The Velvet Underground

This article is about the band. For its self-titled album, see The Velvet Underground (album). For the book, see The Velvet Underground (book).
The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground in 1968; from left to right: Reed, Tucker, Yule, and Morrison
Background information
Also known as
  • The Warlocks
  • The Falling Spikes
Origin New York City, New York, U.S.
Years active 1964–73, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1996
Associated acts
Past members

The Velvet Underground was an American rock band from New York City, active between 1964 and 1973. Formed by singer/guitarist Lou Reed, multi-instrumentalist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Angus Maclise (who was replaced by Maureen Tucker in 1965), the group was briefly managed by the pop artist Andy Warhol, and served as the house band at the Factory and Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable events from 1966 to 1967. The provocative subject matter, musical experimentation, and often nihilistic attitudes explored in their music would prove influential in the development of punk rock and alternative music.[1][2]

Despite achieving little commercial success during its existence, the Velvet Underground is now recognized as among the most influential bands of all time for its integration of rock music with the avant-garde.[3][4] Their 1967 debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico (featuring German singer and collaborator Nico) was called the "most prophetic rock album ever made" by Rolling Stone in 2003.[5][6] In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the band No. 19 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".[7] The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 by Patti Smith.


Pre-career and early stages (1964–66)

The foundations for what would become the Velvet Underground were laid in late 1964. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Lou Reed had performed with a few short-lived garage bands and had worked as a songwriter for Pickwick Records (Reed described his tenure there as being "a poor man's Carole King").[8] Reed met John Cale, a Welshman who had moved to the United States to study classical music upon securing a scholarship. Cale had worked with experimental composers Cornelius Cardew and La Monte Young, and had performed with Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, but was also interested in rock music.[9] Young's use of extended drones would be a profound influence on the band's early sound. Cale was pleasantly surprised to discover that Reed's experimentalist tendencies were similar to his own: Reed sometimes used alternative guitar tunings to create a droning sound. The pair rehearsed and performed together; their partnership and shared interests built the path towards what would later become the Velvet Underground.

Reed's first group with Cale was the Primitives, a short-lived group assembled to issue budget-priced recordings and support an anti-dance single penned by Reed, "The Ostrich", to which Cale added a viola passage. Reed and Cale recruited Sterling Morrison—a college classmate of Reed's at Syracuse University—as a replacement for Walter De Maria, who had been a third member of the Primitives.[10] Reed and Morrison both played guitars, Cale played viola, keyboards and bass and Angus MacLise joined on percussion to complete the initial four-member unit. This quartet was first called the Warlocks, then the Falling Spikes.

The Velvet Underground by Michael Leigh was a contemporary mass market paperback about the secret sexual subculture of the early 1960s that Cale's friend and Dream Syndicate associate Tony Conrad showed the group. MacLise made a suggestion to adopt the title as the band's name.[11] According to Reed and Morrison, the group liked the name, considering it evocative of "underground cinema", and fitting, as Reed had already written "Venus in Furs", a song inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book of the same name, which dealt with masochism. The band immediately and unanimously adopted the Velvet Underground as its new name in November 1965.

The newly named Velvet Underground rehearsed and performed in New York City. Their music was generally much more relaxed than it would later become: Cale described this era as reminiscent of beat poetry, with MacLise playing gentle "pitter and patter rhythms behind the drone".[12]

In July 1965, Reed, Cale and Morrison recorded a demo tape at their Ludlow Street loft, but without MacLise because he wasn't reliable enough to be tied down to a schedule and sometimes would only turn up to band practice sessions when he wanted to.[3][13] When he briefly returned to Britain, Cale attempted to give a copy of the tape to Marianne Faithfull,[14] hoping she'd pass it on to Mick Jagger, lead singer of The Rolling Stones. Nothing ever came of this, but the demo was eventually released on the 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See.

Manager and music journalist Al Aronowitz arranged for the group's first paying gig—$75 (US$564 in 2016 dollars[15]) to play at Summit High School, in Summit, New Jersey, opening for the Myddle Class. When they decided to take the gig, MacLise abruptly left the group, protesting what he considered a sellout; he was also unwilling to be told when to start and stop playing. "Angus was in it for art", Morrison reported.[8]

MacLise was replaced by Maureen "Moe" Tucker, the younger sister of Morrison's friend Jim Tucker. Tucker's playing style was rather unusual: she generally played standing up rather than seated and had an abbreviated drum setup of tom-toms, snare and an upturned bass drum, using mallets as often as drumsticks, and rarely using cymbals (she admits that she always hated cymbals).[16] (The band having asked her to do something unusual, she turned her bass drum on its side and played standing up. When her drums were stolen from one club, she replaced them with garbage cans, brought in from outside.) Her rhythms, at once simple and exotic (influenced by the likes of Babatunde Olatunji and Bo Diddley records), became a vital part of the group's music, despite Cale's initial objections to the presence of a female drummer.[17] The group earned a regular paying gig at the Café Bizarre and gained an early reputation as a promising ensemble.

Andy Warhol and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966–67)

In 1965, after being introduced to the Velvet Underground by filmmaker Barbara Rubin,[18] Andy Warhol became the band's manager and suggested they feature the German-born singer Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on several songs. Warhol's reputation helped the band gain a higher profile. He helped the band secure a coveted recording contract with MGM's Verve Records, with himself as nominal "producer", and gave the Velvets free rein over the sound they created.

