BY FRED MILLS
A sticker on the outer shrink wrap of this reissue loudly trumpets, “A Desert Island Disc!” Which may be a slight exaggeration; ask most Velvet Underground acolytes and they’re more likely to award that distinction to The Velvet Underground and Nico or White Light/White Heat, particularly in light of the fact that Velvet Underground was originally issued in 1970 as part of the MGM label’s “Golden Archive Series” of compilations of several of its key artists (MGM oversaw Verve, which released those first two VU LPs). Too, you’d be forgiven for not even being aware of the existence of Velvet Underground unless you are a serious Velvets collector, for while it probably sold well enough in its time (enjoying multiple releases, in fact) and can be spotted on a regular basis at record fairs and eBay listings, it rarely crops up in discussions about the band or in back catalog overviews since it’s a highly selective and limited-in-scope collection that neither adds to the group’s canon nor touches upon fully half of the ensemble’s original output.
All that aside, as evidenced by this beautiful-sounding 180-gram platter – it’s also on CD, but the analog sonics are so warm you’d be foolish not to spring for the vinyl – the early Velvets were first and foremost a song-oriented rock band. It boasts an intriguing tracklist that sequences the beautifully poppy “Candy Says” next to the serene, dreamy “Sunday Morning”; the starkly droning “Heroin” beside archetypal VU choogler “Beginning to See the Light”; and the violently throbbing “White Light White Heat” just before the luminous, ethereal “Jesus.” And with these contrasting musical notions highlighting the group’s early oeuvre, not to mention the original LP’s compilers making selections that are nothing if not curious, focusing on the oddly gospellish likes of “I’m Set Free” and throwaway tune “Afterhours” at the expense of several far better known tunes, Velvet Underground emerges less as a catalog-exploiting curio than it might have once been deemed and, instead, a genuine alternate look at the group.
As liner notesman David Fricke astutely observes, it “now plays like a set of greatest hits by a band that made them ahead of schedule, before the rest of the world was ready.”
DOWNLOAD: “Beginning to See the Light,” “Femme Fatale,” “I’m Set Free”