Lou Reed – Cycle Annie

Before Lou Reed became known for songs that declared heroin was his life and his wife, or a double album of feedback that sounds like seagulls dying in a casino (I happen to love the album, btw), he dabbled in pop music, recording first with a vocal group, then solo, then as a songwriter and artist at Pickwick.

Pickwick released a lot of cheap knock-offs where the goal was to emulate popular artists and music trends of the day.

Reed can be heard singing and playing on a few Pickwick releases that he wrote, or co-wrote, including this, Cycle Annie:

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Eno & Cale–Spinning Away

Brian Eno and John Cale have a lot in common.

They were both in highly influential, groundbreaking bands.

They were both forced out of those bands after the second albums by charismatic frontmen who wanted more control over the music.

They both launched intriguing solo careers.

And they both became sought-after producers, often working with artists who enjoyed greater success than they did.

So, in some ways, they would seem a natural pairing.

And given their pedigrees, you’d probably have some expectation of something experimental, or inventive.

But Eno and Cale had something more subversive in mind.

A pop album.

Because who would have expected that?

Wrong Way Up was not a happy affair, but any tensions (alluded to in the album’s original artwork) do not show up in the music, which ranks among the finest either artist has ever recorded.

Spinning Away is a particular delight because it is all about creation.

Not merely what you see when you look out at the stars and the sky, but the creation that happens when you find the inspiration to turn those moments into lines, be they visual or verbal.

With its reference to Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Spinning Away is one of the few songs that really gets to the heart of artistry, not just the compulsion to create, but how seeing what you create can be unfathomable, even to you.

It’s kind of odd to hear two very cerebral artists indulge in something emotional, akin to seeing Spock undergoing Pon Farr, and yet those breathtaking harmonies, those shimmering, infinite guitar chords, the sweeping violin, they create a luminous universe of sound you want to traverse for hours on end.

I know it may be hyperbole, but I think Spinning Away is one of the ten most lovely songs in the English language.

It may have been hell making this album for Eno and Cale, but every time I hear Spinning Away I think, if there is a heaven, this plays on an endless loop.

White Light/White Heat

I try to imagine someone at Verve/MGM hearing the tapes for The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat and thinking ‘well, there’s your single, right there.’

I suspect someone figured, ‘well, it’s under three minutes, so why not?’

But then if brevity was key, the label could have opted to push the b-side, Here She Comes Now, which is little more than two minutes, yet the lyric, which could be about sex, drugs, or rock and roll (‘she’s made out of wood’ is either a pithy dis of a woman or a celebration of Lou’s guitar)  is such that you again marvel that anyone put it on a 7” 45.

WLWH is meant to mimic the sensation of taking methamphetamine, but I can’t speak to that, being square and all.

What I can say is that it is a kind of murky, chugging, chaos, where you can barely make out the instrumentation, apart from the piano, which asserts itself as a percussive instrument, and that throbbing, droning bass by John Cale at the end that threatens to split your skull open.

I know most people think the VU was over when Moe Tucker sat out the Loaded sessions due to pregnancy, but for me, it ended when Lou Reed forced Cale out.