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“Dolby’s Top 50 Velvet Underground/Lou Reed Tracks”

50 “Here She Comes Now” (The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat)

Once picked up by Nirvana for a cover version, “Here She Comes Now” forms one of the more listenable nuggets on the generally unapproachable, sonically exploratory second album White Light/White Heat. It’s got the sort of arpeggio-based, reflective guitar riff throughout that would typify what we’d see with some of his later material like “Stephanie Says.”

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49 “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together” (The Velvet Underground – 1969: The Velvet Underground Live)

I have no idea where this particular song came from — it just sort of showed up on this rather entertaining live album (which yes features Lou Reed in introductory stage banter declaiming the importance of stuff that “makes life bearable in Texas”) and “rattled down the street” at a rather brisk pace, as Jack White might say, in true rock and roll form according to the blueprint.

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48 “Head Held High” (The Velvet Underground – Loaded)

Did he just say “Just like I figured / They’re always disfigured”? Don’t answer that. This is the sort of cocksure, straight-ahead rock and roll that harks me back to this one picture I saw of Reed performing at the iconic Max’s Kansas City show, wide-eyed and as only could be described as “fully loaded,” in Rolling Stone.

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47 “Halloween Parade” (Lou Reed – New York)

There’s a slight tinge of imagery and a slight tinge of mourning on this track two of New York, but at the end of the day it’s just a quintessentially “New York” song, handling the subject of a huge crowd and finding Reed tactfully uttering the lines “There’s no Peter Pedantic / Saying things romantic / In Latin Greek or Spick”.

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46 “The Murder Mystery” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

“The Murder Mystery” is the anti-“Who Loves the Sun.” Oh yeah, so is every good Velvet Underground song, besides maybe “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll.” It’s long, deep, dark, brooding and lugubrious, not unlike “Heroin,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties” or “Venus in Furs” in this regard, complete with an absurdist jingle-singalong filled with sweet nothings like “Climb into the casket”, in the second half. It’s the stupefying bastion of The Velvet Underground’s tender, vulnerable side b before the cutesy outro “After Hours,” and in this sense, the last real bona fide sonic journey in the band’s entire catalogue.

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45 “Pale Blue Eyes” (The Velvet Underground – Live at Max’s Kansas City)

While following basically the blueprint laid down by the studio version, this handy installment on the live album released on CD in 2004 is worth it for when Reed utters “This is what she said,” and then proceeds to play the guitar solo.

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44 “Candy Says” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

Reed like won’t shut up in the intro to the Max’s Kansas City version of this tune and then rejoices at the end that they were actually able to get their “doo-doo-wah”’s straight, which they usually couldn’t, but I went with just the self-titled album version here for its stately tempo and delicate texture that does really seem like “velvet.”

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43 “Dirty Blvd.” (Lou Reed – New York)

By here we’re in full of swing of the large-scale political lambasting of his hometown Reed initiates in New York (“Give me your hungry your tired / Your poor I’ll pi** on ’em / That’s what the statue of bigotry says”) and the song follows the story of a kid growing up in a cramped, violent apartment in the city, only destined for a lurid career his whole life on what’s dubbed the “dirty boulevard.”

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42 “I Heard Her Call My Name” (The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat)

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the people who are all about “Who Loves the Sun” don’t go around listening to “I Heard Her Call My Name” on repeat. And in general it seems that we’ve hit a terrible epidemic of the anti-experimental, and anti-challenging in music (which of course is puzzling give how recently Animal Collective stalked the festival circuit). But I like “I Heard Her Call My Name” for the very reasons that it’s difficult and unapproachable. He**, make music your parents won’t like. I thought that was the name of the game.

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41 “Sweet Jane” (The Velvet Underground – 1969: The Velvet Underground Live)

Of course it’s disorienting and easy to forget if you purchase Loaded before 1969, like we bratty pre-millennial Velvets coattail riders tend to have done, that this version actually PRECEDES the release date of Loaded and so likely represents a song that was still in the works, as far as composition is concerned. The lyrics are different and the tempo is slowed down but in a way this version is just as essential, like an apples and oranges comparison, with this beautiful lyrical stanza featuring lines like “Anyone who’s gonna live lonely / Anyone who’s ever stood apart”.

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40 “Ooohhh Baby” (Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby)

As legend has it, for Coney Island Baby Lou Reed just “went in and made a rock record,” at the direct command of his label guru (which is to say not an album composed exclusively of guitar feedback, like his last exploit Metal Machine Music). But I don’t believe it. This stuff is way too seedy and stupefying to have been so off-the-cuff, and of course “Ooohhh Baby” rolls it into that doo-wop verbiage and bubble gum pop musical blueprint, to make things all the more lurid and zesty, as it were.