During their stay with Andy Warhol, the band became part of his multimedia roadshow, Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which combined Warhol's films with the band's music, which made use of minimalist features, such as drones. Warhol included the band with his show in an effort to "use rock as a part of a larger, interdisciplinary-art work based around performance" (McDonald). This movement greatly influenced later personifications of rock. They played shows for several months in New York City, then traveled throughout the United States and Canada until its last installment in May 1967.[19] The show included 16 mm film projections by Warhol, combined with a stroboscopic-light show designed by Danny Williams. Because of the punishing lights, the band took to wearing sunglasses onstage.[20] Early promo posters referred to the group as the "erupting plastic inevitable". This soon changed to "the exploding plastic inevitable".

In 1966, MacLise temporarily rejoined the Velvet Underground for a few EPI shows when Reed was suffering from hepatitis and unable to perform. For these appearances, Cale sang and played organ, Tucker switched to bass guitar and MacLise was on drums. Also at these appearances, the band often played an extended jam they had dubbed "Booker T", after musician Booker T. Jones. Some of these performances have been released as a bootleg; they remain the only record of MacLise with the Velvet Underground.

According to Morrison, MacLise is said to have regretted leaving the Velvet Underground and wanted to rejoin, but Reed specifically prohibited this and made it clear that this stint was only temporary. It should be noted, however, that MacLise still behaved eccentrically with time and commerce and went by his own clock: for instance, he showed up half an hour late to one show and carried on with a half-hour of drumming to compensate for his late arrival, long after the set had finished.[3]

In December 1966, Warhol and David Dalton designed Issue 3 of the multimedia Aspen.[21] Included in this issue of the "magazine", which retailed at $4 (US$29 in 2016 dollars[15]) per copy and was packaged in a hinged box designed to look like Fab laundry detergent, were various leaflets and booklets, one of which was a commentary on rock and roll by Lou Reed, another an EPI promotional newspaper. Also enclosed was a 2-sided flexi disk, side one produced by Peter Walker, a musical associate of Timothy Leary, and side two titled "Loop", credited to the Velvet Underground but actually recorded by Cale alone. "Loop", a recording solely of pulsating audio feedback culminating in a locked groove, was "a precursor to [Reed's] Metal Machine Music", say Velvets archivists M.C. Kostek and Phil Milstein in the book The Velvet Underground Companion.[22] "Loop" also predates much industrial music.

The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Nico onstage
Nico at Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, where she performed with the Velvet Underground, circa 1967.

At Warhol's insistence, Nico sang with the band on three songs of their debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. The album was recorded primarily in Scepter Studios in New York City during April 1966, but for reasons unclear, some songs were rerecorded at TTG Studios in Los Angeles, along with the new song "Sunday Morning", later in the year with Tom Wilson producing. The album was released by Verve Records the following year in March 1967.

The album cover is famous for its Warhol design: a yellow banana sticker with "Peel slowly and see" printed near the tip. Those who did remove the banana skin found a pink, peeled banana beneath.

Eleven songs showcased the Velvets' dynamic range, veering from the pounding attacks of "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Run Run Run", the droning "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin", the chiming and celestial "Sunday Morning", to the quiet "Femme Fatale" and the tender "I'll Be Your Mirror", as well as Warhol's own favorite song of the group, "All Tomorrow's Parties".[23] Kurt Loder would later describe "All Tomorrow's Parties" as a "mesmerizing gothic-rock masterpiece".[23] Closing out the album was the avant-garde "The Black Angel's Death Song", followed by the lengthy, feedback-laden "European Son", which Reed dedicated to his Syracuse professor Delmore Schwartz.

The overall sound was propelled by Reed and Nico's deadpan vocals, Cale's droning viola, bass and keyboards, Reed's experimental avant-garde guitar, Morrison's often R&B- or country-influenced guitar, and Tucker's simple but steady and tribal-sounding beat with sparse use of cymbals. Another distinct feature on many songs was the "drone strum", an eighth-note rhythm guitar style used by Reed. Although Cale was the band's usual bassist, if he switched to viola or keyboards, Morrison would normally play bass. Despite his proficiency on the instrument, Morrison hated playing bass.[24][25] Conversely, some songs had Reed and Morrison playing their usual guitars with Cale on viola or keyboards, but with nobody playing bass.

The album was released on March 12, 1967 (after a lengthy delay by Verve) and eventually reached No. 171 on Billboard magazine's Top 200 charts. The promising commercial growth of the album was soon dampened by legal complications: the album's back cover featured a photo of the group playing live with another image projected behind them; the projected image was a still of actor Eric Emerson from a Warhol motion picture, Chelsea Girls. Emerson had been arrested for drug possession and, desperate for money, claimed the still had been included on the album without his permission (in the image, his face appears quite big, but upside down). Instead of compensating Emerson for damages, MGM Records canceled all distribution of the album for nearly two months until the legal problems were settled (by which time the record had lost its modest commercial momentum), and the still was airbrushed out of the remaining copies of the album. By the time the record was re-distributed into stores, the album was re-distributed nearly at the same time as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967, by which time it faced stiff competition in the marketplace which further hindered the release.[26] Regarding MGM/Verve's delay in releasing the album, Warhol's business manager Paul Morrissey once offered the following: "Verve/MGM didn't know what to do with The Velvet Underground and Nico because it was so peculiar. They didn't release it for almost a year. Tom Wilson at Verve/MGM only bought the album from me because of Nico. He saw no talent in Lou [Reed]."[26]

In 1982, Brian Eno said that while the album sold only 30,000 copies in its early years, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."[27]

White Light/White Heat (1968)

Nico moved on after the Velvets severed their relationship with Andy Warhol. Reed once commented on their leaving Warhol: "[Warhol asked] do you want to just keep playing museums from now on and the art festivals? Or do you want to start moving into other areas?" I thought about it, and I fired him. […] I never saw Andy mad, but I did that day. He was really mad, called me a rat. It was the worst thing he could think of."[28] Steve Sesnick was soon brought in as a replacement manager, much to the chagrin of Cale, who believes that Sesnick tried to push Reed as band leader at the expense of band harmony. Both Cale and Reed called Sesnick a "snake" in different interviews after leaving the band.[29] In September 1967, the Velvet Underground began recording their second album, White Light/White Heat, with Tom Wilson as producer.

