Put jelly on your shoulder, lie down upon the carpet and dig into the Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album. A 1969 classic is this week’s Counterbalance.
Klinger: So the other day I’m hanging out in my basement. I’m waiting for my laundry to get through the spin cycle so I can put it in the dryer and go to bed. Because the party never ends. Anyway, I happen to catch sight of the 1979 edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, and I start flipping through it. I land on the index, and I notice something odd: the Velvet Underground’s name appears on four pages in the book. The Velvet freakin’ Underground. By all accounts today, one of the most influential groups of all time and the presumed architects of just about everything that’s come in its wake. Four pages. Not a four-page chapter. Four individual references — probably about seven sentences altogether.
Needless to say, my mind was blown. Even the critical industrial complex, for which Rolling Stone was the epicenter in the late ‘70s, had yet to fully grasp the Velvet Underground’s legacy. In part, of course, that’s because their legacy was still unfolding as New Wave and ‘80s artists had yet to begin dropping their name as a full-fledged touchstone of cool. Anyway, I was inspired to check back in with the group and their self-titled third album, which checks in on the Great List at No. 170 (if we were still covering the Great List in order, we would have written about this a few weeks ago). I’ve been listening to this album for nearly 30 years now, and I’m still caught up in its huge range of styles, from the sweet sadness of “Candy Says” to the avant gardery of “The Murder Mystery”. But it’s a very different record from The Velvet Underground and Nico and a vast yawning chasm away from the blistering White Light/White Heat. But I’m beginning to think that it’s the group’s almost perverse range of styles that kept just about everyone, from the general public to the critics, from fully wrapping their heads around this group. Am I onto something here, Mendelsohn?