Those four studio albums by The Velvet Underground all made a huge impact on me. But the sentimental favourite is Loaded – it was the very first CD I purchased. I was a tape buyer, right through until the early-1990s, I wasn’t going to give up that tape collection…I had a tape-deck in my car and a tape-player in my bedroom, there was one as part of the family stereo in the lounge too. I was happy. My father had to convince me that I needed to move to the new medium. So sometime around 1992/3 I bought my very first CD. And I chose Loaded.
At that stage I really only knew The Velvet Underground via compilations and I was starting to hear covers. I was a Lou Reed fan, had plenty of his albums, but this was back when I lived in the wee country town, back when a weekly – or monthly – trip to the music store mean taking in all that they had in the racks and sometimes (nervously) asking if it was possible to “order” something. A special order could take months.
I bought Loaded – the first Velvet Underground album I ever saw on a rack in a shop when I was on holiday in Mt Maunganui. Cue the cliché of hearing a life-changing/monumental album. Until I first sat down with Loaded all I knew was Sweet Jane and Rock’n’Roll and I knew them primarily via Lou Reed live-concert versions. I had heard the VU versions, but they seemed like afterthoughts at that point.
As soon as I heard the album every song was a new favourite – that clean Beatles/Byrds/Beach Boys-like charm to the opener, Who Loves The Sun, the unplanned, unknowing antecedents for alt-country such as New Age and Train Round The Bend and the majestic closer, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ – even the doo-wop influenced I Found A Reason would seem, now, like alt-country was always something that was waiting to happen rather than simply something dreamed up in marketing as a way to get people buying country/fringe-indie…
I love those first three Velvet Underground albums – and most days I figure it’s (nearly) equal but Loaded is always the one I feel like listening to above the other VU albums (the next best is the collection of off-cuts and leftovers, VU). Loaded is always the one with the (very) special connection; I’m transported back to that time, that summer of discovering CDs, of taking the plunge, of starting a collection, which started me wanting to write about music, and document my collection, which started me working in music stores, which started me obsessing over the physical product, of studying collections in anyone else’s house – I’d visit and spend the first 15 minutes staring at any CD-racks or piles of LPs. (I still do this if there are still albums in a person’s house; I’d never ask to scan their hard-drive…does anyone do that?)
But more than that I’m lost in the music of Loaded too. It isn’t just the nostalgia around discovery. In Loaded I hear the very important – underrated/written-off role of Doug Yule. I hear some of Lou Reed’s best, most consistent (across a single album) songwriting. And I hear the first traces of sounds I would find in the coming years, when discovering bands like Luna and Galaxie 500 (in fact a few years ago I talked, at length, with Dean Wareham about this album and the first four VU albums, he said something along the lines of those records being “an invaluable education”, how that music was “all there for anyone who wanted to hear it, and all worth hearing, so many ideas across just four albums and all of it still fresh and vital”).
Click that link for the full details, there’s a lost 1970 concert that features a trio-version of the band (Mo Tucker was pregnant around the time of this album and Doug Yule subs for her on the live date, moving between bass and drums), the usual overkill of different mixes and a few other rarities.
I had to have that new version. The rarities and add-ons a delight of course. But then I went right back to the original album. My vinyl copy. My CD. The Mp3s. The version of Spotify. It’s one of my all-time favourite albums by anyone ever.