Velvet Underground – Rock and Roll

Lou Reed wrote this song for the album Loaded. This was the last Velvet Undergound album to feature Lou Reed.

Reed left the band right after the album Loaded was recorded. They were booked at Max’s Kansas City in New York City. August 23, 1970.  Reed had played two sets when he simply left the stage, walked up to producer Sesnick, said, “I quit,” and walked out the back door, got into his parents’ car (they drove down from Long Island), and rode away. There was no drama or arguments.

Three months later the album was released and failed to chart. Other founding members Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker would leave in 1971  For this reason, it is often considered by fans to be the “last” Velvet Underground album.

In Reed’s 1971 interview with Lester Bangs for Creem magazine, Reed stated that the breakup wasn’t anybody’s fault, but just the way the music business is…he left because he wasn’t making any money, and felt that they’d never be successful.

The band also recorded this song in 1969, during their final weeks with the Verve label, but the well-known version appears on this album.

Lou Reed: “‘Rock and Roll’ is about me. If I hadn’t heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating – to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from. That would have been profoundly discouraging. Movies didn’t do it for me. TV didn’t do it for me. It was the radio that did it.”

From Songfacts

Do remember that the album Loaded was supposed to have mainstream appeal. This song perhaps makes the definitive case that Lou Reed boxed in by executive meddling is not the same as Lou Reed given free rein to do whatever he wants by an avant-garde art house. Loaded is an album that divides fans.

Even though it is obviously tailored to mainstream appeal, Velvet Underground managed to slip a subversive edge around “Rock & Roll”: It inverts the standard three-chord progression and has five-bar verses with an especially laid-back approach to the lyrics. It’s done loose and lazy, perfect for the subject, but subtly averting it at the same time.

This looks like a good time to answer the question: What genre do The Velvet Underground belong in? Some say punk, some alternative, some experimental. It was all of those and none of those – Velvet Underground as it was originally formed would doubtless have had the same disdain of conventional labels as does Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead fame (by the way, Lemmy says he identifies more with punk than metal). The most correct identity that is widely accepted is “protopunk” or “inspiration for punk.” While not having a punk sound as it is understood today, they did bring characteristics to rock music (an aggressive attitude, a rebellious spirit, anti-establishment ideas, and a deliberately crude and minimalist sound) which have since become the hallmarks of the punk genre. Punk rock, when it came along in the early 1970s, was about yelling “You think too much and you don’t get it!” at establishment rock (and likely following with “It’s all about the money to you anyway!”). The Velvet Underground had that idea early on, even if they expressed it as John Cale smashing a whole stack of china dishes instead of Johnny Rotten snarling “Anarchy in the UK!” So, we’ll endorse protopunk, not punk.

Alice Cooper recorded a heavy version for his 2021 Detroit Stories album. Alice told Apple Music he loves the “New York heroin chic” vibe of the Velvet Underground original, but for his cover, he thought, “What happens if we take this song to Detroit and put a V8 engine, and soup it up?”

Alice recruited for his version guitarists “honorary Detroiter” Joe Bonamassa, and Steve Hunter, who played with both Alice and Lou Reed in the 1970s.

Rock and Roll

Jenny said
When she was just five years old
There was nothing happening at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was a nothin’ goin’ down at all,
Not at all
Then one fine mornin’
She puts on a New York station
You know, she couldn’t believe
What she heard at all
She started dancin’
To that fine fine music
You know her life
Was saved by rock ‘n’ roll
Despite all the amputations
You know you could just go out
And dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station

It was alright
It was allright
Hey baby, You know it was all right

Jenny said
When she was just by five years old
You know why parents gonna be the death of us all
Two TV sets and two Cadillac cars –
Well you know it ain’t gonna help
Me at all
Then one fine mornin’
She turns on a New York station
She doesn’t believe
What she hears at all
Ooh, She started dancin’
To that fine fine music
You know her life
Is saved by rock ‘n’ roll,
Despite all the computations
You could just dance
To a rock ‘n’ roll station

And baby it was alright
And it was alright
Hey it was alright
Hey here she comes now!
Jump! Jump!

It was alright

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

23 thoughts on “Velvet Underground – Rock and Roll”

  1. In their early stages the Grateful Dead and the Velvet Underground were both known as The Warlocks and they both made their first records in March 1967. I only know a few Velvet Underground songs and those are all good. This video is really cool.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’d heard of the Velvet Underground when I was little, but didn’t know anything about them or really hear their music until Youtube made it easy. I would have liked them in any decade. Lou Reed’s voice really made their sound I think.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I think of Nico also. It’s amazing their music wasn’t and isn’t more well known, with those famous voices. I’m wondering if they were often dismissed outright because of the Warhol connection, that made everything a bit too weird for the mainstream.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think you nailed it. The Warhol connection helped them at first because he financed everything… but hurt them in the long run.
        I also think the same thing about Edie Sedgwick.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. a good one, I don’t know that I knew it was VU, I rather thought it was Lou solo… maybe because I heard it on radio! LOL… not something that happened much with the Velvet Underground

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had heard of VU as one of those bands that influenced alot of bands but only checked them in last few years when I was going back into Lou Ree’s discography. I think one reason they weren’t bigger is because they were so different from alot of the popular music at the time which was focused in California. Here they were singing about heroin and drug dealers etc – that wasn’t going to get alot of mainstream radio play I would think. That said, I’ve always been amazed that Walk on the Wild Side was such a hit for Lou Reed given its subject matter. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Walk on the Wild Side came a little later in the grittier seventies which probably helped but yea…the association with Warhol probably didn’t help them either. He was underground except his art.

      Liked by 1 person

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