Essential Atlantic: The Velvet Underground, LOADED
The Velvet Underground was falling apart when it came time for the band to make its fourth and final album to feature Lou Reed, Loaded. The group's previous studio effort, the self-titled release from 1969, fared so poorly in terms of sales that it resulted in the outfit being dropped by its label, MGM Records. Picked up by Atlantic subsidiary Cotillon, the VU set out to make a record "loaded" with hits, hence the title.
The fragile state of the band finally collapsed towards the end of the Loaded recording sessions when Reed walked away from the band. When asked if the remaining members finishing the album without him was the "final straw," Reed explained during a 2016 interview: "The final straw was long before that. No, it was just a terrible thing with the manager. Where the manager feels that he is more important than the artist, or is in competition with the artist. It's always a bad situation. You know, the manager has an apartment and the artist is sleeping on the floor by the fireplace like a sheepdog."
The album was also made without the group's founding drummer, Moe Tucker, MIA due to her first pregnancy: "Loaded didn't have Maureen on it, and that's a lot of people's favorite Velvet Underground record, so we can't get too lost in the mystique of the Velvet Underground... It's still called a Velvet Underground record. But what it really is is something else."
"Loaded was done in New York and we were all living separately," remembered Doug Yule, who replaced John Cale before the group's third LP, to Uncut in 2014. "Loaded was focused and commercial and the manager [Steve Sesnick] wanted to have more FM play. He convinced me to think more commercially and so we started out softly, like you can hear on The Matrix tapes. We then wound up with Loaded being recorded with very FM oriented stuff like 'Who Loves The Sun,' 'Head Held High' and 'Sweet Jane.'"
Released on November 15, 1970, Loaded was yet another commercial underachiever, failing to chart on the Billboard 200. The record did, ironically enough, eventually deliver multiple "hits": two of the most enduring and radio-ready tracks in the group's entire catalog: perennials "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll." Both tunes have been covered relentlessly by other artists, with Reed often citing the Cowboy Junkies' version of "Sweet Jane" as his favorite.
Loaded currently sits at #242 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, right between the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle (#243) and Massive Attack's Blue Lines (#241).