The Velvet Underground’s fifth album – Squeeze
My buddy Iggy was the first cat to ever turn me on to an actual recording of the fifth Velvet Underground album. I knew I should wait to report on it until Iggy could do it himself. And at long last, here it is, a personalized account of this music, how he found it, and how much it means to him:
Orangehairboy was visiting from college in 1996. It was the beginning of fall, as I sat copying all the Velvets’ songs I had never heard before from his Peel Slowly and See box set to two used cassette tapes. I immediately fell in love with the early demos. “Sheltered Life” and “It’s all right the way that you live”, showed me a VU that I had never dreamt of before. I also got my first taste of Doug Yule’s Velvets. It would be another 8 years before I would run across Squeeze in my brother’s crates during a mini-vacation at his apartment in Springfield, MO.
I still listen to the Velvet Underground. Although now it is an occasional selection from
the Loaded extras, like “Ocean” and “Ride into the Sun”. And of course, Squeeze. Squeeze means as much to me as the very discovery and rediscovery of music itself. That is because Squeeze, though minted in 1972, seems to me, to embody that “lost” age: perhaps Doug as a ten year old boy, listening to old radio programs before his folks could ever afford a television. That “lost” age is in all of us. However, it is lost out of society as a whole, never pressed elsewhere for fear of some base corruption by the coarse minds and ears of unworthy ne’er-do-wells.
I was fourteen or fifteen when I bought The Velvet Underground and Nico. Walking into Starship Records and Tapes in 1991, a scrawny pre-adolescent kid who couldn’t yet make a distinction between Metallica and Public Image Limited, I approached the old longhaired dude at the counter.
“I want to buy an album by the Velvet Underground,” I told him. Of course, his first question was “Do you want the album The Velvet Underground?”
“No, I want The Velvet Underground and Nico.” It would be another five years, when orangehairboy returned from school, before I would ever hear Doug Yule’s immortal voice on ‘Candy Says’. But I liked the tape I ended up buying that day, especially “Sunday Morning”, which I feel to reflect that quality of “lost” time, found again and again as we move from album to album.
Now I am not sure if The Velvet Underground and Loaded are better than the first two albums because
a) They had lost all their sound effect equipment and were forced to actually come up with some groovy tracks without using effects to make them sound good.
b) They were one of those bands that makes greater and greater albums successively.
c) God forbid, the fact that they no longer had John Cale was a positive thing,
d) The addition of Doug Yule’s particular style was the prime factor.
When I found Squeeze hidden among my brother’s records back in 2003, I knew I was on to something good. I had never heard of it. But when I saw 10 tracks I was not familiar with on the back cover, I quickly found a blank cassette and taped it.
For a period of time, not being familiar with the album, I assumed Lou Reed was singing. I didn’t know he had nothing to do with the album. I also had thought that he sang “Candy Says” and all the tracks on Loaded. This was probably because the liner notes on Squeeze are sparse. Furthermore, although Squeeze was made sans Reed, Tucker, and Morrison, it is without a doubt worthy of the status of being labeled an album by the Velvet Underground.
Remember the lost time of post-December 2002. How the winter in Tulsa was coming on—when I brought the cassette with me back from Springfield, and couldn’t keep it out of my little recorder-walkman. There was heavy ice on the ground that winter. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, gasping for air, and frying tempura chicken at the restaurant I worked in by day.
My cassette was originally intended to be a compilation. It had Neil Young, Radiohead, King Crimson, and the Replacements. But when I was looking for the next song to put on, I had found gold. It was Squeeze. I thought “that’s real nice.” I also filled side “B” with The Stooges, although I cut “Anne” in half, regretting it later.
That time in my life was very sad, and that album made me feel warm. It was cold outside and my heater was a piece of shit. I suppose at that moment Cale was trying to be too avant-garde, so Reed kicked him out. After all, he had Yule who had then come on the scene with a more subtle sound. I imagine Reed felt then like he could finally have free reign and do what he wanted using Yule to support his agenda. The Velvet Underground was obviously Lou’s baby. All the tracks show his influence (the “closet” mixes prove it). I think Yule was afraid to come out too much with his ideas, like he really had no pull in the band, having just joined a band that had already been around for 5 years.
Even though “Candy Says” has a slight affectation of Yule simply because it’s him singing, I think on Loaded he finally felt comfortable and/or was allowed more opinions of where the album was going. We hear Yule’s contributions not just in the Loaded tracks he sings, but on “Train round the bend” for instance. Lou is singing, and that driving bass may be Morrison, but the bass sound is essentially Yule.
Yule’s sound at that time was essentially whimsical. It shows most of all, on his baby, Squeeze. Cale and Nico era VU was very avant-garde, as opposed to when Yule had his sway, with his signal touch of the whimsical sigh.
We all know that Yule pretty much had free reign with Squeeze, mostly because Polydor wanted to cash in on a final VU album. It may be true that essentially it was Yule’s solo album with a VU moniker, but it’s just not a bad trade when you think about it. He must have had second thoughts about releasing it as a VU album. I feel like he was then pressed by Polydor to call it a VU album, giving in, in the end because he knew he could have pretty much free reign to make it sound like he wanted it to sound. Polydor was happy as long as they had a product, but it backfired when it was not initially received.
It was decided not to release the album in America. It may be said that they knew that VU fans wanted to hear a VU album, and not Yule’s solo stuff, and that it’s not a VU album. To me, Squeeze was a totally free chance for Yule to record his special sound, musical freedom given by releasing the album as a VU album.
