The fertile music breeding ground of New York City arguably reached its peak in the second half of the 60s, headed by Bob Dylan on the folk side and a band that achieved no where near Dylan's sales numbers but still generated a tidal wave of influence that only spread and expanded with time, their effect still felt in present day: The Velvet Underground. In their relatively short 4 active years as a core unit, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and drummer Maureen Tucker (with, of course, Warhol superstar Nico, and later Doug Yule) created four of the most prolific records ever: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), White Light/White Heat (1968), The Velvet Underground (1969), and Loaded (1970). Though internally turbulent with members often clashing (notably the founders Reed and Cale), the group managed to experiment with rock music in ways never before attempted.
Ozit Records are proud to announce the release of Unpiecing the Jigsaw - A Tribute to The Velvet Underground, a collection of excellent Velvet covers from your favorite artists. While there has been covers compilations in the past, Unpiecing the Jigsaw features a collection of the best of the best, assembled in part by Lou Reed himself and also as a deal-sweetener features two rare 1980s bootlegs of Nico performing her songs from TVU & Nico and a 48 minute interview with Reed himself. This is the most complete and inclusive VU covers compilation to date.
The artists featured are international with a large showing from English pop, alt-rock, new wave, and especially shoegaze bands from the late 80s and early 90s as well as Washington 90s alternative groups and garage rockers. The immortalized Nirvana contribute a surprisingly calmer choice for such a fantastically aggressive band: "Here She Comes Now" off of White Light/White Heat (don't worry though, Kurt's buzzsaw distortion and snarl still garnish the track). A notable name in the early 90s British shoegaze scene, Chapterhouse (who often played and collaborated with heavy hitters Slowdive and Ride) tackle "Lady Godiva's Operation" in expected dreamy fashion. A fixture of the British Indie rock scene for decades now, The Wedding Present presents a laid back, acoustically backed rendering of Lou Reed's "She's My Best Friend", a fantastic track recorded initially for the self-titled record but not released till after his departure from the group. The House of Love's Terry Bickers' shoegazed indie pop version of the Self Titled album's track "I'm Set Free" goes down quite easily alongside the bigger names from the UK's late 80s menu.
The cult favorite Echo & the Bunnymen turn out an energetic "Foggy Notion". A real standout cover from a name that might not immediately catch everyone's eye, Hurrah's version of the unanimously loved Lou Reed- crafted jam "Sweet Jane" is just as infectious and uplifting as the original. A more tamed number, the Levellers' "Some Kinda Love" sends acoustic rhythms steadily forward into swelling, heavily effected guitars and flying falsettos (a little known fact about The Levellers: they had more gold and platinum selling albums in the 1990s than any other UK band in that decade!) Manchester's James found great success in the early 90s and once billed Radiohead as an opener. Their cover of "Sunday Morning" would be better described as a performance of the original rather than a reworking; the group manages to maintain the song's captivity of that lazy, warm, early Sunday feeling. The Dutch band Beef (who often finds themselves playing in a reggae setting, but offers a surprisingly diverse repertoire) do a really great version of Nico's "Femme Fatale" off of Underground's immortal debut album. This version sounds poppier than the original, but consequentially it's really uplifting and even more infectious than the normal recording.
New Order Bassist Peter Hook's side project Revenge (formed during Order's hiatus in the twilight of the 80s) gives the title track from White Light/White Heat a very The-Clash-ified treatment, garnished with snarled vocals and fuzzy guitar work while still hinting at the qualities of New Order that made them a legendary act in their own right. Wait for the sudden swell right before the outro; this one will really get you moving! Sonic Youth founder/guitarist Lee Renaldo delivers on "Stephanie Says", a track originally bootlegged then later released on the compilation Gold. He combines an almost island-tropical slide guitar (think Maui) with the signature Sonic Youth super-fuzz, a feat that really demands true talent to achieve! Definitely one of the best covers on the whole compilation.
