Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Velvet Underground

Released 1970 on Atlantic
Reviewed by Eddy Bamyasi, 24/02/2018ce


Much less celebrated than their famous banana covered debut, 'Loaded' is often dismissed by diehard Velvet fans as not sounding like The Velvet Underground, which ironically is not necessarily a bad thing for many listeners! Indeed by the release of this, their fourth album in late 1970, mentor Andy Warhol and his out of tune chanteuse Nico had both moved on, and drummer Moe Tucker was on maternity leave. John Cale, responsible for much of the band’s avant-garde edge with his electric viola thrashings, had also left following musical differences with Lou Reed who was now ready to write pop songs in response to the new record company’s request for an album “loaded” with hits.

The change in style is evident immediately on 'Who Loves the Sun' which is so reminiscent of the hippie pop coming out of California in the late 60s (and ironically the complete antithesis of early Velvet Underground) that somewhere there must be undiscovered kaleidoscope video footage of the band performing this single in flower shirts standing on round podiums. The next three songs roll into each other almost indistinguishably; each a classic of efficient straight forward rock with infectious hooks and great lyrics: 'Sweet Jane' (arguably Reed’s greatest ever song); 'Rock and Roll' (“her life was saved by Rock and Roll!”); and 'Cool it Down' (“she’s got the power, to love me by the hour!”). The first half ends with the anthemic 'New Age' that builds gradually to a thrilling singalong climax: "Something’s got a hold of me, but I don’t know what."

The power subsides slightly on “side two” with the country rocker 'Lonesome Cowboy Bill', a pretty ballad 'I Found a Reason', and 'Train Round the Bend' which is more characteristic of the Velvets’ earlier sound with Reed yearning for a return to the neon lights of the city. Again the half ends with a stadium-like anthem, the beautiful epic 'Oh! Sweet Nuthin’' with multi-instrumentalist Doug Yule’s lovely bass lines, and his brother Billy’s scatter gun drumming.

What is most evident throughout 'Loaded', and in contrast with the more primitive quality of their earlier (albeit more influential) recordings, is this band can really play. But despite containing some of Reed’s greatest compositions the hits did not materialise. Frustrated by elusive commercial success the leader of one of the most decadent bands in history bailed out and went home to live with his parents, before re-emerging a couple of years later to solo superstardom.

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