Saturday, January 23, 2016
The Velvet Underground - Squeeze (1973)
This is not as much of an obscurity as most of the stuff I dig up. But I'm posting it anyway it for a couple of reasons.
1). You're not going to find a more sparkling, pristine rip than this one. I made this from a mint LP. I circulated it on other blogs, but felt like I should claim it here. Even if a CD comes out (which it won't), the sound won't be this precise.*
2). I like the idea of trying to justify this as a forgotten piece of High Art in order to annoy snotty rock critics and their equally annoying fanboy followers. I'm talking about the critics who purposely kept Doug Yule -- the man behind this LP -- out of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, even though he sang lead on some of the Velvet Underground's most important songs, like "New Age." And then there's the critic who wrote liner notes for the so-called "complete" Velvets box set that didn't include this LP.
OK, granted, this isn't High Art or even high art without the pretentious capital letters. But it is a semi-decent rock album and not the atrocity people make it out to be.
For those who are new to all this: Squeeze is the final album by the Velvet Underground. Unfortunately, no original members played on it. It's an album recorded by Doug Yule, who was the replacement for founding member John Cale. Yule recorded it after the Velvets' lead singer and songwriter, Lou Reed, quit in 1970. At this point Yule was still touring with a version of the Velvets that included drummer Maureen Tucker, but she's not on here.
While it's not an innovative work of genius, it does have some good songs. And neither the LP or the artist behind it should have been written out of history, even if Yule's use of the name "Velvet Underground" was questionable.
As for the tunes: "Friends" is an excellent ballad that employs part of the chord progression of "Who Loves the Sun" (from Loaded) as a jumping off point. "Caroline" is a fine mid-tempo rocker rumored to be about the late rock groupie/singer Miss Christine of the GTOs.
Both "She'll Make You Cry" and "Crash" show a Beatles influence -- something not usually associated with the Velvets. The novelty elements of "Crash" (and its similarities to the Fabs' "Martha My Dear") make it the most idiosyncratic track here.
"Wordless," which closed the album's first side, is a country-influenced ballad with some real musical depth and lyrical hooks ("Did I make you happy?") and makes you wonder how Yule's writing would have evolved if he stayed in music (he retired by the end of the '70s).
"Louise," which ends the album, is a countryish story song that's catchy as hell. Granted, it has nothing to do with the Velvet Underground as people knew them, but still it's pretty good. Along with "Crash" and "Caroline," this song showed Yule had a definite style when it came to "character" songs.
I bought this LP in high school and found myself liking it even though Lou Reed wasn't on it. After all, I did have other artists in my collection who made albums without Reed on them. As the decades passed, I found I definitely remembered all the songs, which says something.
As I've grown older, I've begun to realize that a lot of how we assess music has a lot to do with our impressions of the artists who create it. I learned this when the New Kids on the Block came out with a terrific mock-reggae song on their Step By Step album. I found that if you played people the song and told them it was by a reggae artist, they loved it. But if you told 'em it was New Kids, they started sputtering about how they despised it. I could handle the sputtering. That's generally the way the geek-rock crowd communicates anyway. It's the hypocrisy that bothers me.
So it is with Squeeze. Doug Yule is viewed as a lightweight -- a young nobody who Reed plucked from obscurity to replace the musical mastermind John Cale. Yes, there's truth in that. But it's also true that Yule had enough talent for Reed to want to play with him in the first place and to let him sing lead on several songs. If someone had said the songs on Squeeze really were Loaded outtakes, odds are you'd have trendy critics (but I repeat myself) salivating over the LP's "subtleties" or Reed's "clever, deliberate use of bubblegum elements" or the "back-to-basics" flavor of this album.
But since it's Yule, the perception is that it's vapid tripe, which is not true. And, finally, if you don't agree with all that, well, hey, how about that sound quality?
* Yeah, I know a CD of this LP was once released. But it ain't legit and from what I've read, it was recorded from vinyl and has surface noise. Surface noise!!! Ew.
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground - Etc. (1979)
Nico - The Peel Sessions (1988; Recorded 1971)
1. Little Jack
4. Mean Old Man
5. Dopey Joe
7. She'll Make You Cry
9. Send No Letter
10. Jack & Jane