Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Loaded, released forty-four years ago this week, was the album that marked the end of the Velvet Underground as we knew them – or, more accurately, as we never knew them until after they broke up, when those few thousand who bought the first record formed their own bands and named them as an influence. Trying to make the slickest, most commercial album they could, they still failed to crack Billboard‘s Top 200, but they scored some of the best reviews of their career; Rolling Stone‘s Lenny Kaye wrote, “Each cut on the album, regardless of its other merits, is first and foremost a celebration of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, all pounded home as straight and true as an arrow.”
Loaded was Lou Reed’s final album with the band (he’d walked out a month before its release), and a lengthy stretch of shows at Max’s Kansas City did enough of a number on his throat that Doug Yule took lead vocals on four out of ten songs; combine this with a pregnant Maureen Tucker being replaced by three different drummers, and you’ve got a group that literally wasn’t half the band it used to be. Their label, not inclined to put a lot of money behind a band whose key member was gone, spent little on advertising and waited six months before they released a single – not “Sweet Jane” or “Rock & Roll,” the album’s two stone classics, but “Who Loves the Sun” b/w “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” both featuring Yule. Meanwhile, Reed was furious about the album’s sequencing, its mix, and its editing down several of his songs. “How could anyone be that stupid?” he said in one interview. “They took all the power out of those songs…. If I could have stood it I would have stayed with them and showed them what to do.”
These days, Loaded is seen as, if not the weakest, then the least of the four Reed/VU albums, as it’s not as edgy or adventurous as its predecessors. But accessibility is no crime, and the ten swan songs that fill these grooves are all worthy additions to the band’s canon. Certainly it wasn’t hard to find artists that saluted Reed and his bandmates with their own takes on a Loaded song. Some more than others, of course – for every “Lonesome Cowboy Bill” there are hundreds of “Sweet Jane”s – but you can’t go wrong with any of these songs, or any of the covers featured below.
Zee Avi – Who Loves the Sun (Velvet Underground cover)
Just as the first VU album (The Velvet Underground & Nico) started off with a gentle song about the light of day (“Sunday Morning”), this full cover album begins with Zee Avi’s children’s-lullaby take on “Who Loves the Sun.” That’s not a figure of speech – this cover comes from Zee Avi’s Nightlight, her collection of covers for the sleepy little ones that was released this past spring. She proves that no matter what “Sun”‘s setting, those baaa-ba-baa-baaas will always be as catchy as a great big yawn.
Michael Stanley – Sweet Jane / Wichi Tai To (Velvet Underground cover)
A lot of people have said a lot about the greatness of “Sweet Jane” (us included), and it’s getting harder to find a fresh way to play it. Michael Stanley pulled off the trick, however, on his album The Farrago Sessions. “At the time it seemed like a good idea,” he said later. “Why not take a song about cross-dressing New York street punks and put it together with a good ol’ American Indian peyote chant?” Why not, indeed.
The Runaways – Rock & Roll (Velvet Underground cover)
The Runaways taught a flummoxed rock & roll world that musically inclined teenage girls weren’t all dreaming of being the next Joni Mitchell – some of them just wanted to rawk out. “Rock & Roll,” Reed’s anthem to the life-saving qualities of radio, could have been written for and about Joan and Cherie and Lita, and together with Sandy and Jackie, they made it a lot more than just all right.
The Cruel Sea – Cool It Down (Velvet Underground cover)
The Cruel Sea was very popular in Australia in the ’90s, what with being an Australian band and all; by 1995 they had recorded enough singles that they were able to cobble together a whole album of B-sides and outtakes called Rock ‘n Roll Duds. It featured a hilarious album cover (if you’ve seen the Glitter Band’s Rock ‘n Roll Dudes, that is) and versions of songs by artists ranging from Queen to John Lee Hooker; they chose “Cool It Down” to kick it off.
Rachel Sweet – New Age (Velvet Underground cover)
Rachel Sweet was all of eighteen years old when she recorded “New Age” for her second album Protect the Innocent. She was being marketed as basically jailbait, but discerning ears didn’t take long to recognize that Sweet had a tremendous set of pipes and knew how to use them. She builds up from small to huge in a way that’s dramatic and powerful; Doug Yule’s vocal doesn’t come anywhere near what Sweet does here.
Earth Quake – Head Held High (Velvet Underground cover)
Earth Quake got one of the most inadvertent Big Breaks in rock history – their music was used in a Steve McQueen movie without proper authorization, and the settlement money allowed their manager to start up the Beserkley Records label and bring them on board as the first act. Specializing in power pop before power pop was cool, Earth Quake took more of a straight-up rock approach to their live cover of “Head Held High,” adding on a couple minutes of solid bar-band jamming.
Hollis Brown – Lonesome Cowboy Bill (Velvet Underground cover)
Earlier this year we told you about the New York band Hollis Brown releasing Gets Loaded, their song-for-song take on Loaded that began life as a salute to Reed upon his passing and just wouldn’t let them go. “This record is our tribute to the best band to ever come out of New York,” they reported, “and certainly one of the best songwriters to ever live.” Here’s their take on “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” doing total justice to the band, the songwriter, and the wine-sippin’, bronc-buckin’ Bill (Burroughs, that is).
El Perro del Mar – I Found a Reason (Velvet Underground cover)
Cat Power’s recording of “I Found a Reason” has become such a standard that many YouTube covers credit her as the original artist. But Swedish indie singer El Perro del Mar (Spanish for “sea dog”) proves that there’s more than one way to
skin a ca perform a cover with this shiver-inducing performance.
True Believers – Train Round the Bend (Velvet Underground cover)
The True Believers, Alejandro Escovedo’s gone-too-soon ’80s band, gave “Train Round the Bend” a roots-rockin’ sound – ironic, considering the song is about a city boy who can’t wait to get away from the country. One only wishes the train could have gotten there sooner and carried the True Believers further.
Bry Webb and Casey Mecija – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (Velvet Underground cover)
There’s a small bungalow on Bellwoods Avenue in Toronto where a lot of the town’s musical talent came to call; Casey Mecija, the bungalow’s owner, put together an audio snapshot of the city’s indie music scene into a pair of albums, Friends in Bellwoods I and II, which have raised proceeds for a local food bank that now total in the five figures. One of the highlights was the cover of “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'” by Bry Webb of the Constantines and Casey Mecija of Ohbijou, and it serves as a fine way to ease this collection to a close.
You can get the original Loaded on iTunes and Amazon; true Velvets fans will want to spring for the Fully Loaded edition.