Essential New Music: The Velvet Underground’s “The Velvet Underground”

Save for the rarity of its “lost” 1969 sessions, another repackaging of Lou Reed and John Cale’s now-canonical, dry-icy, holy-terror take on then-experimental rock might seem exploitative, extending the 50th anniversary of March 1967’s The Velvet Underground And Nico for solely commercial purpose. Yet, this all-vinyl collection is the first to finally connect the dots between the scarred streetwise poetic Reed/Cale VU of 1967 and 1968, the entirety of 1969 (the year’s complete sessions, stitched together by project overseer Bill Levenson) and 1970’s Loadedand go one step further. By including Nico’s softly spun Chelsea Girl—Warhol named rather than produced, with songs by a united Reed and Cale—from the same year as VU’s debut, a truer picture of that epoch is made and maintained.

The value of the monotone German VU chanteuse coo-hooting her way through dramatic Reed/Cale originals “Little Sister” and “It Was A Pleasure Then” (to say nothing of Reed’s co-penned “Chelsea Girl” with the Velvets’ second guitarist Sterling Morrison) is raised and placed on par with the VU’s debut selections such as “Sunday Morning” (sun-dappled-at-dawn elegant) and “Femme Fatale” or “Venus In Furs” (darkly, discordantly sensual). Placing Nico in context with Reed and Cale alone is worth the price of admission here, and a trick worth repeating (e.g. Rhino’s recent Berlin-years Bowie boxed set that should’ve included the Iggy Pop albums he co-wrote and produced at the same place and time).

Beyond re-evaluating 1967 and restructuring 1969 to include stuff such as “She’s My Best Friend” and “We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together” (eventual Reed solo cuts that show he wasted nothing), this weighty six-LP box sounds tighter and crisper than any VU redo.

—A.D. Amorosi