The band performed live often, and their performances became louder and harsher and often featured extended improvisations. Cale reports that at about this time the Velvet Underground was one of the first groups to receive an endorsement deal from Vox. The company pioneered special effects, which were utilized on the album to full effect.

Sterling Morrison offered the following input regarding the recording:

There was fantastic leakage 'cause everyone was playing so loud and we had so much electronic junk with us in the studio—all these fuzzers and compressors. Gary Kellgren, who is ultra-competent, told us repeatedly: "You can't do it—all the needles are on red." and we reacted as we always reacted: "Look, we don't know what goes on in there and we don't want to hear about it. Just do the best you can." And so the album is fuzzy, there's all that white noise...we wanted to do something electronic and energetic. We had the energy and the electronics, but we didn't know it couldn't be recorded...what we were trying to do was really fry the tracks.[30]

The recording was raw and oversaturated. Cale has stated that while the debut had some moments of fragility and beauty, White Light/White Heat was "consciously anti-beauty." The title track sets a harsh opening, featuring bassist Cale pounding on the piano in a style akin to Jerry Lee Lewis. It was later included in the repertoire of David Bowie. Despite the dominance of noisefests like "Sister Ray" and "I Heard Her Call My Name", there was room for the darkly comic "The Gift", a short story written by Reed and narrated by Cale in his deadpan Welsh accent. The meditative "Here She Comes Now" was later covered by Galaxie 500, Cabaret Voltaire, and Nirvana, among others.

The album was released on January 30, 1968, entering the Billboard Top 200 chart for two weeks, at a dismal number 199.

Cale departs

Tensions were growing: the group was tired of receiving little recognition for its work, and Reed and Cale were pulling the Velvet Underground in different directions. The differences showed in the last recording sessions the band had with John Cale in 1968: three pop-like songs in Reed's direction ("Temptation Inside Your Heart", "Stephanie Says" and "Beginning to See the Light") and a viola-driven drone in Cale's direction ("Hey Mr. Rain"). Further, some songs the band had performed with Cale in concert, or that he had co-written, were not recorded until after he had left the group (such as "Walk It and Talk It", "Ride into the Sun", and "Countess from Hong Kong").

Reed called Morrison and Tucker to a band meeting at the Riviera Cafe on Sheridan Square in the West Village without Cale's knowledge, and delivered an ultimatum by declaring that either Cale was sacked or the Velvets were dissolved. Neither Morrison nor Tucker were happy with the idea, but faced with a choice of either no Cale or no band at all, the pair reluctantly sided with Reed.[31][32]

It has often been reported that before Cale's departure (following White Light/White Heat) there was a struggle between his creative impulses and Reed's: Cale's experimentalist tendencies had contrasted with Reed's more conventional approach. According to Tim Mitchell, however, Morrison reported that while there was creative tension between Reed and Cale, its impact has been exaggerated over the years.[33] Cale played his last show with the band at the Boston Tea Party in September 1968 and was fired shortly afterwards.

According to Michael Carlucci, a friend of Robert Quine, "Lou told Quine that the reason why he had to get rid of Cale in the band was Cale's ideas were just too out there. Cale had some wacky ideas. He wanted to record the next album with the amplifiers underwater, and [Lou] just couldn't have it. He was trying to make the band more accessible." Ultimately, Morrison was dispatched by Reed to tell Cale that he was out of the band.[34]

Doug Yule joins and The Velvet Underground (1969)

Before work on their third album started, Cale was replaced by Doug Yule of the Boston group the Grass Menagerie, who had been a close associate of the band. Yule, a native New Yorker, had moved to Boston to attend Boston University as a theater major, but left the program after one year to play music.[35] Yule had first seen the Velvets perform at a student event at Harvard University in Cambridge in early 1968,[36] and when the band played at the Boston Tea Party later that year, the band stayed at Yule's apartment on River Street, which he happened to be renting from their road manager, Hans Onsager (who worked closely with their manager Steve Sesnick). It was during this period that Morrison heard Yule playing guitar in his apartment, and mentioned to Reed that Yule was practicing guitar and was improving quickly.[37] It was following this discussion that led to a phone call from Steve Sesnick inviting Yule to meet with the band at Max's Kansas City in New York City in October 1968 to discuss joining the Velvets before two upcoming shows in Cleveland, Ohio, at the club La Cave.[38][39] Upon meeting Reed, Sesnick and Morrison at Max's, Yule was asked to handle bass and organ duties in the band, and he would soon contribute vocals as well. After several months of shows in the US, the band swiftly recorded their third album The Velvet Underground in late 1968 at TTG Studios in Hollywood, California, and was released in March 1969. The cover photograph was taken by Billy Name. The LP sleeve was designed by Dick Smith, then a staff artist at MGM/Verve. Released on March 12, 1969, the album failed to make Billboard's Top 200 album chart.

