Clinton Heylin may be a conniving, cheating, typically music fandom-cum-major league above-it-all writer who I certainly have a bigger-than-usual bouef with, but at least he wrote something that makes more than a whole lotta sense in his recent Velvet Underground compilation, especially in these Velvets homage-laden days. And just what the scuzz said is something everyone reading this (and myself as well) should take to heart, and that is that a good hunkerin' portion (if not ALL) of these VU critique that we've chanced upon ever since the group's 1970 wreckage have been scribbled with such a hagiographic rose-colored rear view mirror glop to 'em that (despite the good intentions) they ultimately damn the group's true legacy as a psychic mover of twentieth-century though and deed, trouncing all the majestic moves and beyond-words vision they gave us into mere piddle. Of course, this is opposed to various screeds both pro (Jonathan Richman in VIBRATIONS, Wayne McGuire in CRAWDADDY...) and con (a variety of reviews appearing in and out of Heylin's collection including this high-larious write-up of WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT in STEREO REVIEW mentioning how Andy Warhol was laughing his head off at the whole joke somewhere in the shadows) which at least seemed to be born sans any of the moderne hipster Velvets rap (y'know, dem guys're the fathers of all your fave alienated white youth musical movements blah blah har-de-har-har...) that at least have bored me (and maybe you) to pieces these last few years. OK, Heylin didn't exactly say all of that, but he kinda hinted at it, and besides he had a point about how you kinda get the sneaking suspicion that a lotta the people who claim total allegiance to the Velvet Underground's nom-de-avant garde would've run to the safe and accepting open arms of San Fran once they got an EARFULL of the VU way back when they seemed like such an advanced musical concept that only the most wired O-mind and the most befuddled teenager could comprehend. And, given the quality of the Velvet Underground's influential legacy over the past quarter century, who can doubt him given the content provided by a whole number of numbskulled bumblers who seem more fitted for writing toothpaste commercials given their beyond-questionable lack-of-abilities. And really, only the Japanese understand.
What goes for Velvet scribings goes double for the music, although I'll give Heylin an argument (with regards to both music and Velvets-inspired prosody) by saying that it took a good ten years after their death for the Velvets' spawn to evolve into the alternative monster that it would eventually become. After all, the seventies were really the decade of the Velvets when the group's sound, style and attitude were put to good use by their ideological brethren. In the early-seventies the Velvets' drone was easily co-opted into the brightest moments of musical expression from European experiments (krautrock, Slapp Happy, Mahogany Brain...) and British rock whether it be "People's"-oriented (Hawkwind, Pink Fairies) or not (Roxy Music), not forgetting various glam moves and suburban garage creepings all over the place. By the late-seventies Velvet-homage had exploded to the point where I, as a guy just about to throw myself into this rockpool full throttle, recall reading in a WKSU-FM "Fresh Air" program guide of all places that the Velvets were the "most influential rock group of all time," just wonderin' who these groups this anonymous author was talking about were especially in a world where disco, yawn-inspiring AM music, progressive rock and post-energy metal were being heaved upon me as if all of the test marketing and data being utilized by all of those fancy overpaid technicians who decided that Gerry Rafferty was just what """"I"""" wanted to hear! But we're talkin' the good stuff, and it soon sunk into my teenaged peabrain that although the Velvet Underground weren't around to make any of those albums that I sure enjoyed anymore (that is, when I could find 'em...it took me forever to finally get hold of someone who not only owned but could tape me THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO let alone find a copy to cuddle me to sleep with!) there were plenty of aggregates around that sounded just as good as 'em or at least almost did, or maybe they had the psychic basics down pat so I didn't have to fret that much even though I sure coulda used those eventually-bootlegged 1966 recordings a whole lot earlier!
And while the eighties were chock fulla bands ramming the original Velvet intent into some vision of modern fluffiness losing all the intensity and energy in the process (though I was mesmerized by the debut Psychedelic Furs album, which at least still had a seventies Velvets via Hawkwind/Stooges/Roxy primitiveness to it), at least I could fall back on those original-thrust groups as well as the musicians from those older aggros who hadn't totally lost it by then. But once I got down it it and sorted the whole bloomin' mess out, I realized that for pure post-Velvet thrills only the acts that came out during their reign or immediately after could truly satiate any riff/drone cravings on my part. The late-seventies fulfillment of the Velvets credo (still done within the original burst of radiation) was more-or-less a pure rock 'n roll epiphany to me, but even at that point in time I knew that the groups who saw the light as it shone seemed to have had that selfsame pure spiritual emphasis and energy that the Velvets, especially at their most mystical had (Cale talking about changing weather with music and Reed entering "the cloud" creating unique sounds and choirs with feedback making them a musical equivalent to Wilhelm Reich at his loftiest!). It was almost as if the Velvets had their own direct holy connection leading straight to GOD himself, and don't let the so-called "decadence" fool you!
