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Velvet Underground // Loaded

“Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station

You know, she don’t believe what she heard at all

She started shakin’ to that fine, fine music

You know her life was saves by rock ‘n’ roll”

You are reading these words now because Lou Reed wrote those lyrics in 1970. Sometime in the early aughts, I happened upon Loaded. From the stale suburbia of my childhood bedroom, accompanied by my undeveloped taste, I sat passively absorbing the record until those opening riffs on track three came through the speakers caught me completely off guard. Who was Jenny? I wanted to be Jenny. I wanted to be saved by rock ‘n’ roll. And in a way, I was.

It’s easy to construct narratives in hindsight, but looking back almost twenty years later, it feels safe to say that Loaded set the course for the rest of my life. 

Sonic Chameleon

The fourth, and for all intents and purposes, final record from the Velvet Underground is the result of Lou Reed’s determination to prove to ex-label MGM/Verve, new label Cotillion/Atlantic, and himself of the band’s commercial viability. It’s an adventurous ride of sunny, playful melodies and dry, witty language tinged with cynicism, while marveling at life’s mundanity and strife.

Whether it was his early doo wop days, or the noisy punk of the early VU records, Lou Reed has always been a sort of sonic chameleon, trying on contemporary styles, while ushering them into an uncharted future. Loaded fits perfectly into the pantheon of early ‘70s gentle psychedelia, yet manages to eclipse the dime-a-dozen soft rock ensembles of the day with its intensity, its wit, and its sincere humanity.

With Velvet co-founder and guitarist Sterling Morrison wrapping up his college degree and drummer Mo Tucker pregnant with her first child during the studio sessions, Doug Yule and Lou Reed were left to helm the wheel. The result is a grand finale, a definitive conclusion.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known who have insisted “Oh, Sweet Nuthin’” be played at their funeral. In a way it was the climax of the Velvets, the dramatic last will and testament of Lou Reed’s long held admiration of pop music and his own desire to be a star… at least for a time. Fed up with numerous details of the accreditation and sequencing of the album, he called it quits three months before the LP was released. In spite of his disillusionment with the record, it’s some of the strongest material he ever released. The album is a triumph, a crown jewel beguiling a jaded king. 

Despite the flack the album has received over the years by diehard fans of the Velvet’s first three records, it’s nearly impossible to discount the sheer songwriting genius overflowing from Loaded. It’s the reason why over fifty years on from its initial release, the record remains the soundtrack to so many a youth’s rock n’ roll revelation. 

– Izzy Fradin, March 2022