The Velvet Underground Loaded Review
Loaded is the fourth and final Velvet Underground album to feature Lou Reed who left the band shortly before its release. In most fans’ eyes it is the final proper Velvet Underground studio album as 1973’s squeeze featured only Doug Yule.
The tile Loaded, was a reference to Atlantic Records applying pressure for the band to produce a hit album and their insistence that the Velvet Underground Loaded the album with hits. Certainly, the material on Loaded leans heavily in a commercial direction and is far removed from the Andy Warhol debut The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Opening with Who Loves the Sun, Loaded immediately shows the input of Doug Yule who handles lead vocals on the song. Yule was drafted into the band to replace John Cale just before the recording of the band’s self-titled third album. Four of the ten tracks on Loaded featured Doug Yule’s lead vocals and he also provided bass on all tracks. Sterling Morrison was studying at City College of New York and couldn’t appear at some sessions so Yule provided guitar solos on Rock & Roll, Cool It Down, Head Held High and Oh! Sweet Nuthin’. Despite receiving a credit on Loaded, Maureen Tucker was pregnant at the time of recording and did not feature. Yule again provided drums on many of the tracks assisted by engineer Adrian Barber, session man Tommy Castanero and Yule’s brother, Billy. This opening track is also evidence of the commercial direction the band had adopted and has a folky Beatles charm.
The Velvet Underground Loaded was released a full three months after Lou Reed left the band citing dissatisfaction with the final mix and claiming that Loaded had been re-edited and resequenced without his consent. Reed’s displeasure is highlighted on the song Sweet Jane where he claims that unauthorised editing resulted in the “heavenly wine and roses” bridge section being cut from the song. Lou Reed‘s early solo performances included this bridge but he left it out more often than not throughout his career as heard on the Rock n’ Roll Animal live album. A troubled start to an instant classic and a song that would come to be one of Lou Reed’s most famous compositions. The unmistakable riff and Reed’s characteristic conversational lyric style combining to form an enduring sound that would often provide the opening to a Lou Reed concert.
If Sweet Jane was the typical opener for Lou Reed, Rock & Roll was the typical concert closer. Indeed Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll bookended The Velvet Underground‘s reunion shows in 1993 as evidenced on the Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII DVD live document of this tour. On the face of it, Rock & Roll is a basic rock song, perhaps t0o basic considering Lou Reed’s intellectual capabilities. However, we should just appreciate a great tune that benefits from Reed’s trademark droll delivery. Actually, he sounds unusually exuberant on this track. Maybe he knew he was onto a winner? One other point about Rock & Roll is that f ever a title and a song embodied Lou Reed it is this. Even when Lou Reed’s music was at its most artistic and intellectual, right up to the end with Lulu, he remained rooted in rock and roll. Both Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll should have been big hits. The fact that they weren’t and it took the Velvet underground years to get the recognition they deserved is an injustice.
The Velvet Underground Loaded serves up another fine rocker next with Cool It Down. The narrative seems fairly literal as Lou Reed takes us into his seedy world of colourful characters for another ripping yarn. Doug Yule gets another honourable mention for, among other things, a great piano break.
New Age slows the tempo and is anther song alleged by Lou Reed to have been edited without authorisation after he left the band. Doug Yule, on the other hand states that Reed gave his blessing to the changes. The song was originally written a year or so before the Velvet Underground Loaded version and appeared on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live. This version featured Lou Reed singing different lyrics to the later version. Originally about Reed’s then girlfriend, Shelly Albin and possibly Reed’s sexuality, the new version sees Reed starstruck as he idolizes and over-the-hill “fat blonde actress”.
Head Held High seems to refer to Lou Reed’s difficult relationship with his parents with a lyric that could be interpreted in two ways. It could be that the parental advice to “hold your head up high” is an attempt to give their son confidence and be proud of himself. Given that we know that Lou Reed received electric shock treatment as a teenager, the song could have an altogether different meaning. Perhaps they are telling him to ignore a particular issue and to behave in a certain way.
Lonesome Cowboy Bill is an outwardly throwaway tune to give Velvet Underground Loaded a little light relief. Another song where Doug Yule handles lead vocal duties there is a certain campness to the song and this Cowboy Bill character. Lou Reed probably wrote it with the Andy Warhol film of the same name in mind. Some great rockabilly guitar steals the show here.
I Found a reason sees the Velvet Underground attempt a soul ballad. Lou Reed sings/speaks the verses while sharing harmonies on the verses with Doug Yule. This is probably the weakest song on Loaded but given the strength of the other material, this is no disgrace.
Train Round the Bend features some splendid treated guitar and seems to find Lou Reed declaring a dislike for nature. “I’m sick of the trees, take me to the city”, says Lou, and “Nothing I planted ever seemed to grow”. There can be no doubt, this is a city boy.
The final track on Velvet Underground Loaded is the bitter-sweet bluesy epic Oh! Sweet Nuthin’. As with many of Lou Reed’s lyrics, the meaning is open to interpretation but it seems to relay the plight of people who have nothing but have found some kind of happiness. The guitar solos and melody of the song is remarkable and a great way to finish off the Velvet Underground’s recording career.
It should be added that the copy of Velvet Underground Loaded reviewed here included alternate versions of the ten songs plus several out-takes. Several of these out takes were re-recorded by Lou Reed for his early solo albums and it is fascinating to hear the Velvet Underground’s take on The Ocean and an early version of Satellite of Love.
In spite of the commercial intent of the Velvet Underground Loaded, this is still a heavy and serious work. Lou Reed’s song writing was still at a peak. There are great musical performances all round and special credit should go to the often-criticised Doug Yule who gave a heroic multi-instrumental performance. The song’s are Lou Reed’s vision but it was largely Yule’s contribution that enabled the release of this excellent record.
Rated Sound gives The Velvet Underground Loaded a rating of 9/10.
The Velvet Underground Loaded (1970) Track Listing
1. Who Loves the Sun
2. Sweet Jane
3. Rock & Roll
4. Cool It Down
5. New Age
6. Head Held High
7. Lonesome Cowboy Bill
8. I Found a Reason
9. Train Round the Bend
10. Oh! Sweet Nuthin’