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The Velvet Underground were a truly original and influential band. If not for them, punk and alternative rock may have never existed. There is an old saying (misquoted from Brian Eno) that "only about 1,000 people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every one of them formed a rock and roll band". This obviously is an exaggeration, but the point being made is that even though the band's albums barely made it to the record charts, the Velvets influenced more bands than one can count. The band was formed by Lou Reed and John Cale in 1965. Cale left the band after their second ground-breaking album in 1968. After that, Reed became creatively dominant. Cale was replaced by Doug Yule, a younger and more conventional rock musician, and the difference was noticeable immediately. By the time the band's fourth album was released (1970's Loaded) the band was beginning to sound mainstream. Reed quit the band shortly after that album was recorded, and most people consider that to have been the end of the Velvet Underground.

However, band manager Steve Sesnick (who has been blamed for the band's dissolution) had other plans. The remaining band members continued to perform gigs under the band's name, and when Loaded was released, Reed was
third-billed in the credits -- and Yule was billed first. Sesnick was clearly setting up the naive Yule to be the new Velvet Underground frontman. On the back cover of the Loaded LP, there is a picture of the band's instruments in a studio -- but the only band member in the picture is Yule, hunched over the piano.

Before long, the band fell apart. Bassist Sterling Morrison quit the band in 1971 to pursue a teaching career, and drummer Maureen Tucker left soon after. But the band was attaining a posthumous reputation, and Sesnick was determined to milk it dry. And so, under Sesnick's direction, Yule recorded an album in England. And, much to the chagrin of fans, critics, and Reed, that album bore the Velvet Underground's name.

The credits for the Velvet Underground Squeeze LP note that all songs were written by Doug Yule, and that the record was "produced and arranged by the Velvets". That is most misleading; the only "Velvet" on the record was Yule. He played nearly every instrument on the album except the drums, which were played by Deep Purple's Ian Paice. Paice is not credited, and it is believed, though not certain, that other drummers were involved as well. The Reed-like backing vocal on "Caroline" is not the contribution of Boston-based musician Willie Alexander, as has been rumored.

It's hard to blame Yule, who was 23 years old when Reed left the band, for going along with Sesnick's scheme. But the boy didn't have what it took, and Squeeze makes that clear. Most of the time, Yule sounds like he's trying to imitate the late-period VU. He comes close on a few tracks: "Little Jack" might have passed muster on Loaded, and "Caroline" and "She'll Make You Cry" sound like they could have been recorded during the VU sessions. "Friends" is a good ballad on its own terms. Otherwise, Squeeze is a lame record, certainly not worthy of the Velvet Underground name. It's almost comical to hear the sweet-voiced Yule try to mimic Reed's patented swagger on songs like "Dopey Joe" (good title, Doug!) and "Mean Old Man". And he was asking for trouble naming a song "Jack and Jane", an obvious reference to "Sweet Jane". This album was out of print for most of the four decades following its release in 1973, until it was finally reissued in 2012 on the U.K. label Kismet. The surviving Velvets consider Squeeze an embarrassment to their catalogue. Still, it's interesting as a curiosity piece, and is not as bad as its reputation has always suggested.

Track Listing:

1. Little Jack
2. Crash
3. Caroline
4. Mean Old Man
5. Dopey Joe
6. Wordless
7. She'll Make You Cry
8. Friends
9. Send No Letter
10. Jack and Jane
11. Louise

That same year, Atlantic Records released a live recording of the Velvets playing at the New York club Max's Kansas City in the summer of 1970. The liner notes tout it as "the first legitimate bootleg album", because it was actually recorded for personal reasons by Brigid Polk, a Warhol girl and friend of the band. Considering that it was recorded with Polk's personal tape recorder, the sound is surprisingly good. (You can, however, hear people conversing between songs; that's poet/rock singer Jim Carroll asking for a Tylenol at the beginning of "New Age"). Some sources say that this gig was Reed's last one with the band; if that's not true, it's not far off the mark. The Velvets were in their unofficial death throes at this point, but you wouldn't know it from the enthusiastic performances contained here. The lineup for this recording consisted of Reed, Yule, Morrison, and Yule's brother Billy (sitting in for drummer Maureen Tucker, who was on maternity leave). Reed handles lead vocal duties on "After Hours" (originally sung by Tucker) and "Femme Fatale" (originally sung by Nico). The other Nico song, "I'll Be Your Mirror", is sung by Yule. Live At Max's Kansas City was reissued in August 2004 as a 2-CD set containing the entire concert in sequence, and it is worthwhile for avid VU devotees. But if you only intend to buy one live VU album, the 1969 album (aka Live With Lou Reed Vol. 1 and 2) and The Quine Tapes are both preferable.

