Sunday, January 13, 2013


Has an album ever started so completely at odds with what it would become?  The sweet chimes, tinkling bells that introduce track one, Sunday Morning, are the antithesis of the noise and darkness we'd soon be exposed to.  The jaunty little ballad, with its odd-sounding chanteuse on vocals wouldn't have been out of place on any number of pop albums of the mid 60's.  There was something off about her singing though, too low and amateur.  And the gentle, laid-back song did hold some mystery.  Imagine the surprise listeners of the day got on track two, when some sort of garage band swaggered in, their gruff lead singer telling us in great detail how to score heroin in New York, in I'm Waiting For The Man.

Lou Reed could write a Sunday Morning because he'd done time in sub-Brill Building songwriting pits, supposedly to come up with fluff for the radio.  But he really wanted to rock like nobody else before.  Finding a like-minded classical experimentalist in John Cale, a Welsh prodigy in New York, who was game for subversion, they happily took on the patronage of Andy Warhol.  The scene-maker foisted actress-model Nico on them to sing four numbers, for better or worse, and the combination actually worked in the album's favour, supplying a break in the onslaught, and a realistic voice for Femme Fatale.

The album was full of some of the most stunning, even shocking, moments in recorded music to that point.  Lyrically, we had open hard drug use, S&M, decadent parties, the lifestyles of the people on the edge.  Musically, Cale was scraping cellos, creating drones, and making sounds that clashed instead of searching for harmonies.  The rest of the band was going for caveman minimalist, with assault rifle guitar.  Plus, there were all sorts of art and literature influences going on, pure bohemia.

This fabled album didn't just explode from the ether; at times you can hear the Dylan in the lyrics, the Stones in the music.  But Reed was speaking a lot more plainly about taboo subjects, and he and Cale had some wild ideas about sounds.  However, they were barely above amateur status in the studio, and a lot of the roughness to this album is down to the fact that they weren't all that proficient on their instruments, or knowledgeable about recording.  Baffled engineers and producers all struggled with the tracks at times.  Moe Tucker's drum is a hollow thud on Heroin.  Run Run Run sounds like a high school band's contest-winning demo.  There She Goes Again sees them recast as The Byrds.  But for all its many flaws, it's still not lost its edge 45 years on.

Since the last reissue of the disc, much has come out to add to the story and mythology of its creation, so this major repacking is much deserved.  It comes in two versions, the 2-CD deluxe edition, and a lavish, 6-CD package for you fanatics with deep pockets.  Regular folks will find much to love with the cheaper set, including the famous Norman Dolph acetate.  You might remember it made headlines all over the world when it was discovered and bought for a quarter from a New York street vendor.  The white-label pressing turned out to be the only copy of an earlier studio session for the album, completely different versions or mixes of the tunes.  That's here, as well as alternate takes from the proper album sessions, and even a lengthy rehearsal tape with Nico.  There are a ton of differences to check out, alternate lyrics, lengthier instrumental sections, all the stuff train-spotters love.  All together, its two 75-minute CD's, all based around the original album.

If you do feel like it, the 6-CD version includes Nico's debut solo disc of a couple of years later, and a bunch of live recordings of varying quality of the original band, as well as grand deluxe packaging.  But really, you're going to get all the juicy stuff on the two-disc version.


  1. Nice review but what about the vinyl version? In fact what about the "torso" cover in vinyl? Coincidentally enough I found a copy of that at Value Village today. Not in the best shape but still playable.

  2. Well, I didn't GET the freakin' vinyl... Pls. send quickly..