I’m Beginning to See the Light…again.

Rediscovering the Velvet Underground

Sometimes it’s amazing what you find when you dig back into your collection. Forgotten gems of music gathering dust in crates or on CD racks can take you back to specific times in your life or fill you with emotions also long forgotten.

I recently dug out my copy the Velvet Underground’s debut album and was immediately awash in memories of my first listening of this fantastic record. Back in our college days, Glono founder, Jake Brown, was away on foreign study in Scotland and had left me his entire CD collection for safekeeping. Totaling less than a hundred CDs, Jake’s collection still dwarfed my meager assortment of Beatles, Smiths and Stone Roses disks. My collection was reigned in by my seemingly endless state of destitution and I was forever borrowing disks from Jake. Now I had them all together and I was going to listen to every damned one.

I was going to use this time to catch up with the old boy. His collection was always more mature and diverse than mine. Though I was always hip to the good stuff, I never owned it and my exposure was limited to selections on mix tapes. Now, I was going to take the time to get to really know the stuff I’d only ever really had a glimpse.

Rummaging through the box less than an hour after Jake’s plane headed to the UK, I found not-so-golden oldies like Nancy Sinatra and the Jackson 5, the latter of which introduced me to soul music. Rare UK Import CDs quickly found their way to mix tapes I made for the Indie Kids at Denny’s. The real discovery though was a collection of disks from the pioneers of both Punk and New Wave like The Modern Lovers, the Pretenders and finally the Velvet Underground. That fall is when my fascination with VU was born.

I think most people discover the Velvets in college. It’s a time for liberal thinking and acceptance of art as more than just an easy class. The Velvet Underground is the perfect catalyst for accepting art in rock. They serve as a Trojan Horse for underground ideals to sneak into suburbia with droning, driving rhythms that thinly veil the sexual/drug themes in good, honest Rock. It also introduced poetry in Rock in a way the bloated ramblings of Jim Morrison never could. Where the Doors were a fat, bearded howl of paganistic declarations and Jim Beam ballyhoo, the Velvets were sleek speed freaks with minimalistic ravings from pseudo bisexuals and Warhol ingenues. Though they were twenty-odd years gone by the time I’d found them, they were fresh and new and dangerous. And I loved them.

But time fades away and you discover new fascinations. Later that year I also discovered Neil Young and that obsession led me to alt.country and the founders of the No Depression genre, Uncle Tupelo. Soon, Tupelo split into Son Volt and Wilco, my current obsession. Listening to Wilco’s yet unreleased Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and its droning art rock leanings led me back to the Velvet Underground and those long fall nights listening alone in my room. I can still see the ceiling fan of my teenage bedroom swirling as the long notes and cryptic laments of VU swirl in my head. The Velvet Underground opened my mind to a different brand of Rock and Roll that has led me to the finest unheard bands in America and THAT has changed my life.

13 thoughts on “I’m Beginning to See the Light…again.”

  1. I recently went back to Abbey Road and still love it. I haven’t listened to early Beatles in a while. Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m sure I will.

  2. After George died, I made myself a couple of Beatles mixes, one with all of the good George song (in mostly random order), and one with the best Beatles stuff from 1965-66 (chronological order by date of recording). I rarely listen to the Beatles anymore, and listening to them in that mixed-up order made the songs stand out on their own. And they’re good.

  3. Tom Waits for me. Time seems to work in his favor – instead of getting old or dated, his stuff just rings truer than before, if that’s possible. It’s like some seedy old lounge singer that lives through different fashion cycles where he’s hip, then not, then he’s hip again. Except he hasn’t changed at all – he’s doing the same thing when he’s un-hip as when he’s hip. Also Devo; I loved ’em back in the day, but I hadn’t listened to them for awhile. When I went back and listened to them again, I couldn’t believe how well they’ve stood up over time. ‘Freedom Of Choice’ is still one of the greatest albums I’ve ever listened to.

  4. We were just talking about music that sparked old memories…went back to childhood and what we grew up listening to with our parents…the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkle, Bob Dylan (my dad used to teach us lyrics on road trips).

  5. I just picked up the vinyl re-issue of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and can’t stop listening to it. I forgot how good that album is. Twelve years old and it’s still sounds fresh. A lot more interesting than the majority of rap being released today. And as far as Devo goes, Freedom of Choice is great but Duty Now For the Future is even better! No big hits but, hands down, one of the best post-punk albums ever. (And one of the coolest album covers, too!)

  6. One of the problems that those of us who collect music have is that as we accumulate more, we have less–or no–time to listen to those things that we needed to have at one point in the past. To be sure, we all have albums that we go back to. But then there are all of those others. . . .To Phil’s point: A copy of Traffic’s Welcome To the Canteen that have had in a pile for quite some time. On occasion I’d look at it. . .then play something else. While an admirer of Traffic’s music from the start, with fond memories of seeing the band at the Easttown Theater in Detroit when only a band like the Stones could fill Olympia, I’ve never been a “fan” of the band in the context of “fanatic.” Traffic was never at the top tier of British bands of the 60s, but it has created music of enduring value.But I’d look at Welcome To the Canteen and remember, for some reason, that I didn’t much care for the recording. And one day recently, I put it on. It contains six tunes recorded live in July, 1971.I sat amazed.The setup of the microphones for the recording was horrible. Stevie Winwood’s vocals are often way behind the rest of the instruments. The instruments sound real, not refined. It sounds, well, live, with the only difference being that the volume I listened to it at was far below the being-there decibels and the environment didn’t include hundreds of other people who were there in a time when it wasn’t verboten to smoke.I don’t know why I remembered that I didn’t like it. But now listened to, it will go back into a pile. And I wonder how much other music I have that will just sit there. Some undoubtedly does suck and therefore not listening will be a benefit. But then there are those things that I may just not get back to and it will be too bad for me.

  7. I almost busted out my Donovan albums last night. I was a huge Donovan freak in high school. Is that more embarrassing than being a Smiths fan? I haven’t listened to any Donovan (other than the song “Atlantis,” which still rules) in years. I’m sort of afraid to…

  8. Jake:What is the name of the Donovan song that Jeff Beck plays on: “Be Bop Barabagangle” or something like that?That makes one forget all about the Hurdy Gurdy man.

  9. Embarrassed to say your a Donovan Fan. you should be ashamed of yourselves. Donovan is the greatest artist I have seen mentioned on the list so far but the Beatles. Nothing pisses me off more than people putting down one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. Open your eyes and your ears, he is a lot more than Mellow Yellow

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