English noise/space rockers The Telescopes utilize their secondary vocalist Joanna Doran's droning shoegazed vocals to imitate Nico pretty damn well. You'll hear the similarities with their contemporaries the Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, and of course My Bloody Valentine. Second wave shoegazers Ride (who feature Andy Bell, the bassist-to-be for Oasis) bring one of the most droned-out tracks to the album, pitch-bending the living daylight out of TVU + Nico's "European Son". If you haven't noticed how seriously influenced all your favorite shoegazers were by the Undergrounds use of continuous background drone (the most obvious and commonly cited example being "Venus in Furs") it's time to pay due diligence. The genre itself may very well have not come to fruition without the Underground's influence. Garage rock punks The Original Sins hail from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and are considered by purists to be one of the best underground acts of their time (REM's Peter Buck produced one of their albums, but it failed to meet commercial success as just as it was released grunge had arrived and caught the attention of most major record companies). They contribute a great garage version of "Head Held High" off of Loaded.
Alt-rock group the Screaming Trees are often cited alongside their Washington brethren Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam as Grunge pioneers (also to an extent, the Melvins), even being signed from Sub-Pop to Epic Records in similar fashion to Nirvana. They do a phaser-ed out version of "What Goes On" that makes you bob your head as steadily as the original. The cult favorites Half Japanese do a fantastic performance, true to the original's swagger, of WL/WH's "I Heard Her Call My Name". Their band, headed by brothers Jed and David Fair, was formed in 1975 and has achieved an underground following (Kurt Cobain has them open for Nirvana on their 1993 tour and is said to have died in one of their shirts). Ride companions and fellow English shoegazers Swervedriver give "Jesus" off of the self-titled LP a dreamy, ethereal makeover, dipping the track in shimmering guitar lines and plenty of reverb.
Definitely one of the most interesting tracks on the record, "Lady Godiva's Operation" is reworked by controversial 80s Irish art-rockers and noise-rock predecessors The Fatima Mansions (who's keyboardist/vocalist Cathal Coughlan would later go on to form Cork). The group mixes heavy drum machine use and swirling synth waves with fuzzed-out redline vocals and spoken word clips as well as the occasional buzzsaw or scream. This is taking the Velvet Underground's experimentation to a whole different level. I'm sure when this was originally released, people wrote it off as rubbish but in today's noise market, this would be solid gold (John Peel said he could listen to Coughlan "sing the phone book".
Also included are a couple of pretty hardcore bootleg recordings of Nico's unmistakable deadpan singing on two of the Underground's most distinguished tracks featuring her: "Femme Fatale" and "All Tomorrow's Parties" (also included is a seriously 80s-synth'ed out cover of this track by The Reegs and an alt-rock interpretation by J. Mascis prodigies Buffalo Tom). The compilation's value (as if all this wasn't enough already) is increased even more by a length 48-minute interview with Lou Reed by John Tobler.
For a deeper look, check out an album by album biography of the Velvet Underground after the jump...
The Velvet Underground introduced droning, continuous tones into blues and classic rock and roll context. Never settling for normal, Reed and Cale asked drummer Tucker to bring a unique angle to her drumming, which she achieved by turning her bass drum on it's side and playing the whole kit with mallets usually, rather than sticks, creating simple, yet exotic (a phrase that could apply to their whole approach) rhythms, unheard before their formation. The band never achieved commercial success during their existence as a group but since then, they have amassed a loyal and revering fan base that includes many of your favorite bands; we guarantee it. Brian Eno once famously stated that although few people bought the[ir] album[s], most of those who did were inspired to form their own band.
