THE VELVET UNDERGROUND – LOADED
Released: November 1970 – 45 years ago
The Velvet Underground’s 4th studio release, major label debut, and first commercially successful album features more polished production than previous releases in order to appeal to a larger market. Despite the polish it’s every bit as brilliant as the band’s earlier work, featuring catchy hooks and the incredible songwriting finesse for which Lou Reed is known.
The Classic Pick is a weekly feature at 4pm M-F on The Home Stretch, sponsored by the Good Oak Bar and curated by Kris Kerry. Each Monday at 4pm Kris stops by KXCI’s studio to give us insight on this classic album at 91.3FM and kxci.org.
Few rock bands can claim to have broken so much new territory during such a brief lifespan as The Velvet Underground. They were both ahead of and out of step with other bands of the day, blending rock with avant-garde art and sonic experimentalism that was often too abrasive for the mainstream. They enjoyed little commercial success initially, but were hugely appreciated by the NY art and music scene and gradually grew to cult-band status. By the 1980s, most considered The Velvet Underground one of the most important bands of all time, influencing countless bands and many different genera.
Loaded was an effort aimed at radio play, and a step away from Andy Warhol-influenced earlier work. The Velvet Underground’s previous three albums were released on the jazz-focused Verve label. These releases earned them lots of critical notoriety, but relatively few record sales. In 1970 the band signed with industry powerhouse Atlantic Records. Label head, Ahmet Ertegun supposedly asked Lou Reed to avoid sex and drug references in his songs, focusing instead on an album “loaded with hits.” Loaded was the end result. Ironically it turned out to be the first VU album that made noticeable impact on commercial radio (with “Sweet Jane” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll”) and record sales.
Recorded at Atlantic Recording Studios in NYC, where a number of influential acts recorded (including: Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Cream, Bee Gees, and Talking Heads), Loaded lists Geoff Haslam, Shel Kagan and The Velvet Underground as co-producers. Both Haslam and Shel Kagan have worked on dozens and dozens of influential albums.
John Cale, the co-founding member of the band, does not appear on Loaded. He left after the release of the bands sophomore release, White Light/White Heat, citing creative differences. Cale typically is considered by many critics to be more “out there” artistically/stylistically than the rest of the band.
Loaded personnel: Doug Yule replaced Cale on bass and also played keyboards. Sterling Morrison played lead guitar. Maureen Tucker gets drum credits, but did not actually play on the album. She was 8-9 months into her pregnancy and could not play. Doug Yule, recording engineer, Adrian Barber, and several session drummers actually drummed on the album. Lou Reed, of course, performed lead vocals and played guitar.
Loaded was the last Velvet Underground release with Lou Reed. He left the Velvet Underground a little over two months prior to its release, and was critical of the album’s final mix. He maintained in various interviews that it had been re-edited and re-sequenced without his consent. Reed also felt snubbed by being listed third in the album credits, and by songwriting credits going to the whole band rather than Reed himself.
In 2003, Loaded was ranked 109 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Lou Reed died in 2013 from liver disease at the age of 71. Sterling Morrison died in 1995. John Cale, his replacement Doug Yule, and Maureen Tucker are still alive.
The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Patti Smith presented their induction.