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39 “Last Great American Whale” (Lou Reed – New York)

Out of the many personae Reed would adopt in his songs over the years, this was one of the more pronounced cases of just direct sympathy, in which case of course it’s sadly ironic that it’s an ANIMAL with which he’s sympathizing, among random heartwarming quips like “Americans don’t care much for beauty / They’ll sh** in a river / Dump battery acid in a stream”. The song itself is folky, stoic, reflective but still catchy, and ultimately classic in its own way.

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38 “Kicks” (Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby)

Truly inimitable and one of a kind in Reed’s catalogue and at large, “Kicks” is a song about murder, for when everything else in life seems boring except for cutting someone with a “stiletto” (which was a kind of straight skinny knife, the way I understand it). It features as well one of the craziest, most raucous and even frightening spoken-word sound bites ever recorded, piercing your ears with incredible volume and startling surprise in a couple of the verses.

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37 “European Son” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

Anybody familiar with the band’s first album knows this as the sprawling closeur that features the sound of pool balls bashing against each other and then a glass breaking, only to give way to endless “jamming” and guitar caterwaul. I’ve got it ranked most lowly out of that whole album and really with how much I extol their debut I find it almost impossible to formulate an objective opinion on this cut, other than that it definitely has made an impression.

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36 “New Age” (The Velvet Underground – Live at Max’s Kansas City)

Mellow, despondent, nondescript and conspicuous, this Loaded album track has really grown on me throughout the years, full of tender resignation and delicate, wilting melodies. It looks like the band is on my wavelength too because they feature it on both 1969: The Velvet Underground Live and this collection, which harbored 17 year old drummer Billy Yule, younger brother of bassist Doug Yule (Mo Tucker was on maternity leave, per reports, I guess from a night that lasted forever).

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35 “That’s the Story of My Life” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

I guess being a Velvet Underground obsessive in the first place is sort of an alienating, niche endeavor all along, and you might say matters come to a head on this side b self-titled album cut, which has no business being as enjoyable as it is. Well, there is that guitar solo, which is pretty awesome, adopting the approximate texture with probably the same axe as the one in “Pale Blue Eyes,” on the same LP.

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34 “Hangin’ ’round” (Lou Reed – Transformer)

Here we again see Reed’s fixation on angels materialize, with the randomly placed exclamation of “Hark the herald angels sing”, made ironic of course with its close juxtaposition to “Sherry” who “smoked mentholated cigarettes / And she had sex in the hall”. In general, it’s a rollicking, rocking, high-energy tune sowing together this classic album at slot four.

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33 “Oh Jim” (Lou Reed – Berlin)

The gritty centerpiece on Reed’s controversial rock opera Berlin which got him in minor trouble with his record company (which is to say nowhere near the trouble Metal Machine Music would afford him), “Oh Jim” like the rest of the album revisits the subjects of “Berlin,” according to Wikipedia, a song on Reed’s debut album that his producer said “had a beginning but not an ending.”

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32 “She’s My Best Friend” (Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby)

In a way this is the song Reed had waited his whole career to make — this album though impromptu is just so light and pliable, with this song’s Apollonian progression of major chords, true to form, introducing uncomfortable and impossible themes like death and mutilation and then of course a little absurdist nonsense: “If you want to hear me / Why don’t you just turn around / I’m by the window where the light is”. It’s almost psychedelic in its utter obtuseness.

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31 “New Age” (The Velvet Underground – Loaded)

Reflecting, aching and undeniable, almost like the very sound of “skip(ping) a life completely,” “New Age” is the showstopping centerpiece on Loaded, a song that tries so little to impress you that you almost miss it, but which still balloons and expands within itself into a lucid snapshot of the inevitable heartbreak of change and getting older.

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30 “There She Goes Again” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

Here we have what on the first album probably best predicts what would transpire with the post-John Cale final two LP’s, the sort of approachable major chord classic rock which of course reared its fangs with enough human calamity and violence to make things interesting, as always.

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29 “Romeo Had Juliette” (Lou Reed – New York)

The unforgettable opener on 1987’s New York, furnishing of one of the most hauntingly poker-faced mentions of brutal violence in classic rock history, this song gallops along relentlessly and unashamedly, with simple, undeniable rock riffs and gritty street imagery. There have been very few markedly better album openers in history.