The harsh, abrasive tendencies on the first two records were almost entirely absent on their third album. This resulted in a gentler sound influenced by folk music, prescient of the songwriting style that would soon form Reed's solo career. While Reed had covered a vast range of lyrical subjects on the first two Velvet Underground albums, the lyrical themes of the third album were more "intimate" in nature. Reed's songwriting also covered new emotional ground as well, as heard in the songs "Pale Blue Eyes", "Jesus", "Beginning to See the Light", and "I'm Set Free". The personal tone of the album's subject matter resulted in Reed's desire to create a "closet" mix that boosted the vocals to the forefront, while reducing the album's instrumentation. The second (and more widely distributed) mix is the stereo mix done by MGM/Verve staff recording engineer Val Valentin. Another factor in the change of sound was the band's Vox amplifiers and assorted fuzzboxes rumored to have been stolen from an airport while they were on tour and they obtained replacements by signing a new endorsement deal with Sunn. In addition, Reed and Morrison had purchased matching Fender 12-string electric guitars, but Doug Yule plays down the influence of the new equipment.

Morrison's ringing guitar parts and Yule's melodic bass guitar and harmony vocals are featured prominently on the album. Reed's songs and singing are subdued and confessional in nature, and he shared lead vocals with Yule, particularly when his own voice would fail under stress. Doug Yule sang the lead vocal on "Candy Says" (about the Warhol superstar Candy Darling), which opens the LP, and a rare Maureen Tucker lead vocal is featured on "After Hours", which closes the album. It is a song that Reed said was so innocent and pure he could not sing it himself. The album also features the experimental track "The Murder Mystery", which featured all four band members (Reed, Yule, Tucker and Morrison) reading different lyrics against each other (to a jarring effect), as well as the ballad "Pale Blue Eyes", which would soon be covered by many artists including R.E.M., the Killers, and many more. Despite the album's poor commercial debut upon release in 1969, its influence can now be heard in many later indie rock and lo-fi recordings.

Year on the road, the "lost" fourth album (VU), live recordings (1969)

The Velvet Underground spent much of 1969 on the road both in the US and Canada, feeling they were not accepted in their hometown of New York City and not making much headway commercially. Despite these commercial setbacks, the Velvets focused on performing live shows on the road, playing both re-worked songs from the Velvets' past albums, as well as debuting new songs that would soon find their way onto Loaded, such as "New Age", "Rock and Roll", and "Sweet Jane". While the band still did extended improvisations in their live shows during this period, in '69 the Velvets focused on tight live performances, and several of the live shows the band played during this period would end up released as live albums many years later. The live album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live (featuring Reed, Yule, Morrison & Tucker) was recorded in October 1969 but not released until 1974, on Mercury Records, at the urging of rock critic Paul Nelson, who worked in A&R for Mercury at the time. Nelson asked singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy to write liner notes for the double album which began, "I wish it was a hundred years from today…"

It was also during this period that the band played a series of shows in November 1969 in San Francisco, at the venues the Matrix and the Family Dog, and the recordings of these shows were released many years later, in 2001, as a triple live album called Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes, which also featured the line up of Reed, Yule, Morrison and Tucker. During 1969 the band also recorded on and off in the studio, creating a lot of promising material (both singles and one-offs) that were never officially released at the time due to disputes with their record label. What many consider to be the prime songs of these recording sessions were released years later, in 1985, in a compilation album called VU. The album VU marks the transitional sound between the whisper-soft third album, and the band's movement to the later pop rock song-style of their final record, Loaded. Two of the songs the Velvets recorded during this period would also end up being featured on high-profile film soundtracks many years later. "Stephanie Says" was featured in the 2001 soundtrack to the film The Royal Tenenbaums, and the nursery-rhyme-style song "I'm Sticking With You" (with its rare Maureen Tucker–Lou Reed dual-lead vocal track, Doug Yule accompanying on piano) would be re-released many years later, in the soundtrack to the 2008 hit film Juno.

The rest of the recordings, as well as some alternative takes and instrumental tracks were later bundled on Another View which was released in 1986. After Reed's departure, he later reworked a number of these songs for his solo records over the years: "Stephanie Says", "Ocean", "I Can't Stand It", "Lisa Says", and "Andy's Chest", as well as "She's My Best Friend", which had been originally sung by Doug Yule.

By 1969 the MGM and Verve record labels had been losing money for several years. A new president, Mike Curb, was hired and he decided to cancel the recording contracts of 18 of their acts who supposedly glorified drugs in their lyrics, including their many controversial and unprofitable acts. The drug or hippie-related bands were released from MGM, and the Velvets were on his list, along with Eric Burdon and the Animals and Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. Nonetheless MGM insisted on retaining ownership of all master tapes of their recordings and according to an MGM representative in a Rolling Stone article from 1970, "it wasn't eighteen groups, [Curb] was misquoted. The cuts were made partly to do with the drug scene—like maybe a third of them had to do with drug reasons. The others were dropped because they weren't selling." Lou Reed would later remark in the 1987 issue of Creem that while he didn't believe that MGM dropped the Velvets for drug associations, he did acknowledge, "We wanted to get out of there."[34]

Loaded, Tucker's pregnancy and Max's residency (1970)

Main article: Loaded

Atlantic Records signed the Velvet Underground for what would be its final studio album with Lou Reed: Loaded, released on Atlantic's subsidiary label Cotillion. The album's title refers to Atlantic's request that the band produce an album "loaded with hits". Though the record was not the smash hit the company had anticipated, it contains the most accessible pop the VU had performed, and two of Reed's best-known songs, "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll".

