Song Of The Day: The Velvet Underground – What Goes On

the velvet undergroundToday I have a track that lodged itself in my brain and I have to listen incessantly to it. It’s not Post-Punk, but is certainly proto Post-Punk. I was listening to my VU boxed set “Peel Slowly And See” and while it’s packed with goodness that runs the gamut of music as we know it, the song in question is getting deeply lodged within my consciousness, due to it having so many traits that I value in music. In its case, many years before the rest of the market even began to catch up. It can be argued that the rest of the market as we know it wouldn’t exist but for the VU’s trailblazing.

First of all, the motorik pulse of Maureen Tucker’s drumming insures that once heard, I can’t shake this puppy. It makes for a propulsive groove that can run indefinitely in my mind. Secondly, the way Lou Reed accents the chorus to echo the drumming is just perfection. “Lady be go-od. Do what you shou-ld, you know it will be alright.” Thirdly, the first twinned guitar solo by Lou Reed simply reeks of techniques that Eno would be exploiting after leaving Roxy Music. In particular the “warm jet” guitar from that album’s title track. And the minimal organ riff was stolen by Eno whole cloth and added to Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime.” What’s that saying? “Great artists steal…?”

Ironically, my first exposure to this song was via Bryan Ferry’s cover on “The Bride Stripped Bare,” which I purchased a good decade before the VU box. I can’t say that the tune ever made an impression on me in Ferry’s hands. The destruction of the song’s compulsive qualities by the finest LA session hacks couldn’t be more unfeelingly vicious and total than it was there. Jerry Marotta shows his “professionalism” by acting out your worst nightmares of what a session drummer is paid to do. The compelling rhythms of Tucker are endlessly expounded upon with unessential rhythmic filigree. Look at meeeeeee. Waddy Wachtel’s groovy solos sound absolutely cemented into 1978 in a way that Reed’s weirdly prescient Post-Punk guitar treatment was definitely not.

The version of this album in the “Peel Slowly And See” Box opens with a live recording of the song before the “closet mix” of the album and the attendant bonus tracks follow. The live version sounds like it was recorded on a portable tape player and is of sub-bootleg quality. That doesn’t diminish its thrill one iota, however! Live, Tucker’s drumming was even more primal and invigorating! Reed was buried so far in the soundstage, one had to strain to hear him sing, but it doesn’t affect my esteem for this recording at all. Reed’s soloing live loses the doubling and chorus effects that made the album version so fascinating and ahead of its time. What it gains live is a metallic immediacy that touches on the sort of sound that Eno got with Fripp on “Baby’s On Fire.” The second solo that takes the place of the organ drone on the LP version is close to what Fripp achieved years later on Bowie’s “Fashion!”

As I only have the 1995 boxed set, my copy of “The Velvet Underground” features Lou Reed’s so-called “closet mix,’ which exists digitally only on this CD in the box. Maybe, my appreciation for this tune would require me to get the current stand-alone CD of this album for the Val Valentin remix. I have to study this track more!

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Song Of The Day: The Velvet Underground – What Goes On

  1. Chris says:

    weird!, this songs been buzzing around my head for a week.


  2. Echorich says:

    Such a great song! The Closet Mix is certainly my favorite version. Your Eno and Fripp comments are very insightful Monk! As for Ferry, I can only think he wrote down a bunch of groups he wanted to cover on Bride and when he went to pick a Velvets song he thought he was being wise in not dong Candy Says… he should have… the murder committed on What Goes On deserves life without parole…he likely thought, “yeah, I’ll do a boogie groove version.” BLECH!


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