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28 “Nobody’s Business” (Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby)

There’s a distinct possibility that this is actually the best song on Coney Island Baby and that I’m ranking it too low… it was definitely a grower for me and I particularly like the crescendo’d stomp part in the second half where Reed just starts basically barking into the mic about how things are “Nobody’s business but my own”. Also along these amusing lines is the CD bonus track “Leave Me Alone,” which carries a similar sort of sentiment and appropriate seeing as his label was literally forcing him to produce a conventional rock album.

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27 “Rock & Roll” (The Velvet Underground – Loaded)

I guess it’s just too close to “Who Loves the Sun,” which I hate (in case you hadn’t noticed all my subtle denigration of it up to now) and which hatred has been compounded by several publications naming it as one of the best Velvet Underground songs (there’s basically zero exploration of any kind or vanguard aspects to the thing whatsoever) that I rank this cut so low, but yeah I guess it’s catchy and all that crap.

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26 “Lisa Says” (The Velvet Underground – 1969: The Velvet Underground Live)

Likely the standout of 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, truth be told, “Lisa Says” is a fairly rare VU cut available elsewhere only on the delayed release V.U. album, which collected certain outtakes from the Loaded session (and which aptly represent outtakes, for the most part). Reed’s keen sympathy for humanity is here in full force, with the displaced narrative of “Why am I so shy / You know good times just seem to pass me by” and this represents one of several tempo and meter changes, none of which are awkward and all of which seem to represent and potentiate a gratifying musical “journey,” in every sense of the word.

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25 “Oh! Sweet Nuthin” (The Velvet Underground – Loaded)

For all its simplistic kitsch and surface-level emotion, I think, Loaded makes up for it here with this epic closeur about homeless people, which stretches out into a pretty voluminous level of musical energy and defiantly raises its nose to the sky and sings “Oh sweet nothin’ / I ain’t got nothin’ at all”, ad absurdam.

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24 “Charley’s Girl” (Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby)

This is my highest ranking song on the great Coney Island Baby and it’s not the cow bell, really, I swear, it’s just how CLASSIC ROCK this thing is, like a “Walk on the Wild Side” part two or common siphoner of whatever vision or energy informed that ubiquitous cut. The rhythms are subtle and quick and the guitar play compelling.

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23 “Jesus” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

Lou Reed grew up with a tough childhood. He was a homosexual and he got a lot of flak for this in his East Coast home, at one point even having to undergo electric shock therapy (of which “therapy” obviously seems an egregious misnomer) to “cure” him of his sexual disposition. I think this song in its own way is very personal, musically light, lithe and distinct, to where it propelled him to choose an icon so ubiquitous and generic, to offset the personal emotion he knew probably nobody else would truly get, if not for the music itself, or course.

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22 “Busload of Faith” (Lou Reed – New York)

I have no idea whether to marvel at this song or to crack up at the fact that the whole dang thing seems to only have two chords — either way, this is great rock and roll, with a hypnotic, indefatigable message: “You can only depend on one thing / You need a busload of faith to get by”.

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21 “Run Run Run” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

A couple of months ago our front window to my apartment’s main entrance got knocked in. Then the back window got knocked in. Even though you still need a key to get into my personal door on each side, it was a pretty fu**ed up experience and I need some genuine urban music to relax me and make sense of this maniacal world, and this was the exact song I lunged for. A personal favorite set of lines is “When she turned blue / All the angels screamed / They didn’t know / They couldn’t make a scene”.

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20 “Make up” (Lou Reed – Transformer)

Here’s a comforting centerpiece to Transformer which seems to have the primary trait of just random homoerotic nonsense, with the repeated mantra “We’re coming out / Out of our closets” — it gets back to the central message of most of the post-White Light/White Heat work of this band which is you’re free — why not change and be different if you frickin’ feel like it.

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19 “Femme Fatale” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

A band and fan favorite that was typically sung in concerts by Reed after its original vocalist of Nico had departed (much like “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” to be sure), “Femme Fatale,” while channeling Reed’s apparent love for the “dirty French novel,” just does a great job of painting a picture of everyday human luridness which is way more common than we’re initially aware or ready to admit, without such great music in tow.

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18 “Some Kinda Love” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

For a while this was my favorite Velvet Underground song, with probably BARELY two chords for the first two minutes (it’s more like one and a half), just this hypnotic, absurdly sure, loopy and noodley guitar riff acting as musical authority and sending your head spinning. The ingenious lyrics are here by the truckload too: “Between thought and expression / Lies a lifetime”; “I don’t know just what it’s all about / But put on your red pajamas and find out”.

