I may have been the last interested person to hear the story of a lost 1966 “demo”/acetate version of the VELVET UNDERGROUND’s first album – complete with totally different versions of some of my/your all-time favorite songs - turning up in a warehouse for 75 cents and then going for broke on eBay for $150,000. I got the news that it even existed when the bidding was well underway, and was pretty bummed when my $105,131.69 max bid was trumped by someone else. So then I turned my sights onto getting a CD-R version of it for less than 50 cents, and in that endeavor I was much more successful (though you can trump even that by going to #1 superdope homeboy Brian Turner’s post on WMFU’s blog and downloading the songs yourself before they disappear). I’ve been accumulating Velvets bootlegs and alternate tracks for many years, and I was floored that such a treasure would just pop up out of nowhere – the quintessential record collector’s wet dream.
Imagine an alternate history of these recordings, one in which the band broke up after this session was laid down, and then pursued mediocre-to-nonentity musical careers that ended in failure and zero records. Presuming that the recordings would still ultimately be unearthed in Manhattan in 2005 or whenever it was, how would we have reacted to the earthshaking squall of track #1, “European Son” (seriously! They originally intended for it to open the album!)? Or to the life-changing guitar work on “Run Run Run” and “I’m Waiting For The Man”? Or the hypnotic trance/ice-drone of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”? I’m reasonably confident it would have caused a rock-n-roll revolution in the motherfucking streets. Me, I’m actually surprised that this is even better than I expected. Of the 9 songs on here (they added “Sunday Morning” and “There She Goes Again” to the eventual LP), unless I’m high, eight of them are mildly and in some cases wildly different from the later versions. Only “Run Run Run” is the same version, and even that one, like everything else on here, has muted “White Light/White Heat”-esque low fidelity production and tons of vinyl pops & crackle not on the later version.
The surprise winner for me was the wholly different Nico vocal on “Femme Fatale”, which also includes feminized Reed/Cale backing vocals. “European Son” is massive, of course, and features a crazed guitar shitstorm every bit the equal of the later version. It unfortunately doesn’t have the chair dragged across the floor & the broken glass we all love so much. “I’m Waiting For The Man” is completely different, as is “Heroin” – I like the later versions, as these sound too much like demos, but hindsight is of course 20-20. In all, it’s one of the best “bootlegs” out there, and a total gift to the Velvets fan and the rock and roller at large. I’d recommend getting a version straight off of the acetate if you can, rather than wait for a cleaned-up official version – though of course you and I will buy that one too, right?