“The More I Listen to The Velvet Underground on Vinyl, the Less Appropriate the Songs Seem in Any Other Format or Context”

A couple of years ago I got my first record player and I must say, I am quite enthralled with the vinly format at this point, with about 20 or so records in my collection. It was a foregone conclusion that at some point I was going to purchase one of the Velvet Underground records and in expedited fashion. And I was sure in my mind it was going to be The Velvet Underground & Nico. I think I got to about a day, or even a couple hours, shy of the deal, and I thought, you know what, I HAVE to hear “What Goes on” on analog. Sure enough, it’s been a rock and roll experience pretty much unparalleled on this planet, this side of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run,” anyway. This is even to say nothing of “Pale Blue Eyes”; “Beginning to See the Light” and “I’m Set Free”; three more songs on this LP that are all pretty much life-changing. 

Every time I listen to the album I like it more, with stately, acoustic numbers like “Candy Says”; “Some Kinda Love” and “Jesus” always acting as perfect buffers between the more poignant musical episodes. What’s more, oddly, it seems more and more absurd to divorce any of these tracks from this self-titled LP format, such as the “What Goes on” version on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live and their take on “Some Kinda Love” which appears on Live at Max’s Kansas City, a run-through that’s kind of tickling for its ability to jam out and build momentum, but still sonically sloppy and not as clear or intimate as it appears on the incredible self-titled album. 

I mean, look. I wish you all the best with your music listening. I endorse the thought of you being able to endorse these other versions. (Plus, 1969 offers one kickin’ run-through of “Lisa Says” and a “Sweet Jane” take that features the bridge part that was omitted on Loaded, which definitely grants it a completist value.) Neither live album is terrible by any stretch. 

It should usually be the penchant of the live album, that is, to improve upon the studio version in some way, but this is just impossible in the case of the Velvets’ self-titled record, whose warm, intimate and velvety (sorry for the terminology) production already sounds flawlessly clear and direct. It’s like rock and roll chamber music — the outside world seems to stop existing no single sound, or even sound wave, can be heard as frivolous or unwarranted. The band even do a nice job of accentuating the stately beauty of the guitar and vocals by leaving percussion out of about four or five songs or so. “Pale Blue Eyes” features solely maraca and no other percussion instrument. And Lou Reed’s guitar solo on this song even resembles a woman’s crying, or sexual monologue of some sort, tying in perfectly with his quip on Max’s Kansas City directly preceding the guitar solo of “This is what she said…” 


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