Cale takes us track-by-track through the band's debut album

SIDE 2 TRACK 1 – “Heroin”

The desire for something you can’t describe… This is about a guy who is jumping towards God or the perfection of Jesus. There’s a ferocious desire within the song to solve a problem. He doesn’t have much left apart from a desire to score; spiritually he’s bereft, but he thinks if he can get his fix, life will become better. I don’t know if it’s about a specific person, more likely an amalgamation, but it’s a beautiful portrayal of someone at their wits’ end. It’s the first song where we decided a drone would work. The song was pretty much the same in ’65; Lou just changed the key when I played the viola because that’s the dominant instrument – the landscape. Everything was downtuned and distorted with the Velvets in those days. We used cheapish guitars. Lou had the Gretsch Country Gentleman; I used a classical viola with mandolin and guitar strings that were eaten into with clips and pick-ups – really scarred, but it got better as time went on.

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SIDE 2 TRACK 2 – “There She Goes Again”
This was about the people living on 54th Street. The riff is a soul thing, Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike” with a nod to The Impressions. That was the easiest song of all, which came from Lou’s days writing pop at Pickwick – write in a style. Any song that came down the pipe was a jewel for us. I dunno who the song was about; any number of derelict girls we knew down on the Lower East Side, probably. She would have been a bad girl. There were a lot of them; some of ’em were in the band for a few minutes. Electra, for example. We had an Afghanistan instrument called a sarinda that she played on “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” [a contemporary Velvets song]. After we’d rehearsed we noticed her knuckles were bleeding. She was smacking the damn thing so hard because she enjoyed the pain. Later Lou introduced Maureen as drummer and I thought, “Oh no, not another of these mad women.” But she was very sweet.

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SIDE 2 TRACK 3 – “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
This was Nico’s favourite. It’s a song of infinite desire, strangely tender for us. This may have been one of Andy’s 14-word suggestions for a song but Lou accomplished it with great economy. Nico used to sing it in her big Germanic Marlene Dietrich way or, if we were lucky, with this kind of controlled passion. It’s a very beautiful song, a great interlude for a live show, but we sometimes opened with it as it set the tone between the thoughtful and the thoughtless, which is what you want in rock’n’roll. Our problem with Nico was this: what did she do when she’d finished? She couldn’t just stand there, but she didn’t like being side-stage, either. I suppose that was one of those insoluble problems that made the Velvets different.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Page 2
  3. 3. Page 3
  4. 4. Page 4
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