Shelved Velvets

More than a dozen years after The Velvet Underground called it quits, the band was contacted by Verve, the record label that had released the legendary avant-garde rock act’s debut LP as well as its chaotic follow-up, White Light/White Heat. A 1980s-era CD reissuing effort of VU’s albums at the label turned up a bunch of unreleased and “mostly unmixed” recordings that were deep in its parent company’s vaults.

tom maxwell velvet underground longreads

The tapes dated back to months of very short studio sessions that took place in 1969, not long after the release of the band’s self-titled third album. John Cale had quit The Velvet Underground in late 1968 (to be replaced by Doug Yule), and MGM would decide to release the band from its contract before the year was up. In the year that followed, the act signed to Atlantic and played a revered, lengthy residency at Max’s Kansas City (Yule’s high school-aged brother sat in on drums during Maureen Tucker’s pregnancy). They were pretty sure that the songs tracked in 1969 would never see the light of day.

“(W)hen we switched labels, MGM wouldn’t give up the tapes,” said Tucker. “They were paying for the recording studio time. So, as far as I know we couldn’t put our hands on it, because I’m sure if we could have we would have released it right away on Atlantic. It was never released.”

At Longreads, Tom Maxwell writes about VU, “The Velvet Underground’s fourth album that almost never was.” Immerse thyself in its nearly 4,000 words:

Once the shelved recordings were discovered in 1984, Reed had reservations about their being issued at all. “They got in touch with me to come out and listen to the tapes,” he said in Rob Jovanovic’s Seeing the Light: Inside the Velvet Underground. “It sounded pretty good at first and they said I could be involved in the production of it. Then after listening to the whole thing, I said, ‘I don’t think it should come out.’” He could have felt this way for any number of reasons, but it should be remembered that, by 1985, Reed had recycled most of the songs on VU for his solo career, rerecording “I Can’t Stand It,” “Lisa Says,” “Ocean,” “Andy’s Chest,” a retitled “Stephanie Says,” and “She’s My Best Friend.” The shadow of the Velvet Underground might have loomed a little large. In later interviews, both Morrison and Tucker stated that they made songwriting contributions, but let Reed claim sole authorship to keep the peace.

Because Reed chose not to be involved, Morrison was called in to help assemble two album’s worth of material, VU and Another View, an album mostly comprised of demos and outtakes. Producer Bill Levenson oversaw the mixing.

Read Maxwell’s piece on VU.