Anyone Who’s Ever Had A Dream

Another Velvet Underground on Sunday post today. In 1988 Toronto’s Cowboy Junkies rescued Sweet Jane from the countless butcherings it had received at the hands of the man who wrote it. Their album The Trinity Sessions was recorded in a church and somewhere in that building the people involved and the church’s natural echo and reverb summoned up something magical. Margo Timmins’ voice, her brother Michael’s guitar and the rest of the band, all gathered around a single mic, recast Sweet Jane in the mould of the 1969 Live version rather than the Loaded one, retrieving the earlier lyrics and the ‘Heavenly wine and roses/seem to whisper to me when you smile…’ section (some lyric sites have this line as ‘heavenly widened roses’ but I’ve always heard the former and that’s what I’m sticking with). Lou Reed later said that Cowboy Junkies had made his favourite version. Mine too.

Sweet Jane

Street Hassle

Back in the day (the late 80s day specifically) getting into Lou Reed’s solo career was a dangerous game. Transformer was the obvious place to start and set a standard which was difficult to follow. From there it was a New York lucky dip. Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal is still one of the worst albums I have ever heard and you’ll never convince me it has any merits. Berlin is distressing. Coney Island Baby is a joke. Without the internet there was no way to try before you bought. A lot of his albums were available on the Mid-Price range which made them cheap and tempting and there were always fellow travellers willing to give advice along the lines of ‘yeah, that one’s shit but you should try The Blue Mask/Mistrial/New Sensations’.

The scene in Trainspotting where Sick Boy explains his theory about life, having it and then losing, is spot on. Renton replies to Sick Boy’s theory that some of Lou Reed’s solo stuff is ‘no bad’. Sick Boy counters that although it’s alright it’s not great either which means that ‘actually it’s just shite’.

Let’s make an exception for one eleven minute long song he put out in 1978, a three part tone poem that explores the underbelly of New York with prostitutes, drug dealers, the death of a woman and an uncredited spoken word section from Bruce Springsteen. It’s been suggested that Street Hassle is also a response to the end of Lou’s relationship with Rachel, a trans woman he had been seeing for three years. Street Hassle is a remarkable, moving piece of music with the same riff being played first on cello, guitar and bass. Reed’s ambition for the song was that it was something that could have been written by Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler or William Burroughs set to music and I think he pulled it off. In typical Lou Reed fashion it is followed by I Wanna Be Black, a bemusing song which has nothing going for it at all and then a re-recorded Velvet Underground song. But in a solo career that up to his resurgence in the 1990s is wildly erratic, Street Hassle (the song) is a major achievement and a truly great song. I don’t have an mp3 of it and my vinyl is in poor condition so can only provide you with the Youtube version.

Certainly Not Your Average Girl

I’ve had this song going round and round in my head recently- I think it’s Pete Astor’s fault. She’s My Best Friend was recorded by The Velvet Underground in May 1969 and wasn’t good enough (!!!) to make any of their proper albums. Eventually it came out on VU in the 1980s as you surely know but it’s pretty much as good as anything else the post-Cale group recorded. It demonstrates the brilliant simplicity of Lou Reed’s song writing perfectly- and what’s more it was sung by Doug Yule.

She’s My Best Friend

It’s Hard Being A Man

I was in the record shop in town on Saturday looking at the 45th anniversary boxed set of the third velvet Underground album (my favourite of theirs, a record I can come back to umpteen times). I didn’t buy it. I haven’t bought it. Yet. But I came home and played VU while cooking tea, the 1985 album that rounded up some unreleased songs (some found in a bin at the record company). The opening song is I Can’t Stand It, which is unsurpassed, an absolute template, a song beyond compare. The rhythm guitars are tinny and choppy, Sterling Morrison’s guitar solo is unhinged and Lou’s drawled delivery is superb- as are the nonsense of the lyrics with those thirteen dead cats, a purple dog wearing spats, the mop assault and Shirley (who won’t come back).

I Can’t Stand It

The boxed set has cleaned up the songs. The 80s version of I Can’t Stand It is the one we’re all familiar with but the 2014 mix might just be even better.

Meanwhile I am still reeling from reading in a review that it was Doug Yule who sang Candy says, not Lou Reed. Should I have known this?

Candy Says

Today’s song is a beautiful cover of the Velvet Underground’s Candy Says by British folk star Kathryn Williams. I had this on a compilation cd but can’t find it, can’t even remember what the cd was, it came with a magazine I think but I didn’t get around to buying the album. Anyway, this is quite lovely. I always thought it funny that she didn’t hit the high notes that Lou Reed did.

Candy Says

Linger On

Drew posted The Kills cover version of Pale Blue Eyes earlier this week, a song I’ve been listening to a lot recently- both The Kills version and the original. It is the best song of it’s type that there is. A major chord or two, a couple of minors, some sparse backing and Lou Reed’s lyrics of time, paper cups, feeling happy and feeling sad and infidelity. Wondrous thing really.

The fact is that it survives being covered often as well, not something that too many Velvets songs benefit from. There’s a shaky 2-in-the-morning version by R.E.M. I like, The Kills blistering take and this beautifully played and sung one from Edwyn Collins and Paul Quinn.

Perfect Day

This is not a New Order post- Stephen’s t-shirt is the only link. Bernard looks like someone’s pissed him off though (or he’s suffering from gastric after-effects of that curry at lunchtime).

I’ve been listening to some Lou Reed recently- yes, because he died. I played New York all the way through, an album I don’t think I’ve listened to in twenty years. I was surprised by how much of it was familiar which shows how much i must have listened to it in 1988-9. I saw him when he played London in the summer of ’89, at Wembley Arena I think. The university year had just finished and I went straight down to stay with my friend Mr AN of Ealing and we trooped off to see Lou. He was good (which is surprising as I get the feeling he was pretty hit and miss live depending on his mood and level of contempt for the audience). He played New York in the first half and then some greatest hits in the second- I don’t remember which greatest hits other than Sweet Jane and Rock And Roll, and he played them as they should be played rather than the butchered versions I’ve seen on TV at times. At one point he muttered something about all the sounds being played by ‘real musicians no synthesisers or samplers’ which narked me a bit because I was quite into both as you might have gathered by now, but other than that, a good gig and night out.

I found my cd re-issue of Transformer as well recently, an album I also know inside out but haven’t listened to for ages. Bowie and Mick Ronson’s work on it is superb and the songs sound great, in terms of arrangements and production. The lyrics are top stuff too, putting that gay, 70s New York vibe right out in front. Tacked on the end of the cd are two extras. This is the demo of Perfect Day, just Lou and acoustic guitar, slightly different lyrics and phrasing but interesting to hear. After a few seconds silence there is then a radio advert for transformer. Worth a d/l I think. And miles better than that BBC ad which got irritating quite quickly.

Perfect Day (Demo)

And I found this too- Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando’s cover of the same song

Perfect Day