Most critics claim The Velvet Underground became the group we know and love today in 1965 when pop-artist, filmmaker, and all around culture-deity Andy Warhol became the group's manager and suggested they feature the German-born singer Nico on several songs. Warhol's reputation helped the band gain a higher profile including securing the Underground a coveted recording contract with MGM's Verve Records, with himself as nominal "producer", and gave the band free rein over the sound they created. During their stay with Andy Warhol, the band became part of his multimedia roadshow, Exploding Plastic Inevitable, for which they provided the music. 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, the same year they recorded and released what Rolling Stone called the "most prophetic rock album ever made", The Velvet Underground & Nico. Besides the 11 dynamically varied and now immortalized tracks on the record itself, the album's cover is famous for its instantly recognizable Warhol design: a yellow banana with "Peel slowly and see" printed near a perforated tab. Those who did remove the banana skin found a pink, peeled banana beneath. This amazing debut was characterized by Reed's deadpan vocals, Cale's droning viola, Nico's baritone and equally deadpan vocals, Morrison's rhythm and blues influenced guitar play, and Tuckers exotic yet steady beats.
Despite the aid of Warhol's art and name, the debut failed to achieve any significant sales which caused the group's relationship with Warhol to deteriorate. They eventually parted ways with Nico and Warhol and set to work on their second record White Light/White Heat with a new producer Tom Wilson. Recorded in just two days, and with a noticeably different style than the debut, WL/WH featured more distortion and feedback, giving the record a rough edge that many attribute to primal punk rock and noise music. John Cale described it as "a very rabid record...The first one had some gentility, some beauty. The second one was consciously anti-beauty". Sterling Morrison said, "We were all pulling in the same direction. We may have been dragging each other off a cliff, but we were all definitely going in the same direction. In the WL/WH era, our lives were chaos. That's what's reflected in the record". Once again, the record barely scratched into the top 200 Billboard chart (reaching 199).
Internal conflicts between the pop-oriented Reed and the experimental, noise wielding Cale were pushed to the limits in the months to follow, eventually leading to Cale's departure (he also was upset about the break from Warhol). Reed brought in Doug Yule as Cale's replacement and suddenly changed the group into a pop powerhouse that facilitated his growth as a songwriter. The Velvet Underground would feature some of his most beloved tracks such as "Candy Says" and "What Goes On". This was also the first record the Velvets up out on MGM.
Loaded, the final true Velvet Underground album, moved even further from the Warhol years. Released in 1970, Loaded was a more commercial effort, aimed with radio play in mind as the group had yet to achieve mainstream success and due to a request from their new label, Cotillion (a subsidiary of Atlantic) to write and album "loaded with hits". Critical of the album's final mix, Reed decided to leave the Velvet Underground in August, only a few weeks before their final album was released. He has later expressed discontent with the re-editing and sequencing that took place after his departure, also feeling snubbed as most of the songwriting credit was his, rather than Yule's or the bands. Tucker is also not on the recording (she was pregnant) with Yule filling in. The album holds two well-known Velvet Underground songs: "Sweet Jane" and "Rock and Roll", both Reed-penned songs that have achieved serious radio play in more recent years and were re-released by Reed on his solo albums. Yule would use the band's name to record a fifth album which featured none of the original members and is usually regarded as a critical failure and merely a Yule project with the group's name stamped on it.
For all practical purposes, Loaded was the final album and the Velvet Underground was over once Reed quit; however, the relatively short time they were active generated enough revolutionary material to influence a huge list of artists who all point to the Velvets as their inspiration and pre-cursors in one aspect or another. When you listen to them, keep in mind the year that they're creating their unique sounds in (for example, in 67' when & Nico came out The Doors and The Grateful Dead's self titled records both debuted, as well as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's and Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience; what a great year in music!!). Their influence has spanned every decade since their brief run, spawning numerous covers over the years from many of music's most respected musicians.
If you want to hear exactly how far-reaching and influential the Velvet Underground were, or if you've worn out your records and yearn for a fresh interpretation of all the best Velvet songs, look no further than Unpiecing the Jigsaw: this is as good as it gets. A real treat for the Velvet Underground fan.