Anyway, after plenty of research and general thought-gathering I've decided to put together my own list of groups who actually took the Velvet-credo during the group's lifetime (even if tangable recorded output was years down the line) and went on their own merry ways with it long before the Velvets became the musical flashpoint that was everything to everybody (who paid attention and saw in them what they wanted to see). Consider it my take on an early Alan Betrock piece in his fanzine JAMZ entitled "Beatle Rock," or perhaps a followup to an article I did on Velvet-influenced music that appeared in the long out-of-print BLACK TO COMM #19 back in 1990 (an article where I originally stated a lotta the misgivings about the form that I've reiterated both here and elsewhere, and a piece I just might reprint on this blog if I get enough response to do just that!), and if you have your own groups to add to the list please do write in since I am documenting all of this for my own personal purposes and listening pleasure. For the sake of space, I'll limit this list to the acts who have recordings issued both legitimately and not even if they may be privately circulated, which excludes such relative obscuraties as as Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show or perhaps Eno's earlier rock attempts like Maxwell Demon who sound promising although we have nothing really to go by at least at this point. Also omitted are various artists who "may" have had a Velvet-sounding style a little or most of the time such as the Syd Barrett-period Pink Floyd, Tony Williams' Lifetime, Love or even Detroit's Seventh Seal yet didn't care for 'em one iota, or may or may not have liked them but never mentioned them as far as I know so I'll forego scrutinizing 'em until some solid evidence pops up. So read on, and like I said any additions, addendum and acumen (on my part) is greatly needed.
(so...in no particular order...)
THE ROLLING STONES-Mick Jagger admitted that the Stones had a Velvet influence in a '78 ROLLING STONE interview, which makes me want to ask him "WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG TO 'FESS UP?" Since he made this oft-debated (by R. Meltzer in the pages of a NEW HAVEN ROCK PRESS review of STICKY FINGERS) statement known at the height of a punk-inspired Velvets mania I've answered my own question. The Velvets influence on the Stones was greater than anyone other than Meltzer or Lester Bangs would have admitted at the time, to the point where in the here-and-now it can be acknowledged that the early-Velvet Underground were a template for Jagger's harrowing tale of statutory rape "Stray Cat Blues," though I recently listened to FINGERS (considered by some the Stones' strongest Velvets/punk offering) and thought it sounded a lot like the Flamin' Groovies' TEENAGE HEAD, but since I'm a guy who thinks the Yardbirds sound remarkably like Count Five, you could say that I have my rockism priorities straight. Which brings us to...
THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES-Their early records still had the Moby Grape/Lovin' Spoonful-era San Francisco sound, but by FLAMINGO there was a strange Velvets-drone not necessarily due to the cello. Roy Loney admitted a Velvets influence in the band, and they did perform "Sweet Jane" right when LOADED came out. Greg Shaw made comparisons between "Slow Death" and the drug-laden early material, and even Don Waller brought up the similarities between SHAKE SOME ACTION's raging closer "I Can't Hide" and the VU. Need anything more be said?
ALICE COOPER-Alice once said something great about the Velvets, and Mike Saunders said that the Alice Cooper group were, along with the Stooges and Bowie, carrying on the same sonic spirit that the Velvets had abandoned upon dispersement, and you gotta admit that "Be My Lover" sure rips off "Sweet Jane" better'n Bachman-Turner Overdrive! First four are the classics, though the rest might have a few moments of valor here and there...
DAVID BOWIE-A close call since I think he was still doing the hippie folk gig while the Velvets were alive, though perhaps not given that SPACE ODDITY (I kinda thought the hit title track was Velvet-y) came out in '69 and I believe he was performing "Waiting For The Man" that early as well. Personally, I found it refreshing when he was "doing" the Velvet Underground, because that meant he wasn't doing Jacques Brel.