Track Listing:

1. I'm Waiting For The Man
2. Sweet Jane
3. Lonesome Cowboy Bill
4. Beginning To See The Light
5. I'll Be Your Mirror
6. Pale Blue Eyes
7. Sunday Morning
8. New Age
9. Femme Fatale
10. After Hours

In 1974, Kevin Ayres (who had been an original member of the Soft Machine) wanted to invite some friends to join him onstage for a concert at London's Rainbow Theatre. One such friend was Nico, the late German-born chanteuse who was a vocalist for the Velvet Underground in their Andy Warhol days. One thing led to another: Nico invited her friend John Cale, another VU vet, to join the festivities; in turn, Cale asked his friend Brian Eno (who had just begun his post-Roxy Music solo career) to come aboard as well. This stellar foursome thus performed at the Rainbow on June 1, 1974, and the concert is documented on the album of the same name. It's a superb concert. Aided by Mike Oldfield, Robert Wyatt, and other Ayres cohorts, the ensemble performs music with a distinctly European ambience that is often mesmerizing. While the bulk of the material belongs to Ayres (including the excellent "May I?" and "Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes"), the other three billed stars get their moments in the spotlight.

The record opens with Eno's "Driving Me Backwards" and "Baby's On Fire", strong songs given added dimension by Cale's viola playing. Cale steps up to the mike for a rather spooky rendition of Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel". And Nico lends her chilly vocals to a reading of Jim Morrison's "The End" (Nico is said to have been one of Morrison's lovers). The baritone-voiced Ayres dominates Side Two with choice songs from his early '70's albums. June 1, 1974 is a great one-of-a-kind concert recording. The CD is available as an import.

Track Listing:

1. Driving Me Backwards
2. Baby's On Fire
3. Heartbreak Hotel
4. The End
5. May I?
6. Shouting In A Bucket Blues
7. Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes
8. Everybody's Sometime And Some People All The Time Blues
9. Two Goes Into Four

In 2001, an interesting 1000-copy limited edition box set was issued in Japan. Final V.U. 1971-1973 contains four bootleg-quality CDs documenting live performances by three different lineups of the post-Reed, Yule-led Velvet Underground. Interestingly, artist billing is not given to the Velvets, but is instead given to all nine musicians who participated in the four concerts! None of the performances found here are exactly essential, but they do shed light on a largely ignored chapter in the band's history, providing the final missing pieces of the VU puzzle for those who care about such things.

Those who argue that the Velvet Underground ended with Reed's departure could use Disc One to state their case. Recorded on November 5th, 1971 in London, most of this disc sounds awful. Yule and Tucker are accompanied by Willie Alexander and bassist Walter Powers. Yule seems to be aping Reed most of the time, but he comes across as being too lightweight to stand in Reed's shadow. Alexander contributes three obnoxious originals that score a few points for pre-punk audacity. Tucker's "After Hours" spotlight momentarily brings the crowd (and the disc) to life.

On the other hand, Yule's defenders could use Disc Two for their counter-argument. Recorded a whole two weeks later in a more spacious venue in Amsterdam, this disc finds the same quartet in much better form. Yule still sounds like he's imitating Reed, but he does so more convincingly this time around. The songs from Loaded come off particularly well. Maybe Yule wasn't so green after all.

Disc Three was recorded in December of 1972 by Yule and an entirely different trio of supporters. This show was part of a U.K. tour that took place under difficult circumstances after Sesnick left the group out in the cold. The hard touring conditions may have strengthened this harder-rocking lineup's resolve; the apparently Who-inspired musicians add lots of muscle to the songs. They especially give the four selections from Squeeze some much-needed energy.

Disc Four was recorded in Boston in May of 1973 with yet another lineup; this one featured Yule's brother Billy on drums. Yule says that this show was not meant to be billed as a Velvet Underground performance, but that he and his band were persuaded to use the name by an unscrupulous promoter. Yule describes this show as "a mistake" in the liner notes, but he sells it short. Yule sounds more confident than ever during this performance, and his supporting players complement him well. In fact, the first two-thirds of this disc are solid, suggesting that this lineup was in the same class as the 1969 lineup. The disc falters toward the end, but the Velvet Underground's very last gasp is proven to have been a dignified one.

