The Velvet Underground

Ultra Rare Trax, Vol. 4

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The bulk of this bootleg is not actually the Velvet Underground, but a tape -- apparently, a home one (sometimes said to have been done in a room in New York's Chelsea Hotel) -- of Nico singing, accompanied by Lou Reed on guitar. Although this particular disc gives a 1970 date to these 12 tracks, it seems entirely possible that it was done earlier, particularly since it's mostly devoted to songs from the Velvet Underground's first album and Nico's debut LP, including no material from later in Nico's recording career. The fidelity, as you'd expect from a home tape of the era, isn't too good, though you can hear her voice, Reed's guitar, and their chatter without the fuzzy sound being too much of a distraction. All three songs from The Velvet Underground & Nico that Nico sang lead on are done -- there are three versions, in fact, of "All Tomorrow's Parties." So, too, are three songs from Nico's Chelsea Girl, including "These Days" and two versions apiece of "Little Sister" and "I'll Keep It with Mine." While these are informal and, to a certain extent, ragged run-throughs -- perhaps they were practicing for a live appearance at which Reed was to accompany her -- they're also very interesting and, to a certain extent, entertaining ones if you're a serious Velvets/Reed/Nico fan. The songs are done with an engaging, intimate folkiness; Reed plays acoustic folk-styled guitar well; and Nico sings the songs well, with her trademark, haunting deep voice. It's also interesting to hear that the pair are, to all appearances, getting along pretty comfortably with each other, joking and bouncing suggestions back and forth, with Reed considerately giving her encouragement (especially when she has trouble remembering some words). There's also a brief snippet of Reed doing the Chuck Berry classic "Little Queenie" and a brief, folky tune titled "Somebody" on this CD. Filling out the disc are a 15-second commercial for the Velvet Underground's appearance at the Trip club in Los Angeles in 1966; mono mixes of "What Goes On" and "Jesus," from an MGM promo single; a 1979 Nico solo performance of John Cale's "Child's Christmas in Wales," at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles; and an unfortunately fragmentary (less than two-minute) version of "Chelsea Girl" by Nico with ferocious electric guitar backing, taken from a 1981 BBC television program on the Chelsea Hotel, though it sounds like this performance might have been done considerably earlier.