LE STELLE DI MARIO SCHIFANO-An Italian group whose sole album I reviewed during the early days of this blog though I'm too lazy to link it up, but to save you the agony of finding it yourself let me say that they were formed by pop artist Schifano who wanted to re-create the Warhol/EPI experience over inna old country and did a pretty good job at it if this equally pop-art package is any indication. I've heard people compare this one to not only the Velvets but the Deviants, and I hear a lotta early PHALLUS DEI-period Amon Duul II on the side-long excursion while side two seems to be a good mix of Velvets-pop a la the debut and 1966 Rolling Stones ballad and thunk. One can only be thankful that they didn't go the route of Italian progressive music and end up the new Banco or somethin'!
THE DEVIANTS-Mick Farren and crew were ahead of the gang on a whole buncha fronts, from swiping a tape of the early Velvets demos circulating around swinging London at the time and performing "Prominent Men" before anyone had heard it for a good three decades to influencing a whole line of UK Velvets-inspired people's rock from Hawkwind to the Pink Fairies, and even I gotta say that PTOOFF! makes for as good a pop art package that rivals the first Velvet Underground album for spectacular eye-opening period-piece artyfactness! The music on that one seems to be a good UK psychedelic mix of Velvetisms meets the Fugs and Pretty Things with some early Zappa humor tossed in, a good mirror of what was happening in the London underground of the time only better because it maintained a good deal of garage capabilities when it coulda gone Moody Blues or somethin'. The great fanzine FUZ says that "Slum Lord" off LP #2 DISPOSABLE was swiped from "Waiting For The Man" (which was also a staple of the early Deviants set) and who am I to argue? Also remember that the Devies' take of "Sister Ray" was later reshaped as "Uncle Harry's Last Freakout" by the time the Pink Fairies got hold of it!
HAPSASH AND THE COLOURED COAT-Not only were these poster artists turned rock 'n roll wannabes influenced by the Velvets musically (great extended riff rock that the Krauts, especially Amon Duul I, utilized to the fullest) but they copped a lot artistically as well (the pop art cover to their debut as well as a flagellating image on a Hendrix poster inspired by "Venus In Furs"). Did these guys ever perform live? It would seem that they would have been a humongous flop had they been a live entity, but in retrospect it would have been most fitting had Hapsash brought they mayham to the stages of UFO and Happening 44 in order to be the most complete artistic statement in London at the time. Never did hear the second one with the Groundhogs' Tony McPhee.
AMON DUUL I and II-Krautrock might have sounded a lot weenier had the Velvets not happened. Take these guys for example...without the Velvet Underground in their makeup both editions of Amon Duul would probably have been as weak and lilly-livered as the ever-failing San Francisco bands they also emulated. Fortunately the Velvets added a punk verve to not only them but a whole bunch of groups who we can probably categorize with the Stooges and MC5 this far down the line rather'n with the Jefferson Airplane. Speaking of the 'plane, AD II sound like what I think that VILLAGE VOICE critic who heard the Velvets influence in the Airplane thought he heard, while it was none other than one Mike Stax of UGLY THINGS fame who said that AD I's PARADIESWARTS DUUL reminded him of a mythical jam with the Jeffersonians, the Velvets and the Manson Family! As for me, it sounds like the Velvets just before Cale left only using the acoustic-sounding gear from the third album. All Amon Duul I albums are recommended with interesting Velvet-sneaks tossed into those 48-hour drug jams, while the Amon Duul II releases seem to get less-interesting as time goes on although they still have their own charm. However, 1969's PHALLUS DEI still shines within the sixties' (and Velvets') mad dash to the point where even the fine playing doesn't seem to bother me anymore.
MAHOGANY BRAIN-Even today these guys remain bizarro outside-the-underground legends despite both of their once ultra-obscure albums being reissued for doofs like you who woulda trampled 'em to get to the Peter Frampton bin back in '77. Leader Michel Bulteau was a mythical man on the French underground since the mid-sixties (or at least he was to us non-Gallics!), and a group with him at the helm could only sound like the noisiest no wave cum early-Velvets crank out one could imagine. I kinda wonder if this is what an early-seventies proto-punk group with William Burroughs at the helm would have sounded like, but frankly I can only imagine how such a much-needed setup like that would have come off like in my most fever-pitched dreams!
