The Velvet Underground was an American rock band formed in New York City in 1964. The original line-up consisted of singer/guitarist Lou Reed, multi-instrumentalist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Angus MacLise. MacLise was replaced by Moe Tucker in 1965, who played on most of the band's recordings. Their integration of rock and the avant-garde achieved little commercial success during the group's existence, but they are now recognized as one of the most influential bands in rock, underground, experimental, and alternative music. The group's provocative subject matter, musical experiments, and often nihilistic attitudes also proved influential in the development of punk rock and new wave music.
After Morrison's death in 1995, the remaining three members played together for a single performance at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1996, the last time the band performed together musically. In 2004, the Velvet Underground were ranked number 19 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time". The New York Times wrote that the Velvet Underground was "arguably the most influential American rock band of our time".
The newly named Velvet Underground rehearsed and performed in New York City. Their music was generally much more relaxed than it would later become: Cale described this era as reminiscent of beat poetry, with MacLise playing gentle "pitter and patter rhythms behind the drone".
MacLise was replaced by Maureen "Moe" Tucker, the younger sister of Morrison's friend Jim Tucker. Tucker's playing style was rather unusual: she generally played standing up rather than seated and had an abbreviated drum setup of tom-toms, snare and an upturned bass drum, using mallets as often as drumsticks, and rarely using cymbals (she admits that she always hated cymbals). When the band asked her to do something unusual, she turned her bass drum on its side and played standing up. After her drums were stolen from one club, she replaced them with garbage cans brought in from outside. Her rhythms, at once simple and exotic (influenced by the likes of Babatunde Olatunji and Bo Diddley as well as Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones), became a vital part of the group's music, despite Cale's initial objections to the presence of a female drummer. The group earned a regular paying gig at the Café Bizarre and gained an early reputation as a promising ensemble.
In 1965, after being introduced to the Velvet Underground by filmmaker Barbara Rubin, Andy Warhol became the band's manager and suggested they use the German-born singer Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on several songs. Warhol's reputation helped the band gain a higher profile. He helped the band secure a recording contract with MGM's Verve Records, with himself as nominal "producer", and gave the Velvets free rein over the sound they created.
During their stay with Andy Warhol, the band became part of his multimedia roadshow, Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which combined Warhol's films with the band's music, which made use of minimalist devices, such as drones. Warhol included the band with his show in an effort to "use rock as a part of a larger, interdisciplinary-art work based around performance" (McDonald).[full citation needed] They played shows for several months in New York City, then traveled throughout the United States and Canada until its last installment in May 1967.[failed verification] During a short period in September 1966, when Cale was ill, the avant-garde musician Henry Flynt and Reed's friend Richard Mishkin took turns to cover for him.
In 1966, MacLise temporarily rejoined the Velvet Underground for a few EPI shows when Reed was suffering from hepatitis and unable to perform. For these appearances, Cale sang and played organ, Tucker switched to bass guitar and MacLise was on drums. Also at these appearances, the band often played an extended jam they had dubbed "Booker T", after musician Booker T. Jones. Some of these performances have been released as a bootleg; they remain the only record of MacLise with the Velvet Underground.
The overall sound was propelled by Reed and Nico's deadpan vocals, Cale's droning viola, bass and keyboards, Reed's experimental avant-garde guitar, Morrison's often R&B- or country-influenced guitar, and Tucker's simple but steady and tribal-sounding beat with sparse use of cymbals. A technique used on many songs was the "drone strum", an eighth-note rhythm guitar style used by Reed. Although Cale was the band's usual bassist, if he switched to viola or keyboards, Morrison would normally play bass. Despite his proficiency on the instrument, Morrison hated playing bass. Conversely, some songs had Reed and Morrison playing their usual guitars with Cale on viola or keyboards, but with nobody playing bass.
It has often been reported that before Cale's departure (following White Light/White Heat) there was a struggle between his creative impulses and Reed's: Cale's experimentalist tendencies had contrasted with Reed's more conventional approach. According to Tim Mitchell, however, Morrison reported that while there was creative tension between Reed and Cale, its effects have been exaggerated over the years. Cale played his last show with the band at the Boston Tea Party in September 1968 and was fired shortly afterwards.
