The Velvet Underground’s Self-Titled at 50: Ranking the Songs From Least to Greatest


If the Velvet Underground's first two LPs aimed to jolt you out of your doldrums, on their self-titled third album, Lou Reed was out to hang-out you. Arriving greater than a yr after the abrasive White Light/White Heat positioned them on the forefront of the experimental rock motion, The Velvet Underground (launched 50 years in the past this month) noticed the band tone down the screeching guitars and pivot ever-so-slightly towards the mainstream. Like its predecessors, the industrial affect was negligible; like its predecessors, its artistic affect continues to resonate.

The stylistic shift was in no small half resulting from Reed commandeering the group, forcing bandmates Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker to hitch him in ousting classically skilled avant-gardist John Cale lest he dissolve the band. With Cale gone, the band explored the much less sinister aspect of the Velvets; if suggestions was the omnipresent sound on WL/WH, empty house is the sonic fixed on the self-titled. Lou Reed dips into fragile singer-songwriter territory on hushed ballads, Tucker prefigures Linda McCartney by lending her modest pipes to a Macca-esque ditty, and Morrison stretches into nation guitar tone on the album's two rockers. Hell, there's even shades of spirituality, with Reed singing about craving for salvation and a transcendent church organ popping up for a spell.

Regardless of the place you fall within the fandom (are you a Cale Smoothie or a Reeding Heart?), the result's a clear-cut masterpiece, one of many best albums of all time. In honor of its anniversary, listed here are the songs of The Velvet Underground ranked least to best.

10. "That's the Story of My Life"

A genial tune with cowpoke-on-a-horse percussion and a gently rollicking guitar tone, "That's the Story of My Life" isn't going to alter anybody's life. But like related sketches from Paul McCartney, this simplistic ditty is nice album filler.

9. "I'm Set Free"

The Velvets have been so peerless that even the lesser songs on their self-titled album make '60s rock canon. "I'm Set Free" is a restrained meditation on private freedom that slowly builds to a quiet non secular ecstasy, with Reed sounding surprisingly at peace. But ever the cynic, he has to toss one darkish cloud into his sunny horizon: "I'm let out / I'm let out to discover a new phantasm." They'd discover related territory to better outcomes on "Ocean" within the close to future.

eight. "Some Kinda Love"

With clip-clop percussion from Tucker and a definite Nashville taste to Morrison's guitar, "Some Kinda Love" is the laid-back nation composition you wouldn't have seen coming from Reed again in '69. Even so, the lyrics – which replicate on the chasm between thought and erotic motion – are pure VU, and Reed's bored sneer is in effective type.

7. "Jesus"

Born Jewish and decidedly non-religious, it's anybody's guess why the famously secular Reed would pen a plea to Jesus for salvation after which sing it with such harrowing earnestness. But in contrast to Dylan's real born-again second a decade later, that is pure position play for Reed, probably in homage to the deeply felt Christianity of the soul and nation singers who impressed him.

6. "The Murder Mystery"

For a sign of how totally different TVU was from its predecessor, simply evaluate every album's experimental detour. White Light/White Heat wrapped with a punishing, near-atonal 17-minute ear-lashing that was in contrast to something in rock, however TVU's avant second is a cheeky exploration of counter melodies set to a meandering organ straight out of an previous radio drama. While Reed and Morrison spit separate poems in the precise and left channels, respectively, on the verses, Tucker and Doug Yule deal with the refrain – that's, they concurrently sing two solely separate choruses within the left and proper channels, respectively. On earlier Velvet LPs, their excursions climaxed in glass-, taboo- and ear-shattering apocalyptic noise; with TVU, "Murder Mystery" wraps with a quaint, easy piano riff and a few mild tape loops.

5. "After Hours"

It's a testomony to Reed's genius inside the Velvet Underground framework that he knew when to step away from the mic on his personal tune. Sure, he can out-sing drummer Tucker (and he's not even a vocal dynamo), however Reed understood the cynicism vibrating all through his supply would flip the sweetly nostalgic "After Hours" into post-modern parody. Buoyed by some wistful Django Reinhardt-esque guitar strumming, Tucker reaches a genuinely affecting stage of sincerity out of Reed's attain. When her voice cracks whereas wanting ahead to the day somebody tells her, "Hello, you're my very particular one," it's one of the crucial quietly devastating moments of their discography.

four. "What Goes On"

When Lou Reed got here out with a frenetic, brittle guitar burst on The Velvet Underground & Nico, Sunday mass was the furthest factor from any listener's thoughts, however for the band's second chapter, he grounds the obtuse lyrics and feverish riffing of "What Goes On" with a church-y organ that slowly builds as much as an Elysian pleasure. With a galloping rhythm guitar serving because the halfway level between the 2 extremes, "What Goes On" is a sonic encapsulation of Reed negotiating the disquieting sounds of VU Pt. 1 with the comparatively comforting sonics of VU Pt. 2.

three. "I'm Beginning to See the Light"

He may've been telling us he was emancipated on the bluntly-titled "I'm Set Free," however rattling, "I'm Beginning to See the Light" is the tune on this album the place he actually sounds utterly unfettered. The guitar is downright jaunty, the drumming mild as air and Reed's adlibbed yelps and woos current a Lou that's extra joyful than ever earlier than. Any why, you ask? Well, true to Reed's prickly public picture, he's comfortable as a result of he's stopped giving a shit about you or something: "There are issues in these occasions, however hoooo, none of them are mine," he wails with gleeful abandon on the finish. Those aren't phrases to reside by (and realistically, Reed himself didn't), however if you take it as a mirthful, trolling response to then-contemporary rock stars who actually believed they might save the world, the sentiment falls into context. And smirking or not, the euphoric launch of "Light" is irresistible.

2. "Candy Says"

Much like "Sunday Morning" on the prime of their 1967 debut, "Candy Says" opens The Velvet Underground with a mild murmur; however whereas that tune was heat and alluring, "Candy Says" is harrowing and unflinching in its portrayal of Warhol Superstar and trans icon Candy Darling. Decades earlier than gender dysphoria was mentioned in mainstream tradition with any diploma of sensitivity, Reed penned this whisper of an acoustic lament about hating one's physique and what the world expects of you due to the gender you have been assigned at delivery. The bleak resignation within the lyrics is echoed by the barely-there guitar strumming, which perpetually sounds prefer it's struggling to make it to the following verse. Reed insisted Doug Yule take lead vocal on this one, and the candy naivete in his tone makes "Candy Says" one of the crucial heartbreaking moments of their catalog.

1. "Pale Blue Eyes"

Considering "Candy Says" is among the best achievements in rock historical past, a tune must be nothing in need of soul-shaking to finest it. Well, flip thine ears to "Pale Blues Eyes." Backed by a depressive tambourine (how is that even doable?), muffled guitar and mild Hammond organ drone, Reed sings about his boundless, and finally rebuffed, love for a married lady (which in actual life was his first severe love, Shelley Albin, whose hazel eyes he took some poetic liberties with). Nearly each line is emotionally devastating, nevertheless it's onerous to prime the unhappy, secular fantastic thing about, "It was good what we did yesterday / And I'd do it as soon as once more / The truth that you're married / Only proves you're my finest good friend / But it's actually, actually a sin." This isn't romance; it's melancholic acquiescence to letting your coronary heart override your mind as you pledge fealty to a lover who, regardless of your personal misgivings and the stringent judgment of the world, has full energy over you. As with a lot of The Velvet Underground, a gospel undercurrent runs beneath the temporal issues, and one way or the other Reed makes an adulterous liaison seem to be the holiest treasure of all.