THE BEATLES-Another group said to have utilized the Velvets' energies at the time though unlike the Stones you know none of 'em ever would admit it. The long musique concrete recordings done just-post-SARGE PEPPER that remain unreleased to this day are supposed to be heavily Velvets (as well as Floyd)-inspired (and why not given Brian Epstein's infatuation with the first LP which I'm sure Lennon didn't need a Spanish Honeymoon to listen to), though I have trouble hearing anything Velvet-y in (at least what I've heard of) their latterday material which seems more hippie down-on-the-farm to my spoiled ears. THE PLASTIC ONO BAND may be another question altogether, with LIVE PEACE IN TORONTO being so intense cranked despite Eric Clapton that even Wayne McGuire seemed to notice a Velvets-styling. And YOKO ONO/PLASTIC ONO BAND had a pretty strong early-Velvets vibe to it just as much as IMAGINE was Lennon's attempt to clean up with the Don McLean crowd...Yoko, if you're out there could you fill us in on John's (as well as maybe even your own?) Velvets inclinations???
KEVIN AYERS-I've often wondered if the Ayerisms abounding on the first Soft Machine album had any direct ties to nascent Velvetisms (which would seem fitting given the spinning gadget pop art cover), but credit should be given for Ayers admitting a liking to the group and at a time when you certainly didn't get many brownie points for saying such things. At times he can get a bit fruity, but then again I've heard that fruit is good for you once in awhile.
LES RALLIZES DENUDES-What more can I say about a group who did for Japan garageoids what the Velvets did for Amerigan ones? Their early material ranges from standard six-oh punk blast to extended hard "Sister Ray"-ish energy ("Smokin' Cigarette Blues" from 1969 a must-get), and for a band (actually leader Mizutani Takashi and whoever) to not only have continued this feedback-drenched hard rock for three decades but inspire a whole slew of worthwhile Velvet-spawn who STILL sound fab while the rest rehash old inanities (LSD March, Up-Tight, Doodles!...) really says something that's hardly said in the rock world. More to be written on these guys, as you've probably guessed already.
CAN, FAUST, GURU GURU...-The German expressionist scene seems to have a lot to owe to the Velvets to the point where such acts seem to be considered part of a garage-band flow chart whereas they never would have appeared on one even a good fifteen years back. I've read (in the Kraftwerk book) that the Organisation LP was supposed to have been a mixing of early-Velvets and King Crimson, but despite that albums enjoyment level I couldn't hear either of 'en even though the cover was a fair approximation of IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING's. Can's a given (being perhaps the first obviously Velvets-influenced group to get a major record deal) while Faust, despite their "rock-oriented electronics" tag of 1980 have plenty of garage vim taken from the Velvets (though I'm not too sure when they did form...they could be a tad outside the scope of this post), and various Guru Guru members mention on and off in interviews about the Velvets making a big impact on their music, then seem to forget these statements in subsequent ones so who knows?!? Were there any informative Velvets refs popping up in the German rock press of the time? With all of the Velvets-influence going on in Germany at the time, one would think so. (As far as straight-ahead garageisms go, only TON STEINE SCHERBEN, at least on their debut, handled a Velvets/Stooges/MC5 aesthetic the way many punksters would only a few years down the road and, given how the Scherbens were making their recording debut right around the time when the Velvets were exiting the stage, perhaps they should be given some commendations for their foresight even if their subsequent albums ain't quite up to snuff.)
THE PLASTIC PEOPLE OF THE UNIVERSE-When I first heard this album (spurred on by not only Patti Smith and Ivan Kral's appearance on some PBS Amnesty International special hosted by Art Buchwald but Robert Christgau's review which compared 'em to not only the Velvets but Pere Ubu!), I thought I got ripped off. Here I was, listening to all this great, energetic big beat music and all hyped up over the prospect of some new proto-punk relic, and what did I get for all my efforts but the same dour prog rock I was certainly not in the mood to hear! Well, time has certainly, er, honed my listening parameters, and the Velvets-tribute on their classic EGON BONDY'S HAPPY HEARTS CLUB BANNED or whatever it was called (the track closing side one) was actually quite inspirational. Still, the best Plastic People has to be a tape of this show they did after an Ivan Jirous lecture on Andy Warhol consisting of nothing but Velvet Underground songs, sung in a phonetic English and coming off closer to then-contemporary mid-Amerigan garage punkisms more than anything!