By the recording of Loaded, Doug Yule played a more prominent role in the band, and with Reed's encouragement, sang the lead vocal on four songs: "Who Loves the Sun", which opened the album, "New Age", "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" and the final track, "Oh! Sweet Nuthin". Yule once commented on the recording of Loaded: "Lou leaned on me a lot in terms of musical support and for harmonies, vocal arrangements. I did a lot on Loaded. It sort of devolved down to the Lou and Doug recreational recording."[40]

While the third Velvets' LP was recorded mostly live in a collaborative atmosphere, the bulk of Loaded was crafted in the studio. In addition to handling all the bass and piano duties on Loaded, Yule also contributed several lead guitar tracks and doubled on drums as well (notably on the songs "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane")[41] since Maureen Tucker was absent on maternity leave to have her first child, a daughter named Kerry. While Sterling Morrison played guitar on "Loaded", it was during this time that he resumed his studies at City College of New York, and split his time between classes and the sessions, thus leaving Reed and Yule to handle the bulk of the arrangements.[42] Although Tucker had temporarily retired from the group during the sessions due to her pregnancy, she was credited as playing on Loaded; the drums on the album were actually played by several musicians: Doug Yule, engineer Adrian Barber, session musician Tommy Castanaro, and Billy Yule (Doug Yule's younger brother), who was still in high school at the time.

It was during the Loaded recording sessions that the Velvets secured a now-legendary nine-week residency (from June 24 – August 28, 1970) at the New York nightclub Max's Kansas City, playing two lengthy sets per night, and showcasing altered arrangements of older songs from their previous albums, as well as showcasing the new material that would soon make up Loaded. The Velvets' Max's live line-up consisted of Lou Reed, Doug Yule, Sterling Morrison and Billy Yule on drums in place of Tucker, who would not return from maternity leave until after Reed's departure. Reed's last live performance with the band at Max's was informally recorded and was released two years later in 1972 as Live at Max's Kansas City, also on Atlantic Records.

Reed's departure and release of Loaded (1970)

Disillusioned with the lack of progress the band was making, and facing pressure by manager Steve Sesnick, Reed decided to quit the band during the last week of the Max's Kansas City shows in August 1970. Although Reed had informed Tucker, who was attending the show but not playing with the band because of her pregnancy, that he planned to leave the group on his last evening, he did not tell Morrison or Yule. In a 2006 interview, Yule said Sesnick waited until one hour before the band was scheduled to take the stage the following night before notifying him that Reed wasn't coming. "I was expecting [Lou] to show up, I thought he was late." Yule blamed Sesnick for Reed's departure. "Sesnick had engineered Lou's leaving the group. He and Lou had a relationship where Lou had depended on him for moral support, and he trusted him, and Sesnick basically said 'screw you.' ... It must have been hard for Lou to hear that because he depended on him, so he quit."[43] While Loaded was finalized and mixed, it had yet to be mastered and was not set to be released by Atlantic until November of that year. Reed often said he was completely surprised when he saw Loaded in stores. He also said, "I left them to their album full of hits that I made".

Reed was perturbed about a verse being edited from the Loaded version of "Sweet Jane". "New Age" was changed as well: as originally recorded, its closing line ("It's the beginning of a new age" as sung by Yule) was repeated many more times. A brief interlude in "Rock and Roll" was also removed. (For the 1995 box set Peel Slowly and See, the album was presented as Reed intended; the "Fully Loaded" two-disc edition also features the full versions of "Sweet Jane" and "New Age".) On the other hand, Yule has pointed out that the album was for all intents and purposes finished when Reed left the band and that Reed had been aware of most, if not all, of the edits.

The Doug Yule years (1970–72)

Yule (pictured in 2009)

With manager Steve Sesnick looking to fill bookings (following the departure of Lou Reed), and with the pending release of Loaded in November 1970, the band, now featuring Sterling Morrison on guitar, Maureen Tucker on drums, Walter Powers on bass, with Doug Yule taking over lead vocals and guitar, went on the road once more to promote the album, playing shows around the U.S. East Coast and Europe. In early 1971 the line-up of Yule, Morrison, Tucker and Powers recorded two studio demos together titled "She'll Make You Cry", and "Friends", both of which remained unreleased. Sterling Morrison had obtained a bachelor of arts degree in English, and left the group in August 1971, to pursue a Ph.D. in medieval literature at the University of Texas at Austin. He had packed an empty suitcase and when the time came for the band to return to New York City, he told them at the airport that he was staying in Texas and quitting the band—the last founding member to quit.[44] Morrison's replacement was singer/keyboard player Willie Alexander. This line up of the band played several shows in late 1971 in England, Wales, and the Netherlands to support the 1971 European release of Loaded, some of which are collected on the 2001 box set Final V.U.[45] Following a single US show in Pennsylvania in early January '72, the Velvets lineup of Yule, Tucker, Alexander and Powers disbanded.[45]

In May 1972 Atlantic released Live at Max's Kansas City, the live bootleg of the Velvet Underground's final performance with Reed (also featuring Doug Yule, Morrison, and Billy Yule) recorded by a fan, Brigid Polk, back on August 23, 1970. Due to publicity around the Max's release, and growing interest in the Velvet Underground in Europe, Sesnick was able to secure a single album deal with Polydor in the UK, and a handful of promotional shows were booked in the UK in November and December 1972. After Sesnick reached out to Yule, a new Velvet Underground lineup was quickly assembled by Yule to do the UK shows. This brief lineup of the Velvet Underground consisted of Yule, Rob Norris on guitar, George Kay (Krzyzewski), bass guitar, and Mark Nauseef, drums. After Sesnick failed to show up in London to meet the band with the necessary money and equipment,[46] they played the handful of dates to secure enough money for flights back to the US, and Yule left the band when the brief tour ended in December 1972. It was also during this period in the UK that Sesnick had secured studio time for Yule to record the album Squeeze under the Velvet Underground name virtually by himself, with only the assistance of Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice and a few other session musicians in an unspecified London studio. While Maureen Tucker was personally slated by Yule to play drums on Squeeze, Sesnick vetoed his decision and claimed she was "too expensive" to hire.[47]

