Graham Reid | | 3 min read
So how long was that debut album by Velvet Underground, the one with Nico and in Andy Warhol's banana cover? Two sides of vinyl so about, what, 35 minutes?
Well it has just been reissued in a collector's edition 45th anniversary box set and it is six – yep, count 'em -- six CDs.
Okay they've cheated by adding in Nico's first solo album Chelsea Girls (good call actually) and the original album comes in mono and stereo version, then there are a couple of singles, some early acetates, some different versions of various songs, rehearsals and two discs of live shows . . .
You have to be a wealthy collector to indulge yourself in a shelf-filler like this. So how about a guide to just the essential VU, and albums by former members Lou Reed and John Cale?
No question, you do need that debut album Velvet Underground and Nico because every track is a classic.
It's got Sunday Morning, I'm Waiting for the Man, Femme Fatale Venus in Furs, Run Run Run and All Tomorrow's Parties, and that was just the first side.
Heroin kicked off side two.
Their second album White Light/White Heat should be in your collection too.
Beyond that you're becoming A Serious Fan.
So many albums and so little time, right?
You can cheat with one of the many hits packages but if you want a feel for Reed beyond the obvious get the Bowie-produced Transformer (from 72, it has Vicious, Perfect Day, Walk on the Wild Side and Satellite of Love), the live Rock'n'Roll Animal (74, with that thrilling intro by guitarist Steve Hunter which sets up Reed's entrance for Sweet Jane), the ambitious Street Hassle (78, Springsteen guests on the 10 minute title track) and Magic and Loss (91, a concept album about death more uplifting than you might think).
Beyond those there is the conceptual Berlin (73), The Bells (79, overlooked takes decoding but rewards effort), The Blue Mask (82, rock'n'distortion) and New York (89, his return to form).
If Reed is a tough proposition, multiply that for Cale who was a classically trained viola player with a calling to the avant-garde before the Velvets, so he frequently steps away from the mainstream.
Ease yourself in with Paris 1919 (73) then dive into Fear (74, with Eno and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera among others), the compilation Guts and, if you can find it, the exceptional Sabotage/Live (79) which will take the top of your head off.
Then leap ahead to blackAcetate of 2005. You're still only scraping surfaces – cheats will try to find the double disc retrospective 1970-1990 Seducing Down the Door – and recommended also are Church of Anthrax (71, with minimalist composer Terry Riley), Honi Soit (81, almost straight ahead), the difficult Music for a New Society (82, society and listeners alike ignored it) and Words for the Dying (89, produced by Eno and largely spoken word with that wonderful Welsh voice on some Dylan Thomas poems).
His new album Shifty Adventure in Nookie Wood is very approachable.
Warhol's death saw Cale and Reed together for the wonderful tribute Songs for Drella (1990) and – despite old antagonisms – that lead to the brief reunion of the classic Velvets line-up of Reed, Cale, Stirling Morrison and Maureen Tucker.
They played concerts in 93, out of which came the non-essential Live MCMXCIII but the usual internal conflicts emerged and they parted ways. Morrison's death in 93 ended VU matters.
But VU – and Reed'n'Cale – mattered.