Episode 49: The Velvet Underground and Nico, track by track, part four




March 16, 2017


Songs from The Velvet Underground and Nico (Verve) March 12, 1967

  • “Heroin”
  • “There She Goes Again”


This is Mark Jenkins‘ fourth appearance on RTS.

Noted music writer Richie Unterberger, who penned White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Dayhas a webpage where he examines many of the “myths” surrounding the Velvet Underground. Here is a section discussing “Heroin,” and the origin of the band:

Myth: When he was working as a staff songwriter at Pickwick Records in 1964 and 1965, Lou Reed wanted to record songs like “Heroin.” But the label wouldn’t let him, making him determined to form a band with John Cale, the Velvet Underground, where he could write and sing what he wanted.

Reality: On May 11, 1965, Lou Reed recorded a few unreleased demos under the auspices of Pickwick Records, including not just one but two complete versions of “Heroin.” What purpose these sessions had is unclear, and it’s uncertain whether Pickwick—most of whose product was tacky budget/exploitation releases—would have ever released such material, or found a market for such songs even if it had.  But record “Heroin” they did, producer Terry Philips—who had signed Reed to Pickwick as a staff songwriter in late 1964—specifically praising his good performance after the first of the takes. Remarkably, the song’s lyrics and tune are already virtually the same as the studio version the Velvet Underground would record about a year later, although these bare-bones versions have more of a folky talking blues feel than even the ones Lou, John Cale, and Sterling Morrison would record at 56 Ludlow Street a couple months later (which were eventually issued on the Peel Slowly and See box set).

As to the overall question of whether Pickwick discouraged Lou from recording those kind of songs, both Reed and Cale remember songs like “Heroin” being vetoed by the label in early-’70s interviews. As Philips was the most noted and visible of Reed’s associates at Pickwick, it’s sometimes assumed that he must have been personally responsible for such rejection. Yet in his interview for White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day By Day, Philips repeatedly stated his admiration for Reed’s talents and regrets that he and Pickwick couldn’t have worked with him more. “I helped encourage him on his writing to do things that were more like ‘Heroin,’ and more like the kind of writing he did in short stories,” he stated. “We were working towards a goal. I thought he could be what he became.”

According to Pickwick promotion man Bob Ragona, the real villain at the label as far as stopping such material in its tracks was its vice president. “Ira Moss stopped it,” he declared. “He was the main obstacle. He was the #2 man in the company. He didn’t understand it.”

There are lots of theories about the relationship between “There She Goes Again” and Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike,” as well as the Rolling Stones version of the song, which was released in the US in 1965. Well, the intro, mainly:

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