Squeeze was released in February the following year, 1973, in Europe only, with minimal promotion by the label, and was held in low regard by fans and critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine notes that the album received "uniformly terrible reviews" upon initial release,[48] and in the early 1970s, the NME Book of Rock counted it as "a Velvet Underground album in name only."[49] When asked about Squeeze, Yule hinted that band manager Steve Sesnick orchestrated the album purely as a money ploy. "Sesnick dumped the second iteration of the band in England with no money and no equipment and just left us there to find our way back. He gave me six copies of Squeeze as pay. I never got any money. When you sign with ASCAP or BMI you get an advance. He not only made an arrangement with them but actually signed as me and took the money."[50]

Despite the negative reviews of the album upon its initial release, in recent years the album has been revisited by both critics and musicians with more sympathetic and favorable reviews. In 2011 music writer Steven Shehori included Squeeze in his "Criminally Overlooked Albums" series for The Huffington Post, and in a lengthy review of the album, offered the following positive assessment of Squeeze: "if you pluck it from the shackles of its murky back-story, Squeeze is nothing short of a quintessential listening experience."[51] The UK band Squeeze took their name from its title according to band member Chris Difford, who offered the following opinion of the album in a 2012 interview: "It's an odd record, but the name came from that, definitely. […] In a retrospective way I really enjoy it. It has kind of a naivety about it."[52]

Although Yule had put an end to the Velvet Underground in late 1972, in early 1973 a band featuring him, Billy Yule on drums, Kay on bass and Don Silverman, guitar (he later changed his name to Noor Khan), played two shows in New England and was incorrectly billed as "The Velvet Underground" by the tour's manager. The band members objected to the billing and according to Yule, the promoter was not supposed to bill the band as the Velvet Underground.[45] In late May 1973, the band and the tour manager parted ways, thus finally bringing the Velvet Underground to an end.

Post-VU developments (1972–90)

Reed, Cale and Nico teamed up at the beginning of 1972 to play a concert in Paris at the Bataclan club. This concert was bootlegged, and finally received an official release as Le Bataclan '72 in 2003.

Before that, Cale and Nico had developed solo careers. Nico had also begun a solo career with Cale producing a majority of her albums. Reed started his solo career in 1972 after a brief sabbatical. Sterling Morrison was a professor for some time, teaching Medieval Literature at the University of Texas at Austin, then became a tugboat captain in Houston for several years. Maureen Tucker raised a family before returning to small-scale gigging and recording in the 1980s; Morrison was in several touring bands, including Tucker's band.

Yule subsequently toured with Lou Reed and played on the latter's Sally Can't Dance album, and Yule (at Reed's request) also contributed guitar and bass tracks to Reed's album Coney Island Baby, that can be heard in the Bonus Edition of the album (which was released in 2002). Yule became a member of American Flyer, then dropped out of the music industry altogether before reappearing in the early 2000s.

In 1985 Polydor released the album VU, which collected unreleased recordings that might have constituted the band's fourth album for MGM in 1969 but had never been released. Some of the songs had been recorded when Cale was still in the band. More unreleased recordings of the band, some of them demos and unfinished tracks, were released in 1986 as Another View.

On July 18, 1988, Nico died of a cerebral hemorrhage following a bicycle accident.

Czech dissident playwright Václav Havel was a fan of the Velvet Underground, ultimately becoming a friend of Lou Reed. Though some attribute the name of the 1989 "Velvet Revolution", which ended more than 40 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, to the band, Reed pointed out that the name Velvet Revolution derives from its peaceful nature—that no one was "actually hurt" during those events.[53] Reed has also given at least one radio interview where he stated that it was called the Velvet Revolution because all of the dissidents were listening to the Velvet Underground leading up to the overthrow, and this music was an inspiration for the events that followed. After Havel's election as president, first of Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic, Reed visited him in Prague.[54] On September 16, 1998, at Havel's request, Reed performed in the White House at a state dinner in Havel's honor hosted by President Bill Clinton.[55]

Reunions, death of Morrison and Hall of Fame induction (1990–96)

1993 promotional photo. From left to right: Morrison (at back), Tucker, Cale and Reed

In 1990, Reed and Cale released Songs for Drella, dedicated to Andy Warhol who had recently died. ("Drella" was a nickname Warhol had been given, a combination of "Dracula" and "Cinderella".) Though Morrison and Tucker had each worked with Reed and Cale since the V.U. broke up, Songs for Drella was the first time the pair had worked together in decades, and rumors of a reunion began to circulate, fueled by the one-off appearance by Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker to play "Heroin" as the encore to a brief Songs for Drella set in Jouy-en-Josas, France. Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison also joined John Cale for an encore at his show at New York University on December 5, 1992.

The Reed–Cale–Morrison–Tucker lineup officially reunited as "The Velvet Underground" in 1992, commencing activities with a European tour beginning in Edinburgh on June 1, 1993, and featuring a performance at Glastonbury which garnered an NME front cover. Cale sang most of the songs Nico had originally performed. As well as headlining (with Luna as the opening act), the Velvets performed as supporting act for five dates of U2's Zoo TV Tour. With the success of the Velvet Underground's European reunion tour, a series of US tour dates were proposed, as was an MTV Unplugged broadcast, and possibly even some new studio recordings. Before any of this could come to fruition, Cale and Reed fell out again, breaking up the band once more.

On August 30, 1995, Sterling Morrison died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after returning to his hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York, at age 53. When the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, Reed, Tucker, and Cale reformed the Velvet Underground for the last time. Doug Yule was absent. At the ceremony, the band was inducted by Patti Smith, and the trio performed "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend", written in tribute to Morrison.

