The Velvet Underground – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

Year :
Bob Dylan / Patti Smith / Frank Zappa

Lou Reed, lead singer of the Velvet Underground, died yesterday at the age of 71 after succumbing to liver disease. For the small core of fans still following Reed at the late stages of his career, his death was most likely not much of a surprise. Last spring, a colleague of mine attended a sort of alternative Seder dinner hosted by Reed and his wife, Laurie Anderson. “Lou looked terrible,” he would tell me.

Reed was a divisive figure to say the least. The Velvet Underground seemingly sprouted out of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with 1960s counter-culture (or at least its music). As one of the first counter-cultures to the counter-culture, the Velets would stand as the spiritual leaders of the 70s punk movement and inspire a generation of DIYers and FUers. It’s a history that’s well document and celebrated in a variety of forms (Don Letts’ documentary Punk Attitude (2005) and Legs McNeil’s history of punk Please Kill Me are two of my favorites). No doubt, the band’s work with Nico, Andy Warhol, and White Light/White Heat, in particular, plant Reed and company firmly in the punk lineage. Reed’s solo work was more unbalanced, to put it charitably, but always had ambitions on, if not pushing boundaries, making interesting art. To that end, Reed often seemed to play up being a heel to the mainstream, holding it out as your problem for not “getting it.” He remained completely confident that he was was important and mattered, even when the results didn’t support the position (go on, try to listen to Metal Machine Music).

But for all his experimentation and, perhaps, posturing, Lou Reed was a wonderful pop song writer underneath it all. The Velvet Underground’s Loaded will forever stand as testament. Immensely enjoyable in it’s own right (no special art knowledge required), it’s an album that confounds expectations of what The Velvet Underground was supposed to be. It’s an album of beautiful, tuneful, “classic rock” that most classic rock fans never heard. If the loud, abrasive, and atonal sound of The Velvets belonged to John Cale, the melodies and hooks belonged to Reed.

I came to The Velvets during my years at college radio when I dutifully sought out any and all weird and different music. I was completely surprised by what I found in Loaded. It sounded like everything I thought I was leaving behind on classic rock radio. It didn’t matter—the songs were simply too good to deny. “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” might be the best of the bunch and is a song that I can come back to year after year and still feel the warmth that it beams out. You done well, Lou.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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