When I first heard of the death of Lou Reed, I was in denial. I frantically searched the internet for the hope that this was nothing more than a rumor, but I was saddened to find it to be fact. Lou Reed, our rock and roll animal, was gone.
Lou had a huge influence on, well, everyone. Every band you’ve ever listened to was most likely influenced by Lou or influenced by someone influenced by Lou. He didn’t do this alone though. Lou Reed, John Cale and the rest of The Velvet Underground really helped make the world a better place so in honor of our fallen captain, I thought I would share a brief history of The Velvet Underground.
Before The Velvet Underground was The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed was just a songwriter for Pitchwick records and John Cale just a welshman who happened to meet Lou. Cale and Reed started the band The Primitives with their one and only song “The Ostrich”. With every string on their guitars tuned to D, they coined the term “ostrich tuning” which many bands after them have used.
After this single, Lou recruited his college classmate, Sterling Morrison and started their band. At the time they were called The Warlocks and only did small shows which were supposedly a lot softer and more mellow than they would soon become. They soon changed their name to The Velvet Underground after the title of a book. (If you’re interested in reading said book, it’s supposedly terrible). While playing these small shows, they came across the acquaintance of Andy Warhol, who loved their music and decided to add them as a part of his road show The Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Andy Warhol set them up with Nico and replaced their previous drummer, Angus MacLise, with a friend of Morrison’s sister, Maureen Tucker.
They then recorded their debut album: The Velvet Underground and Nico, in 1967. This album included 17 songs showcasing their dynamic style. Shortly after the release of this album, Nico left the band after VU split ties with Warhol.
As they played more and more shows, they became more harsh, more loud and more improvised. They received an endorsement with Vox which gave them the technology to get even harsher and louder. They then released their second album in 1968 called White Light/White Heat. This album was considered to be raw and over saturated (also my favorite album).
Tensions grew between Lou and Cale. Lou wanted to go a bit more conventional with the music while Cale wanted to experiment more. This ultimately lead the John Cale leaving the band. Replacing John Cale was Doug Yule. Yule brought new styles to The Velvet Underground such as harmonizing vocals and using more melodic bass lines. It was him (in combination with an unfortunate incident at an airport where all their Vox equipment got stolen) that brought the cleaner more poppy sound of their 3rd album: The Velvet Underground.
Due to the amount of travel and shows that they played, they only could record from time to time. They never really made anything of those recordings and they ultimately turned into what is called the lost 4th album. But do not fear, if you are interested to hear those recordings they put most on their compilation of previously unreleased songs: VU.
On top of their heavy travel, their record label, MGM, had been losing a lot of money and they decided to kick VU to the curb. They were adopted by Atlantic Records and told to make an album “loaded with hits” hence the name for their 4th and final real album: Loaded.
By the time Loaded was being recorded, The Velvet Underground was brewing troubles. Moe had become pregnant and could no longer drum and had to be replaced by Doug Yule’s younger brother for a lot of the recordings, and Lou Reed decided to quit the band towards the end of the recording. Lou had ended leaving so close to the end of recording the album that they didn’t need him to finish it anyway and they released it regardless with the note on the front “Featuring Lou Reed”. Lou had actually assumed that they would throw out the album after his departure with the band, but was surprised to see it the next time he went to a record store.
After Lou left the band, the band kind of broke up. (Although Doug Yule made another album under the name The Velvet Underground called Squeeze, but thats not really a Velvet Underground album.)
Most of the band members went on doing their own solo work afterwards. Most notably, of course, was Lou Reed, but John Cale also had a very successful career. They got back together in 1992 officially and toured Europe and had planned for a US tour but broke up again before it ever happened. Shortly after in 1995 Sterling Morrison passed away. They played one last concert in 1996 when being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Now, October 27th 2013, we’ve lost Lou Reed. The man who started The Velvet Underground, and changed the lives of every person after him is gone. Goodbye Lou and rest in peace.