The Truth About Music: Play It Loud

"What's hot, what's not, and whats next in pop music"

Triple Take: The First Three Songs on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded

Album reviews are the bread and butter of music criticism. However, often so much of a review is spent talking about the musician, or the circumstances of the recording process that the actual songs on the record don’t get the discussion they deserve. Triple Take examines a string of 3 songs on an album, how they fit together, and how they fit on the record as a whole.

By 1970, The Velvet Underground were coming to the end of the line. Long gone were the experimental Warhol days, and with the departure of John Cale, the group had lost it’s only major song writer other than Lou Reed. They had received an order from new label Atlantic to make an album “loaded” with hits. The album ultimately continued the Velvet’s commercial losing streak, proving that the listening public in 1970 was basically as tin eared as they are today. Regardless, Loaded is an all time classic, and it starts off on a three song hot streak that is amongst the greatest in rock n roll history.

The album opens with the pleasant guitar strum of “Who Loves The Sun.”  After a few second intro, the song settles into a mid tempo rock ballad, serving as a bulletin to let the listener know that the old experimental days of this band are in the past. Lou Reed sings in a melancholy malaise, lamenting how anyone could love the sun, wind, rain or any other natural phenomenon once their heart has been broken. As Velvet songs go it doesn’t break any new ground, but it is a beautiful song, and perfectly sets the stage for the album that is about to follow.

Next up is “Sweet Jane,” perhaps The Velvet Underground’s most well known song, and likely their most covered. After a noodling introduction, that classic riff falls in. No avante guard tricks, no noise experimentation, just one of the greatest rock ‘n roll songs ever written. Lou spends the lyrical side of the song reminding the listener that “women never really faint and villains always blink their eyes,” but despite how certain expectations might be crushed by reality, he’s got “Sweet Jane,” and that’s all that matters. Again, nothing about “Sweet Jane” is groundbreaking, but it’s routinely mentioned amongst the Velvets greatest tracks.

Over the first two songs the album steadily builds a head of steam, from sad ballad to upbeat groove, and finally, with “Rock n Roll,” to raucous love letter.  ”Rock N Roll” is a perfect song, and perhaps the greatest ode to the titular musical style that has ever been written. “You know her life was saved by rock n roll” Lou sings in his classic too-cool tenor, succinctly reminding us that this is more than just music, it’s a lifestyle, and something that really can change your life.

Keeping in mind this song was released 15 years after Elvis’ Sun sessions, it’s an early example of the rock n roll nostalgia that would become so popular in the 70‘s. But for all the great work Bruce Springsteen, Punk as a genre, and a million others would do with this theme, it really doesn’t get better than this. When asked, I often cite the 5 second solo towards the end of this song as my favorite of all time. People usually think I’m joking when I say that, because some people will never understand rock n roll, but even those people can understand the pure, simple beauty of “Rock N Roll.”

With these first three songs, The Velvet Underground lay out the thematic template for the rest of Loaded. This is The Velvet Underground at their most accessible, and the height of Lou’s songwriting ability. The first album gets all the t-shirt press, and White Light, White Heat will always be the favorite of the avant-garde enthusiast, but Loaded is the best record the band ever made, and these three songs hook the listener right from the start.

zp8497586rq

Add A Comment