Before work on their third album started, Cale was replaced by musician Doug Yule of the Boston group the Grass Menagerie, who had been a close associate of the band. Yule, a native New Yorker, had moved to Boston to attend Boston University as a theater major, but left the program after one year to continue playing music. Yule had first seen the Velvets perform at a student event at Harvard University in Cambridge in early 1968, and when the band played at the Boston Tea Party later that year, the band stayed at Yule's apartment on River Street, which he happened to be renting from their road manager, Hans Onsager (who worked closely with their manager Steve Sesnick). It was during this period that Morrison heard Yule playing guitar in his apartment, and mentioned to Reed that Yule was practicing guitar and was improving quickly. It was following this discussion that led to a phone call from Steve Sesnick inviting Yule to meet with the band at Max's Kansas City in New York City in October 1968 to discuss joining the Velvets before two upcoming shows in Cleveland, Ohio, at the club La Cave. Upon meeting Reed, Sesnick and Morrison at Max's, Yule was asked to handle bass and organ duties in the band, and he would soon contribute vocals as well. After several months of shows in the US, the band swiftly recorded their third album The Velvet Underground in late 1968 at TTG Studios in Hollywood, California. It was released in March 1969. The cover photograph was taken by Billy Name. The LP sleeve was designed by Dick Smith, then a staff artist at MGM/Verve. Released on March 12, 1969, the album failed to make Billboard's Top 200 album chart.
The harsh, abrasive tendencies on the first two records were almost entirely absent on their third album.[according to whom?] This resulted in a gentler sound influenced by folk music, prescient of the songwriting style that would soon form Reed's solo career. While Reed had covered a vast range of lyrical subjects on the first two Velvet Underground albums, the lyrical themes of the third album were more "intimate" in nature. Reed's songwriting also covered new emotional ground as well, as heard in the songs "Pale Blue Eyes", "Jesus", "Beginning to See the Light", and "I'm Set Free". The personal tone of the album's subject matter resulted in Reed's desire to create a "closet" mix that boosted the vocals to the forefront, while reducing the album's instrumentation. The second (and more widely distributed) mix is the stereo mix done by MGM/Verve staff recording engineer Val Valentin. Another factor in the change of sound was the band's Vox amplifiers and assorted fuzzboxes were rumored to have been stolen from an airport while they were on tour and they obtained replacements by signing a new endorsement deal with Sunn. In addition, Reed and Morrison had purchased matching Fender 12-string electric guitars, but Doug Yule plays down the influence of the new equipment.
The Velvet Underground spent much of 1969 on the road both in the US and Canada, and not making much headway commercially. Despite these commercial setbacks, the band focused on performing live shows on the road, playing both re-worked songs from their past albums, and debuting new songs that would find their way onto the Loaded album, such as "New Age", "Rock and Roll", and "Sweet Jane". While the band continued to do extended improvisations in their live shows, by 1969 they were focusing on tight live performances, and several of the live shows the band played during this period would end up released as live albums many years later. The live album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live (with Reed, Yule, Morrison & Tucker) was recorded in October 1969 but not released until 1974, on Mercury Records, at the urging of rock critic Paul Nelson, who worked in A&R for Mercury at the time. Nelson asked singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy to write liner notes for the double album. In his notes, Murphy described a scene 100 years in the future, with a student taking a class on "classical rock'n'roll" and listening to the Velvet Underground. He wondered what the student would make of the music and concluded, "I wish it was a hundred years from today (I can't stand the suspense)".
By the recording of Loaded, Doug Yule played a more prominent role in the band, and with Reed's encouragement, sang the lead vocal on four songs: "Who Loves the Sun", which opened the album, "New Age", "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" and the final track, "Oh! Sweet Nuthin". Yule once commented on the recording of Loaded: "Lou leaned on me a lot in terms of musical support and for harmonies, vocal arrangements. I did a lot on Loaded. It sort of devolved down to the Lou and Doug recreational recording." 2b1af7f3a8