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  • Sex & Drugs: The Velvet Underground: The VU & Nico (1967)

    Mar 4 2008, 1:11

    Remember the first time you heard Layla by Eric Clapton with Derek and the Dominos? After hearing just a few verses you immediately realize just how genuine it is. This man is in anguish, and that pain is being is unleashed for the whole world to hear. Once you start listening to The Velvet Underground the same detection of authenticity begins to develop. This music is real, and at some point you’ll begin to identify with it on that level. When Lou Reed formed The Velvet Underground in 1965 his goal was clear; he wanted to make ‘adult music for adults’. At a time when music was saturated with sugar-coated pop songs, their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico explores themes ranging from heroin use, sadomasochism and prostitution. Founding member John Cale explained: "All Bob Dylan was singing was questions -- how many miles? I didn't want to hear any more questions. Give me some tough social situations and show the answers possible. Heroin was one of them, it wasn't sorry for itself.” The song Heroin is a seven minute, richly-textured first-person commentary which vividly describes the needle as it pierces the skin and the euphoric rush experienced as the syringe is compressed. It’s not a song advocating heroin or disavowing heroin but simply a documentation of a specific experience. No preaching here. The album isn’t exclusively about sex and drugs. The opening track Sunday Morning is among the most beautiful opening tracks of any album pressed. Reed’s hushed vocals, Cale’s sensitive keys on the celesta and Tucker’s soft percussion gives Sunday Morning the tranquility of a children’s lullaby. The mellow serenity of Sunday Morning is jolted awake by the reckless enthusiasm of I’m Waiting for the Man, one of the Velvets more famous songs about scoring drugs, which has been covered by everyone from David Bowie to The Smashing Pumpkins. After Lou Reed walks us through a junkie’s quest for smack Reed again makes a turn to more sensitive themes. Femme Fatale is a song inspired by Warhol-factory socialite Edie Sedqwick whose flirtatious behaviour and aversion to commitment made her the ideal muse. The Velvet Underground & Nico draws its strength as a work of contrasts, exemplified by the fourth song on the record Venus in Furs. Based on the 19th century Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel of the same name, Reed paints a lyrical tapestry filled with leather, whips and sexual domination. Reed’s sadomasochistic lyrics coupled with Cale’s haunting viola gives the song a sinister and uneasy feel. The genius of The Velvet Underground lies in their ability to fuse the extremities of both light and dark, creating a hauntingly beautiful witness to the human experience. Their music sounds so natural and effortless; a feeling perpetrated by the cavalier manner in which they present their emotions. The Velvet Underground’s entire music catalogue has been absorbed into every facet of popular music since their creation, and will continue to be a band that never ages.

    -Leigh Harrison, Huron Grapevine Magazine, March 2008

    The Velvet UndergroundLou ReedJohn CaleThe Velvet Underground and Nico
  • The Stooges Funhouse: The Stooges let loose to create 37 minutes of pure anarchy

    Mar 4 2008, 1:05

    If pure, wild anarchic chaos was unleashed from the bowels of hell, this is what it would sound like. From the animalistic grunts on the opener Down on the Street to the wailing of TV Eye to swirling oblivion of LA Blues it’s obvious that all conventional sensitivities were thrown out the window when The Stooges recorded their 1970 release Funhouse. The Stooges were never ones to colour within the lines, and with Funhouse The Stooges decided to push it just a little bit further. Produced by Dan Gallucci of The Kingsmen (Gallucci played the organ riff on the radio hit ‘Louie Louie’) Gallucci wisely hung back and recorded the album live in the studio with few overdubs or fancy studio enhancements. As this minimalist creation comes at you through the speakers you realize just how raw the record sounds. Ron Asheton’s simple but reckless guitar playing, Scott Asheton’s relentless drumming and the steady playing of bassist Dave Alexander somehow transforms this traditional three-piece band into a bull in a china shop. And then there’s James Osterberg (aka Iggy Pop) who bolstered confidence and frenzied vocals marks a new level of mayhem. Their previous debut album, simply titled The Stooges, sold few copies, and after failing to achieve any notable success with their first album it appears the band played as though they had nothing to lose --and in reality they didn’t. That desperation can be heard throughout the album and in turn The Stooges began mapping uncharted waters in music. When released in 1970 their music stood out from anything offered by their contemporaries at the time. Many music historians now point to The Stooges’ career and this recording in particular as a sentimental development in what would later become punk music. Although praised and celebrated by critics and music fans today, Funhouse, like their previous album, sold very few copies when it was originally released. Seemingly unsure of how to respond to the band, crowd reaction to Stooges performances varied from indifferent to hostile. One only has to watch The Stooges’ 1970 live performance in Cincinnati and observe the audience’s bewildered reaction to Iggy Pop’s bizarre and violent stage antics. Someone who took a serious interest in The Stooges during this time was David Bowie, who was then coming off the success of his Ziggy Stardust personna. Bowie brought the band to London and produced their now iconic follow-up album Raw Power, which saw the band lean towards a more mainstream sound. After its release Raw Power was largely ignored by the public and The Stooges broke up shortly thereafter. While Raw Power in some ways may be more accessible, Funhouse will always be The Stooges crowning achievement. Nothing can touch its reckless abandon of convention and its orchestrated havoc. -Leigh Harrison, Huron Grapvine Magazine, February 2008
    Iggy PopThe StoogesDavid BowieFunhouse