Saturday, May 3, 2014

Blood on the 8 Tracks, Track Six: Velvet Underground Railroad


Friend Mike and I grew up in the same neighborhood and hung out in the same bar, where we talked about Ingmar Bergman while the TV played Benny Hill reruns. Kindred spirits, we’d eventually share an apartment. (I wonder if my Brother Pat remembers I took the stereo when I moved out…?)

The rent was cheap, which was great because neither one of us made a lot of money. What little we had was spent on essentials like records and parties. An exaggeration - to the relief of our landlord, we were disappointingly conventional. But we both loved music and would traul the discount bins for whatever we could find.

And it being the end of the seventies, most people were handing in their 8-track players, along with their souls to St. Ronny Reagan, but I digress.  

But it was a boon for us, with discount bins and yard sales overflowing with with used 8-track tapes.


Mrs. Jaybee and I took a trip to Boston, where Mike lives now. It was a week after Lou Reed died, and Mike thoughtfully left out a good article from the Globe. But then he surprised me by saying he never really heard a lot of Reed’s stuff - Velvets or otherwise - other than “Walk on the Wild Side”. So I decided I’d make him a mix CD of the Velvet Underground.

Later that week, while perusing allmusic or amazon for I don’t know what, I spotted a sale on 1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed. Then it hit me that Mike had actually gotten the first volume of this album from one of his discount bin dives. It must have been a short time before he moved to Europe, so he probably forgot. I probably played it more than he did.

Anyway, I decided to get the CDs.


1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed

The full album (plus bonus tracks!) this time.

And I’m slightly disappointed.

One difference between then and now is that I’ve since become much more familiar with all of their (brilliant) studio output. So now this record suffers in comparison.

Another odd thing happened.  I think the poor sound quality of the 8-track actually added to my enjoyment. The tape may have only played one half of the stereo mix, because my recollection was of Lou Reed’s voice, some muffled guitar and not much else. It gave the songs a very spare quality that I really enjoyed.  The now better quality put them on grounds for comparison with the now familiar studio versions, and the former lose out.

Grade: B+

Having Said That:

It occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing VU-the-icons-who-made-several-classic-albums. I was hearing VU-the-band-playing-a-gig. In other words, this album is a record of a moment in the life of a band, and not a Statement by Rock Gods from the Past, which is what the studio albums represent for me.

Another thing: it’s probably a great record to introduce people to VU with.

So if I put aside my prejudices and try to listen to this like it was a new album with unfamiliar songs, I’d probably give it an A.

On the Other Hand...

But when push came to shove and it came time to make burn a CD for Mike, I stuck with the studio albums.

So let’s split the difference and give it an A-.

When to Play: When you’re looking for some ugly truth.
When NOT to Play: When you’re looking for sunshine and lollipops.
And if you’re wondering where to start with the VU, try this utterly brilliant post.

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