The Velvet Underground (album)

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The Velvet Underground
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 1969 (1969-03)
Recorded5th November–December 1968
StudioT.T.G. Studios, Hollywood, California[1]
ProducerThe Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground chronology
White Light/White Heat
The Velvet Underground
Singles from The Velvet Underground
  1. "What Goes On" / "Jesus"
    Released: April 1969

The Velvet Underground is the self-titled third studio album by American rock band the Velvet Underground. Released in March 1969, it was their first record with Doug Yule, who was a replacement for John Cale. Recorded in 1968 at TTG Studios in Hollywood, California, the album's sound—consisting largely of ballads and straightforward rock songs—marked a notable shift in style from the band's previous recordings. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album number 314 in their list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2012, the rank was updated to album number 316.[2] It was voted number 262 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000).[3]


Lou Reed, the band's principal songwriter, said of the album: "I really didn't think we should make another White Light/White Heat. I thought it would be a terrible mistake, and I really believed that. I thought we had to demonstrate the other side of us. Otherwise, we would become this one-dimensional thing, and that had to be avoided at all costs."[4] Drummer Moe Tucker said, "I was pleased with the direction we were going and with the new calmness in the group, and thinking about a good future, hoping people would smarten up and some record company would take us on and do us justice." Doug Yule said the album "was a lot of fun. The sessions were constructive and happy and creative, everybody was working together."[4]

The Velvet Underground was the band's first album for MGM Records, its first two albums having been issued on Verve, an MGM subsidiary. The previously strong Andy Warhol influence is diminished,[according to whom?] with the most notable ties to the Factory being the cover and back photographs taken by Warholite Billy Name, and the opening track "Candy Says" about Warhol superstar Candy Darling (who reappears in Reed's 1972 song "Walk on the Wild Side"). The song was sung by Yule at Reed's insistence.[5] The LP sleeve was designed by Dick Smith, then a staff artist at MGM/Verve, with Billy Name's photo of the band sitting sedately on a couch at Andy Warhol's Factory.

"The Murder Mystery" included all four band members' voices. During the verses, Lou Reed and guitarist Sterling Morrison recite different verses of poetry simultaneously, with the voices positioned strictly to the left and right. For the choruses, Maureen Tucker and Doug Yule sing different lyrics and melodies at the same time, also separated left and right.[citation needed] The album's closing song, "After Hours", has a rare solo lead vocal by Moe Tucker, again requested by Reed as he felt the sweet, innocent quality of her voice fit the song's mood better than his own.

The album was produced by the band themselves, and issued in two different stereo mixes. The more widely distributed mix is the one done by MGM/Verve staff engineer Val Valentin. The other mix was done by Lou Reed, boosting his vocals and guitar solos, while reducing the level of other instruments. This version was dubbed the "Closet Mix" by Sterling Morrison, because it sounded to him as if it had been recorded in a closet.[6] The most dramatic difference is that the two versions also use an entirely different performance of "Some Kinda Love", which was taken from the same recording sessions.

Music and lyrics[edit]

The restraint and subtlety of the album was a significant departure from the direct abrasiveness of White Light/White Heat.[7][8] Music critic Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune characterized it as folk rock,[9] and Rolling Stone magazine's Troy Carpenter said that it focused on mellow, melodic rock.[7] According to music journalist Steve Taylor, The Velvet Underground is a pop album because of its more accessible songs and "has been called Lou Reed with a backing band due to the emphasis placed on songs rather than experimental sound work."[10]

Apart from the forceful rockers "What Goes On" and "Beginning to See the Light", the album contains reflective, melodic songs that are about various forms of love,[8] such as "Pale Blue Eyes", "Some Kinda Love", "Jesus", "I'm Set Free" and "That's the Story of My Life". Reed and Morrison's twin-guitar playing became the band's most prominent sound,[8] and the album had spare arrangements that lacked distortion. The only song that exhibited the band's avant-garde roots is "The Murder Mystery", which incorporated a raga rhythm, murmuring organ, overlapping spoken-word passages, and lilting counterpoint vocals.[8]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[11]
Blender5/5 stars[12]
Chicago Tribune4/4 stars[9]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music5/5 stars[13]
Q5/5 stars[15]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[16]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[17]
Spin Alternative Record Guide10/10[18]
The Village VoiceA[19]

The Velvet Underground was released in 1969 and did not impact the Billboard 200 until 1985, when it reached No. 197. According to Billboard in 2013, it had sold 201,000 copies since 1991, when Nielsen SoundScan began tracking record sales.[20]

Reviewing the album for The Village Voice in 1969, Robert Christgau viewed it as the band's best work and found it tuneful, well written, and exceptionally sung, despite "another bummer experiment" in "The Murder Mystery" and some questionable stereo recording.[19] Lester Bangs, writing in Rolling Stone magazine, felt that it is not on-par with White Light/White Heat and has missteps with "The Murder Mystery" and "Pale Blue Eyes", but ultimately said that its combination of powerfully expressive music and profoundly sentimental lyrics will persuade the band's detractors into believing they can "write and play any kind of music they want to with equal brilliance."[21] In his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine's annual critics poll, Christgau ranked it as the sixth best album of the year.[22] He later included it in his "Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings, published in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981).[23]

In a review of the album's 1985 reissue, Rolling Stone's David Fricke remarked that both The Velvet Underground and its predecessor lack the diverse range of the band's 1967 debut album and the precise accessibility of Loaded (1970). However, he felt that the album is still edifying as a tender, subtly broad song cycle whose stark production surprisingly reveals the essence of Reed's more expressive songwriting. Fricke cited the "ironic pairing" of "Pale Blue Eyes" and "Jesus" as the best summary of "the hopeful warmth at the center of the Velvets' rage."[16] Colin Larkin, writing in The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (1998), said that the album showcased a new subtlety because of Reed's larger role in the band and that it "unveiled a pastoral approach, gentler and more subdued, retaining the chilling, disquieting aura of previous releases."[24]

In 2003, The Velvet Underground was ranked number 314 by Rolling Stone on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The 2012 edition saw it moved 316th.[25][2] NME magazine named it the 21st best album of all time in a similar list.[26] In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Rob Sheffield wrote that after Cale's departure, the band became "acoustic folkie balladeers" and that Reed was unexpectedly charming on the album, whose "every song is a classic".[17] Q magazine called the album "a flickering, unforgettable band performance".[15] Sputnikmusic's Nick Butler felt that, although it is not as good as the band's debut album, The Velvet Underground is "still a brilliant album."[27]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Lou Reed, except where noted. Running times listed are for the Valentin Mix.

Side one
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Candy Says"Yule4:04
2."What Goes On"Reed4:55
3."Some Kinda Love"Reed4:03
4."Pale Blue Eyes"Reed5:41
5."Jesus"Reed with Yule3:24
Side two
No.TitleLead vocalsLength
1."Beginning to See the Light"Reed4:41
2."I'm Set Free"Reed4:08
3."That's the Story of My Life"Reed1:59
4."The Murder Mystery"Reed, Morrison, Yule, and Tucker8:55
5."After Hours"Tucker2:07
  • Sides one and two were combined as tracks 1–10 on CD reissues.

Discs 1-3 of the 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition are the Valentin, Closet and Promotional Mono mixes of the album, respectively, with no bonus tracks.


The Velvet Underground


  1. ^ Howard Sounes (22 October 2015). Notes from the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed. Transworld. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-4735-0895-8.
  2. ^ a b "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012.
  3. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (2006). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 116. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  4. ^ a b Hogan, Peter (1997). The Complete Guide to the Music of the Velvet Underground. Omnibus Press. p. 28. ISBN 0711955964.
  5. ^ Lapointe, Andrew. "Interview with Doug Yule". PopMatters. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  6. ^ Jovanovic, Rob (April 2012). Seeing the Light. St. Martin's Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-250-00014-9.
  7. ^ a b Carpenter, Troy; et al. (2001). Rolling Stone (ed.). Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. Simon & Schuster. p. 1035. ISBN 0743201205. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Schinder, Scott; Schwartz, Andy (2008). Icons of Rock. Icons of Rock: An Encyclopedia of the Legends who Changed Music Forever. 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 318. ISBN 0313338477. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  9. ^ a b Kot, Greg (January 12, 1992). "Lou Reed's Recordings: 25 Years of Path-breaking Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  10. ^ Taylor, Steve (2006). The A to X of Alternative Music. Continuum. p. 272. ISBN 0826482171. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  11. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground". AllMusic. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  12. ^ "The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground". Blender. New York. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  13. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "The Velvet Underground". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  14. ^ Berman, Stuart (November 24, 2014). "The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground". Pitchfork. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  15. ^ a b "The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground". Q. London (191): 128. June 2002.
  16. ^ a b Fricke, David (March 14, 1985). "The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground & Nico / White Light/White Heat / The Velvet Underground / V.U." Rolling Stone. New York (443). Archived from the original on May 25, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  17. ^ a b Sheffield, Rob (2004). "The Velvet Underground". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 847–848. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  18. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). "The Velvet Underground". Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  19. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (July 10, 1969). "Consumer Guide (1)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved July 29, 2013.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Bangs, Lester (17 May 1969). "The Velvet Underground". Rolling Stone. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (33): 17. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  22. ^ Christgau, Robert (1969). "Robert Christgau's 1969 Jazz & Pop Ballot". Jazz & Pop. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  23. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "A Basic Record Library: The Fifties and Sixties". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899190251. Retrieved March 16, 2019 – via
  24. ^ Larkin, Colin (1998). Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 7 (3rd ed.). Muze UK. pp. 5626–7. ISBN 1561592374.
  25. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. New York. December 11, 2003.
  26. ^ "100 Best Albums of All Time". NME. London. March 2003.
  27. ^ Butler, Nick (June 26, 2006). "The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground". Sputnikmusic. Archived from the original on August 16, 2013. Retrieved August 15, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]