HACKAMORE BRICK-Their sole album was also recorded right about the time the Velvets were imploding at Max's Kansas City, but whether they were downright Velvets aficionados or (like Detroit's Seventh Seal, a group I'm still anxiously awaiting a listen to after all these years) ignorant of or even hostile to any Velvet comparisons remains open to speculation. Hey Tommy Moonlight, if you're reading this how 'bout SPEAKING UP for once in yer life?!??!?!
PARSON SOUND-The exhumation that appears on their 2-CD set shows a Velvets-cum-San Francisco sound akin to Amon Duul, though whether the influence is the VU or (as members admit) Terry Riley is open to discussion. The Tad Gras Och Stenar CDs reviewed earlier were boring enough to make me physically ill which is why I'm not going to link those reviews up either!
WIMPLE WINCH-There's an interview with one of the ex-members somewhere online who admits that the Velvets were a major influence on this Liverpool freakbeat band, but their CD sounds pretty zoned-out fey if you ask me. Too bad, since I was expecting another PTOOFF! and all I got was fluff (excepting their "hit" "Rumble On Mersey Square South"). Tim Ellison's article on fellow UK psychedelic group Kaleidoscope and their alleged early-Velvet Underground influence that appears in the latest MODERN ROCK MAGAZINE makes a lot more sense w/regards to any Velvetisms, and as anyone who's read the latest issue of my own fanzine knows, I've had my doubts. Now I'm not so sure, but it does make for good discussion.
VELVETT FOGG-Pretty much on the same wavelength as Wimple Winch, the Velvett Fogg came and went with a 1969 album on Pye featuring a cover snap of the band in grotesque face and body paint looking like the Sweet trying to ape South American blowgun champions complete with some topless gals (with decorated boobies) in order to make yet another post-TWO VIRGINS statement, or so I'd gather. No wonder it didn't sell, but at least they got John Peel to do the liner notes and he does compare LP opener "Yellow Cave Woman" to the Velvets. It does kinda sound like them but it sounds more like a non-metal Black Sabbath to me, which isn't surprising since Tony Iommi used to strum with this bunch. Frankly, what this record needs is Iommi since there tends to be some sorta oomph! that I sure coulda used missing. Still it's nice enough with a Bee-Gees cover that won't make you puke and some nice psych more in tune with 1967 than '69. A more Velvets-focus would have been welcome though.
THE WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND-A great mid-sixties folk rock act, the only Velvetisms I know of from these guys was their early light show copped from the EPI. Can't hear any direct VU drone or appeal in their early material (which is rooted in West Coast aspects of proto-psych), but I never did hear the later ones so I shouldn't blab!
HENRY FLYNT AND THE INSURRECTIONISTS-You can read my review of this one elsewhere. Perhaps the earliest Velvet-influenced rock I can think of, with future Phillip Glass keyboardist Art Murphy and Primitives drummer Walter DeMaria. (Phillip Glass also claims a Velvets influenced, but we'll forego writing about him here lest someone want to introduce me to the Dalai Lama, and besides his Columbus teardown back in 1992 is something I'm sure all of us red-blooded rockists would just as soon wanna forget...)
HAWKWIND AND PINK FAIRIES-Under-the-wire but just a bit. Hawkwind are perhaps the only hippie as in long-hair, beards and communes group that I know of who admit to a Velvet Underground influence which might make 'em honorary punks, while the Pink Fairies always seemed much closer to the MC5 side of rock to really be considered hippies per se. (And while I'm at it, I remember Nick Kent comparing KICK OUT THE JAMS to WHITE LIGHT/WHITE HEAT so maybe its time the MC3/DTK bunch finally fesses up?!?!?!) Of course, blame the Deviants for the whole lot of 'em. Music to read old NME and ZIGZAG back issues to.
THE STOOGES-I know that lumping these guys in with the Velvets because Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh were the first to mention VU-influx is treading in turd-laden waters, but really these guys were the first on record to really dumb-down the Velvets sound, art-inclinations and all, for the dunce crowd. What seemed ridiculous to all but the most inna-know in 1969 sounded perfect only a few years later...a Velvet Underground sound filtered through Seeds/Troggs frat thud and marketed as the latest on Electra's conveyor belt of consumer hipness. And John Cale sawing bow on the obligatory "avant garde" track didn't hurt any either!
Sunday, June 26, 2005