I Said I Couldn’t Hit It Sideways

Sister Ray is a seventeen minute, recorded in one take avant- rock dance song that completes their 1968 album White Light/ White Heat. Lou Reed said that it was done ‘as a joke- no, not as a joke… but as a scene of total debauchery and decay’. It was intended to be confrontational. The group agreed to keep playing for the duration and leave in whatever mistakes were made. The engineer pressed record and then walked out. Reed and Sterling Morrison batter the fuck out of the riff and John  Cale plays organ hooked up through a distorted guitar amp. The guitar playing is simple and percussive and completely overloaded and the organ is completely in the red, distorted and wailing.

Sister Ray

Lou Reed had written a lyric about ‘a transvestite smack dealer’ and in the song a bunch of drag queens take some sailors home… and start shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear’. In the song Lou’s characters include Doc and Sally, Rosie and Miss Rayon, a sailor who’s dressed in pink and leather, Cecil with a new gun with which he shoots a sailor and makes a mess of the carpet and amongst all this Lou drawls about  ‘I’m too busy searching for my mainline/ I couldn’t hit it sideways’ and ‘she’s too busy sucking on my ding- dong’.

While this is the noisy side of The Velvets at their most extreme the song when played live was often the one that would get the audience up out of their seats dancing. There are multiple live versions out there lasting for up to and beyond half an hour, like this one recorded live at The Matrix in San Francisco in 1969. Starts out slow and sparse and builds but with a noticeably different feel compared to the album version.

Sister Ray (Live)

I’m fairly sure though that the first version I would have heard of the song would have been a cover, probably this one by New Order at Glastonbury in 1987. They had played Sister Ray live as Joy Division and there’s a version on Still which I might have heard earlier but I know I had a tape of the 1987 Glastonbury set because it was recorded by Radio 1 and transmitted as part of their Live In Concert series and I taped the set straight from the radio. New Order’s version is a comparatively short eight minutes and is a bass, guitar, drums finale after a set chock full of mid 80s dance- pop brilliance that opens with Touched By The Hand Of God and takes in Temptation, True Faith, Your Silent Face, Every Little Counts, Bizarre Love Triangle, Perfect Kiss and Age Of Consent. The group kick up a solid racket, sounding quite like Joy Division in parts, Hooky’s ascending and descending bass riding in and out of the mix and Bernard making up the words as he goes along and then sampled voices being dropped in at the end. It captures the spirit and intention of Sister Ray as Lou and The Velvets set out to I think.

Sister Ray (Live at Glastonbury 1987)

Down By The Sea

Last Monday Drew posted a cover of The Velvet Underground’s Ocean, a version done by Sunray (played on and produced by Sonic Boom), thirteen minutes of drone rock bliss from 2007. It’s here. Back in 2014 there was an extensive remastering job on a lot of The Velvet’s material for the 45th anniversary of one of their albums. Ocean never saw the light of day when the band existed and eventually surfaced via Lou Reed’s 1972 solo album, the 1969 live album and 1985’s VU record. Here it is, in all it’s 1969 via 2014 glory.  Lou and Sterling’s guitars on Ocean are such a treat and the build up to the ending with the crashing drums and organ is superb.

Ocean 

Guess I’m Falling In Love

Today’s Velvets on Sunday song comes from the vaults of Verve Records, who dropped The Velvet Underground in 1969. The recordings for what could have been their next album were shelved until the mid 80s when the first bunch were released as VU and then a follow album Another VU. In among them were five John Cale-era songs, including this rough and ready, fuzzed up, garage band song with Cale on bass. There is a point in all guitar band’s lives when they should sound like this.

Guess I’m Falling In Love (Instrumental)

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

Ain’t It Peculiar

A couple of years ago I got into the habit of posting songs by The Velvet Underground on a Sunday and having put last year’s ‘lost’ but recreated 1969 album on the turntable yesterday morning it seems like a wise thing to reprise. Also this picture of Sterling Morrison has been sitting on my hard drive waiting for an opportunity to be used. I can’t think of anything that would make this picture any better.

One Of These Days sounds like Buddy Holly after a night on amphetamines and booze, frazzled and fragile but still sharp enough to play. It first saw the light of day in 1985 on the VU compilation, a record that probably influenced most indie guitar bands in the subsequent few years more than any other. This 2014 mix tweaked the twangy guitars a little and added the extra 20 seconds at the end, a freakadelic collision of guitars.

One Of These Days (2014 Mix)

I’ve realised in the past decade that despite my love for John Cale during the early years of the Velvets, my favourite Velvets songs and period are the Doug Yule years. The much maligned Doug Yule who in 1972 Lou Reed wished dead. His contributions to the songs they recorded between 1968 and 1970, on guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals, are as much part of the sound of the group as anybody else- and Lou Reed never sounded as good again.

I Wore My Teeth In My Hands So I Could Shake Hands With The Night

The Velvet Underground have been re-issued and anthologised and expanded all the place in recent years, boxed sets galore. I picked up a nice double album on vinyl recently called The Velvet Underground/1969, an attempt to put together the lp that didn’t come out in that year. Yeah, essentially it’s VU and Another VU in one edition but with some different mixes (the 2014 versions of some tracks) and other mixes of others. Disappointingly it doesn’t contain the more recent mix of I Can’t Stand It (with the 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown by Lou after the guitar solo, which is exciting beyond words) but you can’t have everything.

