Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Velvet Underground
The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes


Released 1968-1969 on Bootleg
Reviewed by U Are A Ghost, 16/04/2010ce


I don’t consider myself a guitarist, but since I really like to play guitar, I can consider myself a guitar player, someone who plays with the guitar, I like its sound, I like it to sound awkward, not like your typical guitar sounds, that’s why people like Keith Rowe, Sonny Sharrock, Keiji Haino and Derek Bailey are so important to me, because they saw guitar technique as just the beginning of how far the guitar sound could be taken.

Let me add one more name, Lou Reed, Lou in his time with the legendary Velvet Underground did more for changing the face of rock guitar than many others, Lou´s sound was so revolutionary, I read in an interview that Lou wanted to sound like Ornette Coleman, he wanted his guitar to sound like a free jazz sax, he overloaded the sound with volume and effects in order to make it sound like a sax, I Heard Her Call My Name is an instant classic of guitar fire, few rock n roll moments have that intensity on guitar, Lou was nearly reaching free jazz heaven from a rock n roll base.

But the Velvet underground, was more than Lou´s guitar, there was Sterling Morrison’s distinctive guitar playing, a righteous cross between jangle guitar and krautish monotony, Sterling guitar playing was nearly metronomic in the Velvets dynamics, minimal in its pyrotechnics, but vital in its propulsive rhythms, and talking about rhythms you had Maureen Tucker, known for her minimal kick-snare beats, so influential to future garage rockers, punks and hardcore crowds.
On top of that you had Lou and John Cale´s fiery duos, or duels, either way they set any place on fire, or emptied the rooms, Cale was a sound terrorist either on bass, keyboards or his insanely played viola, Cale knew exactly what he was doing, setting noise on a pop context, giving his raspy viola sound to the VU´s tender ballads or their galloping rockers.

But The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes makes little justice to the Velvet as a group, it was made by putting a recording device inside Lou´s amp, so what we got basically here is the sound of Lou´s incendiary leads, accompanied backed very far by the rest of the group, don´t dismay, as the songs sound just as you know them, except vocals and certain details are left behind (you can use it as the VU´s karaoke-tape), here you have the unique chance to listen to a guitar player who stood ahead of its time, who applied free jazz improvisational techniques on a rock format, a player who wasn’t afraid of going all the way and applied Ornette Coleman harmolodics to his guitar technique.

Lou´s guitar style was so unique, with the rock n roll fire of Chuck Berry, the perception of the guitar as a universal sound tool of Roger McGuinn and the eternal influence of the aforementioned Coleman, little understood in his own time, “noise” and “incompetent” tags added by contemporaries were simply crushed when Lou´s influence grew enormous with the passing of time, as the punks adopted the VU´s as sonic fathers in the 70s, the new wavers even adopted the Velvets as ideology source (and even The Cars´ Rick Ocasek stole Lou´s image), and the “alternative” rockers of the 90s and 00´s adopted the band as icons (just ask the Strokes or The Killers, who simply are redoing the VU´s old tight avant pop)

In case you still think Lou is and old guy irrelevant to rock today, this is the place for you to start, but if you think Lou is irrelevant, you shouldn´t be here in the first place.


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