The four bonus tracks at the end of Disc Four are more cleanly recorded takes from the second disc which were used for a Netherlands radio broadcast. It's nice to hear clearer sound on these, although the source tape seems to be warped in places.

Track Listings:

DISC ONE: November 5, 1971 -- School Of African And Oriental Studies, London
Personnel: Doug Yule, Walter Powers, Willie Alexander, Maureen Tucker

1. Chapel Of Love
2. I'm Waiting For The Man
3. Spare Change
4. Some Kinda Love/Turn On Your Love Light
5. White Light/White Heat
6. Pretty Tree Climber
7. Rock And Roll
8. Back On The Farm
9. Dopey Joe
10. Sister Ray/Never Going Back To Georgia
11. After Hours

DISC TWO: November 19, 1971 -- Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Personnel: Yule, Powers, Alexander, Tucker

1. I'm Waiting For The Man
2. Spare Change
3. Some Kinda Love
4. White Light/White Heat
5. Hold On
6. What Goes On
7. Cool It Down
8. Back On The Farm
9. Oh Sweet Nuthin'
10. Sister Ray
11. After Hours
12. Dopey Joe
13. Rock And Roll

DISC THREE: December 6, 1972 -- St. David's University, Lampeter, Wales
Personnel: Doug Yule, Rob Norris, George Kay, Mark Nauseef

1. I'm Waiting For The Man
2. White Light/White Heat
3. Some Kinda Love
4. Little Jack
5. Sweet Jane
6. Mean Old Man
7. Run Run Run
8. Caroline
9. Dopey Joe
10. What Goes On
11. Sister Ray/Train Round The Bend
12. Rock And Roll
13. I'm Waiting For The Man

DISC FOUR: May 27, 1973 -- Oliver's, Boston, Massachusetts
Personnel: Doug Yule, Billy Yule, George Kay, Don Silverman

1. I'm Waiting For The Man
2. Little Jack
3. White Light/White Heat
4. Caroline
5. Sweet Jane
6. Mean Old Man
7. Who's That Man
8. Let It Shine
9. Mama's Little Girl
10. Train Round The Bend

BONUS TRACKS: Radio broadcast version of DISC TWO

11. White Light/White Heat
12. What Goes On
13. Cool It Down
14. Oh Sweet Nuthin'

In January of 1972, the trio of Reed, Cale, and Nico reunited for a one-off performance in France. Le Bataclan '72 captures that concert at the titular Paris venue. The set list consisted of five songs from the first VU album and various songs from the solo albums that each of them had recorded up to that point. If you thought the VU live albums recorded during the post-Cale era were mellow, you may be surprised at how laid-back this whole set sounds. Much of the music is generated by acoustic guitar and piano; Cale's viola and Nico's harmonium are the only elements that give the sound any edge at all. Who would have thought that such avant-gardism could be retooled to match the musical trends of the early 1970's? It may take some time for the listener to get used to the low-key, deliberately paced arrangements. But Le Bataclan '72 documents a curiously little-known event in music history. And it's a fascinating listen. Out of the three performers, Nico gets the most lead vocal turns (tracks 9 through 14). Reed sings on the first five tracks, and Cale sings on tracks six through eight. Surprisingly enough, the usually morbid Cale provides the lightest moment on "The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group Of All".

Note: the first 10,000 copies were packaged in a numbered limited-edition digipak containing two bonus tracks. Both are rehearsal recordings of two songs from the third VU album that we normally wouldn't associate with Cale or Nico. Unfortunately, they sound like exactly what they are: rehearsal tapes, and nothing more. Only fanatics will want to search out this edition.

Track Listing:

1. Waiting For The Man
2. Berlin
3. Black Angel's Death Song
4. Wild Child
5. Heroin
6. Ghost Story
7. The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group Of All
8. Empty Bottles
9. Femme Fatale
10. No One Is There
11. Frozen Warnings
12. Janitor Of Lunacy
13. I'll Be Your Mirror
14. All Tomorrow's Parties (encore)

Bonus tracks: Rehearsals (included on numbered limited-edition digipak only)

15. Pale Blue Eyes
16. Candy Says

Read about the original Velvet Underground and Nico acetate from 1966

See also Lou Reed , Primitives

An interview with Doug Yule with his insights on the later VU years