Although most of the tracks (3 out of the 4 sides of vinyl) are the Doug Yule version of the group the 4th side has some recordings before John Cale packed up his viola and left. The final song on the album is this early version of Beginning To See The Light, recorded with Cale, which would later be recorded again with Yule for the self-titled album which did come out in 1969. Makes sense?

I love Lou’s lyrics on this song, aping gospel, sneering with NYC cool and in places brilliantly nonsensical. This version has different words, clearly a work in progress.  The title of this post became ‘I wore my teeth in my hands, so I could mess the hair of the night’ in the final mix. Both work for me.

Beginning To See The Light (Early Version)

Find Me In The Park

I missed this when it came out back in 2015, a standalone 7″ single from Michael Head and his Red Elastic Band. The b-side is a jazzy song about Koala Bears with an intelrude into Close To You. The a-side is a beaut, with a finger picked intro reminiscent of Everybody’s Talkin’, cello and Mick singing of the pleasures of listening to Lou, Sterling, John and Mo in the park, in the dark.

Velvets In The Dark

This live version was recorded in March 2016 at Islington Assembly Hall,  all reverb and atmosphere. It shimmers. If you want a physical copy  of the studio version Piccadilly Records seem to have some left.

Beautiful Dreamer

‘Beautiful Dreamer versus Darkseid! Both hold the key to victory in the strangest war ever fought in comicdom history!’

More early 70s Jack Kirby-Third Eye- Black Light psychedelic madness. The more of this Marvel art I look for, the more I find, the more I want to post. I was planning to finish yesterday but there’s more to come.

Two days ago reader KevM asked for The Box by Jack Of Swords, released on Weatherall’s Sabres Of Paradise label back in 1994. The Box is a cover of The Velvet Underground tune (from White Light/White Heat), a tale of sexual obsession and accidental death, voiced by John Cale (and it’s the original Cale vocal used on this cover too, a benefit of the being able to lift the whole isolated vocal off the Velvet’s record by switching the speakers balance to the left hand channel). The Jack Of Swords version has a heavy, electronic backing that is pretty transfixing. On the B-side of the 12″ single was a remixed version by Technova (David Harrow), a brilliant remix which adds a jackhammer beat, some speaker rattling bass and a load of acid-techno (the sort of record that makes me think I can smell dry ice and see strobes flashing in the corner of my eye).

The Box

The Box (The Black Angel’s Death Mix)

Velvet Sunday

Back to the Velvets for the Sabbath. In days of yore (the late 80s) before the internet, before cds (for me at least, I didn’t start buying cds until the mid/late 90s), before re-issues and bands reforming, box sets with alternate takes and full live sets, there was precious little to go off with The Velvet Underground. You had the four studio albums (if you could find them), the two live albums (Max’s Kansas City and 1969), the VU and Another View albums and a book by Victor Bockris (Uptight; The Story of The Velvet Underground). These were not just records and a book, they were portals to another world. It was a world that was gone, it did not exist anymore (New York, the late 1960s). Lou Reed had a patchy solo career so there were occasional interviews but the heritage rock press did not exist either so there was a dearth of information. What you knew about the group came from Bockris’ text, the handful of pictures in the book, the rumour and talk of like minded people and the songs themselves.

1968’s White Light/White Heat album was their most obtuse and difficult album. A rejection of everyone who didn’t buy their first album. Here She Comes Now and I Heard Her Call My Name are the closest to conventional guitar songs but wrapped and covered in feedback. The Gift was a spoken word/avant garde exploration with stereo sound. Lady Godiva’s Operation had some of Lou’s most transgressive lyrics.Sister Ray was a one take song, seventeen minutes of legend, covered by New Order, a story of transvestites, sailors and drug dealers. No bass guitar. Distorted organ. Heady stuff. And the title track (two versions below, from a 7″ single re-issue), a statement of intent, a song about speed. This song and Sister Ray are the ones that are ‘easiest’ to copy when you’re learning to play the guitar. Pick two chords and bash away until you’re done. White heat.

White Light/White Heat 1

White Light/White Heat 2

Foggy Notion

I could get into a pattern of posting something by The Velvet Underground every Sunday if I’m not careful. One of the wonders of 1984s lost Velvet Underground songs album V.U. was Foggy Notion, recorded in May 1969, with the twin guitars of Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed achieving some kind of nirvana, Lou’s rythm and Sterling’s lead. When I hear it I can easily think there is no finer sound and they make it sound so simple. The lyrics are also a late period peak…

She’s over by the corner
Got her hands by her sides
They hit her harder harder harder
Till they thought she might die
Well I got a foggy notion,
Do it again
Over by the corner,
Do it again
I got my calamine lotion baby,
Do it again
I got a foggy notion
Do it again
She made me do something
That I never did before
I rushed right down
To a flower store
I bought her a bundle
A beautiful batch
Don’t you know something
She sent ’em right back
Sally Mae, Sally Mae
Sally Mae, Sally Mae
Sally Mae, Sally Mae
Sally Mae, Sally Mae