Songs I Turned Up: Rock & Roll, The Velvet Underground

Posted on April 6, 2011 by

Songs I Turned Up

Artist: Velvet Underground
LP: Loaded
Title: Rock & Roll
Label: Cotillion
Released: 1970
Date heard: Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, around 10:00 am.

The song was introduced by Steven Van Zandt amongst a handful of failed predictions; man would never travel by flight, automobiles would never exceed four million in yearly production, and according to a survey from years gone by, it was concluded that people no longer wanted to listen to rock and roll.

I had my own “rock is dead” moment the other night, working the Black Joe Lewis show, carding people and realizing that seventy-five percent of the audience was somewhere in the thirty-five-to-fifty-five age bracket. Don’t kids these days know that rock and roll can save their lives?

I thought about the Who’s “Long Live Rock” while driving home that evening, thinking about the celebration of rock and roll, like the Raspberries, “Overnight Sensation,”  and the Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock N’ Roll Star” as well as Patti Smith’s version. The following morning the Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” played on the radio and I turned it up to ten.

I listened to its simplicity; its inverted 1-4-5 progression and the discovery of hearing rock and roll on the radio. It is simplicity that rock turns to when it re-invents itself; sixties garage, seventies punk, the borrowed beats of rap and hip-hop, the power chords of grunge, and a return to the low-fi aesthetics of the Velvet Underground’s third album.

The Velvets had a short-varied history. Their first LP the Velvet Underground & Nico, was shrouded in the 1960s NYC art scene, White Light/White Heat was an artistically successful experiment in organized noise while the self-titled third album was decidedly quiet. MGM / Verve dropped the band after little commercial success.

Loaded, their final studio album (not counting Doug Yule’s Squeeze) was released on Atlantic’s Cotillion subsidiary, with the title being a reference to it being loaded with hits. Lou Reed would leave the band in August of 1970 with the LP being released in the November of the same year. The “hits” were “Sweet Jane,” “Who Loves The Sun” and “Rock & Roll.” None of the songs charted in the Billboard Hot 100.

There’s a bit of irony in that. The fact that “Rock & Roll” is one of the greatest self-celebrating rock songs and was never a hit. But that’s also the beauty of it. When Lou Reed sings of Jenny (or Ginny) hearing rock and roll on the radio and it saving her life, he’s speaking to the outsiders that find rock as a refuge. In four minutes and forty-seven seconds Reed encapsulates the celebratory experience of separation and identity. He sings of the generation gap and the the difference in ideals. And as we age, some of us still carry that torch. We still have that need for separation and identity.

“And baby it was all right,
And it was all right,
Hey it was all right,
It was all right.”

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