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17 “The Black Angel’s Death Song” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

Show me a more “raucous” song than this that doesn’t feature any conventional percussion (though the “European Son” theme of glasses breaking is preluded in this number which is an adjacent album track) and I’ll show you a song scouting genius, John Cale’s relentless electric viola riffing providing a musical expedition as strange, wild and unforgettable as Cream’s harmonica work on “Cat’s Squirrel,” which came out around the same year, interestingly enough.

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16 “Caroline Says II” (Lou Reed – Berlin)

The mourning level here is undeniable: “You can beat me all you want / But I don’t love you anymore”, this plangent plaint offered as she “gets up off the floor”. Again, the chords are major, belying the malady at hand, true to classic Reed form, and this track marks the sort of “climax” of Berlin, the element of human futility, the reality that even with extreme measures, sometimes you just can’t sew your life back together and you’re stuck with reality.

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15 “I’m Set Free” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

Slow, clear and aching like “Jesus,” “I’m Set Free” ups the ante on the self-titled album with a couple of methods, one of which is a similar but slightly sovereign crescendo’d chorus, as well as of course the lines “I’ve been set free and / I’ve been bound / Let me tell you people / What I’ve found / I saw my head laughing / Rolling on the ground”. Thematically, this makes a perfect companion piece to the song before it “Beginning to See the Light,” which similarly embraces unorthodox means for living which can be very freeing as one gets older.

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14 “I’m Waiting for the Man” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

One of the first Velvet Underground songs I ever really fell in love with (concordant with how it’s one of the first songs on this album, of course), this song’s got reams and reams of lyrical genius, but basically takes you through a narrative of going and buying heroin in a black neighborhood “uptown” from a guy in a “big straw hat” who’s “always late”. The best part though might be the bafflingly ugly, stomping piano chord at the end which sends things into the night, “until tomorrow but that’s just another time”.

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13 “I’ll Be Your Mirror” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

Out of all the songs that the band would retain for later live performances and sub Reed in for Nico on vocals, this one ranks the highest on this list, so I feel it warrants mentioning just the general sadness of her terribly ephemeral time with the band, and how to my knowledge she and Reed would never get back together to make music again, before Nico would die of a bike accident in the late ’80s. I mean, she’s who he first got VD from, or so I heard! Anyway, I suppose “I used to hear this song on my big sister’s mix tapes” is neither a very pertinent fact to this list nor just a very cool thing to say in general, but it can’t be understated that sometimes in our tender or formative years music can make the strongest impressions on us, obviated by the fact that it happened so much longer ago but I still remember it so distinctly.

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12 “Sweet Jane” (The Velvet Underground – Loaded)

Here’s where they just let ’er rip and unleashed arguably the best song on Loaded — I mean Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Go” is a BLATANT ripoff of this tune and that’s still a great song, which should tell you something. Interestingly, it’s Jane’s Addiction that stepped in and did the obvious thing any Velvet Underground fan would have at least thought of, pointing out that this prominent female protagonist “said” something, in song title form.

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11 “Stephanie Says” (The Velvet Underground – V.U.)

The proudest moment on outtake grab bag V.U. easily, “Stephanie Says” is a beautiful sort of half-ballad built around this pristine, ascending guitar riff and all of these foolish interrogatives meant to illustrate a confused and still charmingly childlike person. It gets extra points for landing on the soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums, my personal all-time favorite movie.

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10 “Train Round the Bend” (The Velvet Underground – Loaded)

Oh, that whammy bar… and you think that’s going to be the coolest part of the song until he says “I’m sick of trees / Take me to the city / The train’s comin’ round the bend”. Also in classic VU form, he unleashes this sort of partying motif in the last verse, similar to “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Baby don’t you holler / Darlin’ don’t you bawl and shout / I’m feelin’ good / You know I’m gonna work it on out”.

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9 “Beginning to See the Light” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

Again, the whole my sister having put it on mix tapes before I ever had the album seems to be making it almost impossible to give an opinion, but I always seem to enjoy this album centerpiece when it’s on and I’ve never heard any complaints about it, what with the unique strategy of “Wine in the mornin’ / And some breakfast at night / Hey I’m beginning to see the light”.

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8 “Satellite of Love” (Lou Reed – Transformer)

Part of Transformer’s proud, Apollonian one-two punch of singles and picked up to not regrettable results by U2 for covers material, “Satellite of Love” is a household favorite that hardly needs an introduction and comes complete with some great “cosmic” lyrics, as is typically Reed’s form.

