’n’roll song as succinct and perfect as it has ever been written, based on one of the best riffs of all time.
3. Venus in furs (1967)
For a band that inspired so much other music, the Velvet Underground catalog is remarkably rich with songs that still sound like nothing else; they were as inimitable as they were influential. Venus in Furs is a case in point: countless artists were driven by its dark and austere atmosphere; none managed to replicate it.
2. Sister Ray (1968)
A monumental journey into hitherto unknown musical territory, where a primitive garage-rock riff meets Hubert Selby-inspired lyrics and improvisations that sound like a psychological drama between Reed and Cale, all at heartbreaking volume. Fifty-three years later, it has no equal for the intensity of white knuckles.
1. All Tomorrow’s Parties (1967)
Ninety percent of Velvet Underground’s work consists of classics with no further questions asked. The staggeringly high level of almost everything they did makes choosing their “best” song a matter of personal preference, rather than qualitative judgment. So let’s go for Warhol’s favorite, in which the bitter and sweet aspects of his debut album are impeccably intertwined. The melody is exquisite; monolithic, relentless music, fueled by Cale’s hammering piano and Tucker’s majestic drums; Nico’s interpretation perfectly inhabits the lyrics, which turns the representation of a woman choosing which dress to wear into a meditation on emptiness and regret. It is original and absolutely masterful: the Velvet Underground in a nutshell.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism