Saturday, October 8, 2011

Velvet Underground 7: VU and Another View

In an early clue to the reissue trend of the CD era, Bill Levenson at PolyGram started taking advantage of the latest remastering technology to explore some of the lost treasures in the company’s vaults. Having acquired the rights to the Verve and MGM labels, he was able to coordinate the reissues of the first three Velvet Underground albums, which had long been out of print. (Loaded was still owned by Atlantic, and had stayed in their catalog on the strength of “Sweet Jane” and “Rock & Roll”.) Glowing press items and the budget price helped push each album, but just as interesting to newcomers and old fans alike was the cool collection of unreleased tracks Levenson found in the same vaults and spruced up nicely, even adding a more contemporary snap to the drums.
While most of the tracks were recorded in the space between the third album and Loaded, the notes took pains to insist that VU was in no way a rumored lost album; it was still a testament to Lou Reed’s ability to write great songs and the band’s ability to deliver them. “I Can’t Stand It”, “Ocean” and “Lisa Says” were of course familiar to the seven people who’d bought Lou’s first solo album. These versions rock as good as any; “Lisa Says” in particular benefits from not having the “why am I so shy” interlude. Likewise, “She’s My Best Friend” and “Andy’s Chest” are run at faster paces than Lou’s sluggish solo takes. Just as revelatory is “Stephanie Says”, which would be redone on Berlin and here features a wonderful arpeggiated guitar part plus John Cale’s fittingly sympathetic viola.
Then there are the completely new tracks. “Foggy Notion” chugs along like a train (particularly on the LP version, which has a false start available nowhere else), but the more ordinary “One Of These Days” was best left aside. “Temptation Inside Your Heart” sounds like they didn’t want to bother mixing the vocal parts, but it’s still nice to hear the boys banter in the booth. And good old Moe Tucker gets the last word with the exceptionally sweet “I’m Sticking With You”.

VU must have been something of a success, as nothing else could explain how a second volume, with the phonetically clever title Another View, snuck into stores with no fanfare and the same inner sleeve that had graced its brother reissues. This one was definitely for obsessives, as the multiple takes and backing tracks are more indicative of a bootleg. While the sound is excellent and up to major-label standards, one longs to hear the lyrics that would have graced such songs as “Guess I’m Falling In Love” and “Ride Into The Sun”; at the same time, “I’m Gonna Move Right In” isn’t much more than a jam. “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together” was familiar to longtime fans, though “Ferryboat Bill” and “Coney Island Steeplechase” could have spent more time being honed before recording. The first recorded version of “Rock & Roll” is nice from a historical standpoint, but you’d be hard-pressed to decide which version of “Hey Mr. Rain” is better. Both feature John Cale, and both are stunning. If you like that sort of thing.

The Velvet Underground VU (1985)—
The Velvet Underground Another View (1986)—3

1 comment:

  1. For the lyrics of "Ride into the Sun," just listen to the "Loaded" album.