NYPL reunion and death of Reed (2009–13)

In December 2009, to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the band's formation, Reed, Tucker and Yule (with Cale not present) gave a rare interview at the New York Public Library.[56]

The Velvet Underground continues to exist as a New York–based partnership managing the financial and back catalog aspects for the band members. In January 2012, the surviving members of the band initiated legal action against the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts over unauthorised use of the debut album's banana design.[57][58] Forty-fifth anniversary box sets of the band's first four studio albums, featuring significantly expanded bonus material, appeared from 2012 to 2015; the live box set The Complete Matrix Tapes, comprising remixed and remastered versions of a series of professionally recorded 1969 performances, also appeared in 2015.

On October 27, 2013, Lou Reed died at his home in Southampton, New York, aged 71. He had undergone a liver transplant earlier in the year.[59] John Cale responded to Reed's passing by saying "The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet…I've lost my 'school-yard buddy'".[60]


The Velvet Underground have been considered among the most influential bands in rock history. Their legacy has stretched into alternative and experimental rock. Their first four albums were included in Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[61] They were ranked the 19th greatest artist by the same magazine[62] and the 24th greatest artist in a poll by VH1. In 1996 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[63] Critic Robert Christgau considers them "the number three band of the '60s, after the Beatles and James Brown and His Famous Flames".[64]


Year Band Recordings
Bass, keyboards, viola, vocals Guitar, bass, backing vocals Percussion
April–November 1965 Lou Reed John Cale Sterling Morrison Angus MacLise Disc 1 of Peel Slowly and See (1995; minus MacLise)
December 1965–September 1968 Lou Reed John Cale Sterling Morrison Maureen Tucker The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), White Light/White Heat (1968), two tracks on VU (1985), three tracks on Another View (1986), discs 2–3 of Peel Slowly and See (1995)
  Vocals, guitar Bass, keyboards, vocals Guitar, backing vocals Percussion  
September 1968–August 1970 Lou Reed Doug Yule Sterling Morrison Maureen Tucker The Velvet Underground (1969), Loaded (1970; minus Tucker), Live at Max's Kansas City (1972; minus Tucker), 1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1974), eight tracks on VU (1985), six tracks on Another View (1986), discs 4–5 of Peel Slowly and See (1995), Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (2001)
  Vocals, guitar Bass Guitar Drums  
November 1970–August 1971 Doug Yule Walter Powers Sterling Morrison Maureen Tucker Studio demo of two songs, "She'll Make You Cry" and "Friends" (as yet unreleased)
  Vocals, guitar Bass Keyboards, vocals Drums  
October 1971–December 1971 Doug Yule Walter Powers Willie Alexander Maureen Tucker Discs 1–2 and part of disc 4 of Final V.U. 1971-1973 (2001)
  Vocals, various instruments        
January 1972–February 1973 Doug Yule --- --- --- Squeeze (1973), discs 3–4 of Final V.U. (2001), both with hired hands
  Vocals, guitar Bass, keyboards, viola, vocals Guitar, bass, backing vocals Percussion  
June 1990; November 1992–July 1993 Lou Reed John Cale Sterling Morrison Maureen Tucker Live MCMXCIII (1993)
1996 Lou Reed John Cale Maureen Tucker Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony
2009 Lou Reed Doug Yule Maureen Tucker Group interview at the New York Public Library