For starters, Squeeze typifies the early seventies bass-driven roots rock, comparable only to some of McCartney’s solo work for its whimsy and heavy bass. And it has an unparalleled nostalgia permeating it, which despite its roots rock formulas, seems it could have been found in a record store fifty years hence, because of the piano aspect. This made it essentially a mixture of ballad Americana and seventies roots rock and a touch of nostalgia thrown in.
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Thirty-three and a half. The Age of Christ at the time of his passion: also, the length in minutes of Doug Yule’s masterwork, Squeeze. This is a lovely juxtaposition.
I ascribe three major qualities to Squeeze. The songs are either primarily one or the other, always a hint, though in every song. It is primarily Americana. It has a touch of whimsical nostalgia. At the heart, however, of the work, is pure seventies roots rock.
When it isn’t whimsical nostalgia, it is the bass that drives the music on Squeeze.
I don’t like Squeeze because it’s by the Velvet Underground. I like it because it’s a great damn album. Of course, if Squeeze was by Rod Stewart, I’m not sure I would have picked it out of my brother’s crate of vinyl. I think it’s funny that after being a big VU fan for over 10 years, I had never heard of Squeeze. And most people I know have never heard of it either.
A great band can take time away from us. They can make us forget our sorrows when they are rife, and make us remember them when we are happy. Time has no beginning and no end, if you can replay it over and over and over again. This is shown in the Akashic records. If one is to breathe deep enough and long enough, he can remember those childhood days when we could not differentiate between kinds and qualities, only sounds.
I remember the eras well. There is the time surrounding my purchase of The Velvet Underground and Nico. I would hang out at the Metro Diner and smoke pot behind the buildings across the street. I had a wooden pipe with a glassy stone above the bowl I bought at the Starship headshop, which, along with the record store, wasn’t but a block or two away. Often I would go in there before I hitched a ride home or had mother come and pick me up. One particular night I remember buying these matches that smelled like incense, if you let them burn down all the way.
Of all my Velvet Underground eras, however, I appreciate the most that winter I came back to Tulsa with Squeeze. I went to Springfield with a copy of Watership Down, which I never finished because it was boring, and I came back with The Mucker by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which I never finished because it got ruined by water.
Then, of course, there is the summer of 2001 right after returning to Tulsa and the Immortal Cherry Street. The Velvet Underground was on my walkman at the time, and I found myself constantly humming “Candy Says” and “Pale Blue Eyes” as I was contemplating oblivion at my astute job at Jason’s Deli which I absolutely hated. I also had a job at the Saint Louis Bread down the street. I mention also that wonderful age of 25, when I roamed the streets of downtown Tulsa alone at three o’clock in the morning, listening to Transformer.
However, when it comes to the pedantic, the most salient of my VU epochs was the winter of early 2003, when songs like “Caroline”, and “Mean Old Man” were resounding in my satiated ears. I cannot place much in the manner of the album, probably because I did not grow up in the late fifties. But if I had, I most certainly would understand the novelty of Squeeze, for I am sure, having seen movies, that there is a quiet age of reflection for Yule in those days, as if not only he was ten, but time itself, spent quietly composing the piano parts in some little apartment in New York.
Expecially the three tracks (“She’ll Make You Cry”, “Wordless”, and “Friends” also the end of “Louise”), are unarguably the most significant aspect of the timeless feeling of Squeeze. The wistful, almost somber expectancy of these tracks contributes a plethora of memories of some remote age, doubtless the less-known musics of the late fifties, the time of his middle childhood.
Of course, all the other tracks on Squeeze have some nostalgic hint at the music of the late fifties, but the one I posit the most erstwhile timelessness is “Friends”. “Friends” is my favorite song on Squeeze. As I listen to it now, as I hear the needle touch the vinyl, I am utterly swept into what love felt like when I was ten. However, it also has a hint of what love feels like to me now, and there you have it. Sitting in an attic somewhere with a girl my age, listening to an old recording perhaps dug out of some musty box, I can look into her eyes and know, sighing, total resignation.
But the soft novelty of “Friends” is not the only appreciable aspect of Squeeze. It is quickly followed by “Send No Letter”, which, being my least favorite track on Squeeze simply because the hushed confidence of “Friends” is abruptly broken by it. Nevertheless, it is still a jiving, bootlegging romp replete with the signature Yule bass-piano combination. I do like the song, but, coming after “Friends”, any song could easily become my least favorite song.
Two facts remains ambiguous. One is: how could Reed, who was rumored to have been upset about Squeeze being labeled a VU album when they resurrected in 1990, place Yule ‘out’ of the lineup? After all, did not Reed recruit him to play on Sally Can’t Dance, and even tour with him in the 1970’s (and on the bonus tracks of Coney Island Baby, ed.) ?
And why does no one know the identity of the females whose backing vocals add that faint touch of eternal sighing that is so prominent on this album? Has no one asked Doug this question? And if so, why is he so loath to produce the truth? Could it be that these women are in actuality victims of a possible Yule blackout due to excessive drinking and drug use? This is a probable explanation and my personal opinion of the mystery of the matter.
And it ends. The driving bass and piano again repeat a simple formula perhaps heard in a saloon in 1870’s Kansas. A straight romp called “Louise” that employs a progression of repetitions starting with the bass and piano, with that existent chorus “But everybody knows you used to dance the hoochy-coo”. Then a subtle use of organ, ending in the quiet repetition of a single hum, over and over and over again, marking that distinctive quality of forlorn childhood love that is so prominent somehow in each and every track on Squeeze.
If you listen to it for even a moment, it is hard to understand why it was “thumbed-down” by Velvets fans, who termed it “The Velveteen Underground”. I like it. I also like cheese.