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7 “Pale Blue Eyes” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

“Pale Blue Eyes” of course offers many majestic charms, one of which is that infectious guitar riff that swims through the entire thing, and then there’s that perfect guitar solo with that amazing sound, and also just that it’s such a lurid love tale the type of thing Reed typically doesn’t shy away from, what with his front row seat to life’s arena of sin and depravity.

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6 “Sunday Morning” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

Kurt Cobain MIGHT have been referencing this tune in “Lithium” when he stated “Sunday morning is every day for all I care / And I’m not scared” (the song is actually about waking up from a drunken night and trying to get your self-esteem back after doing something stupid)… Cobain was clearly a Velvets fan what with the band covering “Here She Comes Now,” and whatnot. I just love Reed’s vocal technique, a sort of pristine, ultra-clear half-falsetto that’s like so near-off-putting that it’s. I couldn’t imagine a better opener to this perfect album.

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5 “Venus in Furs” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

This in a way is the QUINTESSENTIAL Velvet Underground song, apparently steeped in the plot of a “dirty French novel” and dealing with themes of sadism and sexual perversion, with John Cale’s electric viola providing the sort of otherworldly texture and vibe so as to catapult things into true VU territory. It’s awfully strange the way the subject matter switches from “Severin” to “I” for the chorus and I’ve never really questioned, to be honest, why this might be the case, but the absurdist imagery of “sleep(ing) for 1,000 years” certainly keeps things interesting and it is indeed a very weary-sounding song, like the work of a man’s who’s seen more than he cared to.

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4 “What Goes on” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground)

Yeah, I mean this is pretty much the perfect song, especially for summer and its beach-type vibe: I technically can’t rank it as the best Velvet Underground song since a.) it doesn’t feature John Cale and so as a result (b.) is a little thinner than their larger m.o. in terms of sonic exploration and mixing wizardry (though it’s a he** of a lot more expansive than freakin’ “Who Loves the Sun,” for Christ’s sake, at least in terms of structure).

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3 “Heroin” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

I have the funniest story about accidentally playing this song at a juke box in a crowded bar one time before a show and having it be a stupefying, astoundingly tolerable experience, not the sort of escapade that made people immediately slit their wrists on the spot, which you’d certainly think it would have. This is also one of those cool, rare VU cuts that masquerades as “classic rock” per the radio dictum (I think I heard it one time on FM rolling around with my dad — he pithily pointed out that its energetic ebbs and flows apparently mimic the high and the comedown of heroin usage). Also commendable is when around the “All the dead bodies piled up in mounds” the rest of the band has this curious way of sneaking up onto the sound scape, John Cale’s textural madness scaring off the devil and Mo Tucker even delivering one of her more frenzied performances ever, with a maniacally relentless stand up bass drum and an intimidating cacophony of cymbal crashes. Anyway, one thing’s for sure: there will never be another song like “Heroin.” I’m surprised Frank Zappa wasn’t more jealous of it than he was.

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2 “Walk on the Wild Side” (Lou Reed – Transformer)

Obviously, this song hardly needs an introduction: I guess my one take on it would be that while it’s certainly “cute” it’s simultaneously far from “cutesy” or musically simplistic, with this one chord that’s the last one before the chorus resting on this curious minor territory and earmarking a sophisticated approach to songwriting which Reed’s certainly was. Also, for that bass riff to be so high-pitched and “velvety” but also to sound so approachable and radio-friendly is an undeniable achievement.

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1 “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico)

What can I say? This is one of those songs I just sink into. There’s nothing I’d change about it. I’m in awe of it every time I listen to it and it spans exactly six minutes, on the dot, as if some work of divine providence in numerology. I guess one notable thing off the top of my head would just be the fact that it’s almost like a short story, zooming in with a keen sensitivity that is Lou Reed’s English major wont and illustrating and portraying a person’s situation in life, which was a particular girl being poor and wondering how she’d constantly modify her dress with new purchases for “all tomorrow’s parties,” a title which of course would go on to spawn a major music festival in England, typically dubbed simply “ATP.” I think the fact that the band never played this song live is certainly not a denigration of its meaning or imagery but rather just the toted understanding that no live mixing could do justice to the masterful production on the original album or more importantly the hauntingly, bitingly clear vocal of Nico, whose apparent emotional flatness, contrary to popular opinion, actually serves to steady and to bulwark the entire artistic project, which as we know comes complete with more than enough compelling imagery and humanistic storyline already. However Andy Warhol, anyway, miked that piano, it’s got the devil playin’ in it — that much is for sure.

 

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