Temporary members, additional live and studio musicians


See also


  1. Heylin, Clinton (2005). All Yesterdays' Parties: the Velvet Underground in Print, 1966-1971. Da Capo Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-306-81365-3.
  2. Blond, Phillip (1998). Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology. Routledge. p. 191. ISBN 0-415-09778-9.
  3. 1 2 3 Biography by Richie Unterberger. "Angus MacLise | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  4. Kot, Greg (October 21, 2014). "The Velvet Underground: As influential as The Beatles?". BBC. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  5. RS 500 Greatest Albums November 18, 2003.
  6. 13-The Velvet Underground and Nico Rolling Stone, November 1, 2003
  7. Julian Casablancas, "The Velvet Underground" (No. 19), in "The Immortals: The First Fifty", Rolling Stone, No. 946 (April 15, 2004), accessed April 29, 2007.
  8. 1 2 David Fricke, liner notes for the Peel Slowly and See box set (Polydor, 1995).
  9. John Cale as told to Marc Myers. "Incubator for the Velvet Underground". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
  10. "Velvet Underground". Encyclopedia of Popular Music.
  11. Jovanovic, Rob (2012). Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground. Macmillan. p. 38. ISBN 9781250000149.
  12. Quoted by David Fricke in his liner notes for the Peel Slowly and See box set (Polydor, 1995).
  13. Metzger, Richard. "DREAMWEAPON: The Art and Life of Angus MacLise, original Velvet Underground drummer". Dangerous Minds. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  14. John Cale & Victor Bockris What's Welsh For Zen London: Bloomsbury, 1999
  15. 1 2 Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved October 21, 2016.
  16. Coston, Daniel (2013-10-29). "The Coston Chronicles: Moe Tucker interview, 1997, part one". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  17. Bockris, Victor (1994). Transformer: The Lou Reed Story. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. pp. 99, 101. ISBN 0-684-80366-6. Cale, horrified by the mere suggestion that a 'chick' should play in their great group, had to be placated by the promise that it was strictly temporary.
  18. Kugelberg, Johan. "Christmas on Earth: Barbara Rubin". Boo-Hooray Gallery. Archived from the original on June 14, 2014. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  19. "Andy Warhol: From the Velvet Underground to Basquiat".
  20. Bockris, Victor; Malanga, Gerard (2009) [1983]. Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-003-8. It was at this time that The Velvets started wearing dark glasses on stage, not through trying to be cool but because the light-show could be blinding at times.
  21. "Aspen no. 3: The Pop Art issue". Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  22. Heylin, Clinton. "The Velvet Underground Companion: Four Decades of Commentary (The Schirmer Companion Series , No 8): Albin, Iii Zak, Albin Zak: Books". Retrieved October 29, 2011.
  23. 1 2 Kurt Loder, "Liner notes V.U. CD by the Velvet Underground", December 1984, Verve Records – 823 721-2 Europe, "a mesmerizing gothic-rock masterpiece ("All Tomorrow's Parties" – Warhol's favorite Velvets Tune).
  24. Hoffman, Eric. "Examinations: An Examination of John Cale". Mental Contagion. Retrieved 24 October 2014. When I had to play viola, Sterling had to play bass, which he hated. According to the website, the quote is from John Cale’s autobiography, What’s Welsh for Zen (NY: St. Martin’s Press (2000).
  25. Tom Pinnock (18 September 2012). "John Cale on The Velvet Underground & Nico". Uncut. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  26. 1 2 "The Velvet Underground's The Velvet Underground and Nico - Joe Harvard - Google Books". 2004-03-31. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  27. McKenna, Kristine (October 1982). "Eno: Voyages in Time & Perception". Musician. Retrieved November 8, 2012. I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. The sales have picked up in the past few years, but I mean, that record was such an important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!
  28. "Words and Guitar: A History of Lou Reed's Music - Bill Brown - Google Books". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  29. "vuheroes". 1970-08-23. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  30. Hogan, Peter (1997). The Complete Guide to the Music of the Velvet Underground. London: Omnibus Press. p. 19. ISBN 0-7119-5596-4.
  31. Biography by Richie Unterberger (2013-12-10). "The Velvet Underground | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  32. Paytress, Mark (2014-11-25). "The Velvet Underground: Reissued 3rd Album Reviewed". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  33. Tim Mitchell, Sedition and Alchemy : A Biography of John Cale (2003; London: Peter Owen Publishers, 2004); ISBN 0-7206-1132-6 (10); ISBN 978-0-7206-1132-8 (13); cf. Press release, rpt. (March 2004).
  34. 1 2 "vumyth". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  37. "Pat Thomas". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  38. "The Velvet Underground - Live performances and rehearsals - 1968". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  40. "Doug Yule interview- Perfect Sound Forever". 1995-10-21. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  41. "The Velvet Underground - The Lowdown on Loaded". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  42. "vuexc12". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  43. "The Velvet Underground - Doug Yule Part 8". YouTube. 2013-12-23. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  44. Moser, Margaret (March 17, 2000). "Velvet Underdog: Sterling Morrison: An Oral History With Interviews". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  45. 1 2 3 "The Velvet Underground - Live performances and rehearsals - 1971-73". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  46. "Doug Yule interview- Perfect Sound Forever". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  47. "Doug Yule - Story". 2008-10-26. Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  48. Stephen Thomas Erlewine in the Allmusic website article on Squeeze
  49. Nick Logan (Editor). "The New musical Express Book of Rock: Nick Logan: 9780352300744: Books". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  51. 06/22/2011 12:02 pm EDT (2011-06-22). "Criminally Overlooked Albums: Squeeze by Doug Yule's Velvet Underground | Steven Shehori". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  52. Woodbury, Jason P. (2012-04-11). "Squeeze's Chris Difford on England, John Cale, and the Paul McCartney-Produced Record That Never Came to Be | Phoenix New Times". Retrieved 2015-11-08.
  53. Lou Reed, Havel at Columbia interview: "7: The Velvet Revolution and The Velvet Underground", accessed April 29, 2007. (See table of contents for "Chapters".)
  54. Lou Reed, Havel at Columbia interview: "4: 1990 visit to Prague and the challenges faced by Havel", accessed April 29, 2007. (See table of contents for "Chapters".)
  55. Lou Reed, Havel at Columbia interview: "8: 1998 White House benefit concert", accessed April 30, 2007 (See table of contents for "Chapters"); cf. "The President and Mrs. Clinton Honor His Excellency V(á)clav Havel, President of the Czech Republic and Mrs. Havlov(á)", September 16, 1998, accessed April 30, 2007; Transcript of President's Clinton's remarks, September 16, 1998, accessed April 30, 2007.
  56. "Velvet Underground recall links to Warhol". CBC News. December 10, 2009. Archived from the original on December 12, 2009.
  57. Jasmine Coleman (January 11, 2012). "Velvet Underground moves to protect Banana Album design | Music |". London: Guardian. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  58. Pelly, Jenn. "The Velvet Underground Sue Andy Warhol Foundation Over Banana Image". Pitchfork Media Inc. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  59. "Lou Reed, Velvet Underground Leader and Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71". Rolling Stone. October 27, 2013. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  60. Wile, Rob (October 27, 2013). "Here's Velvet Underground Co-Founder John Cale's Reaction To Lou Reed's Passing". Business Insider. Retrieved October 27, 2013.
  61. "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of all time (2012 Edition)". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  62. Casablancas, Julian. "100 Greatest Artists: 19 - The Velvet Underground". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  63. "The Velvet Underground". Future Rock Legends. January 3, 2007. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  64. Robert Christgau: CG: The Velvet Underground
  65. Cook, Alex V. (December 5, 2007). "Alex V. Cook: A Hypothesis Supporting the Possibility of Henry Flynt Having Invented Everything". Retrieved October 29, 2011.

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