Just about the last thing anyone would have expected from the Velvet Underground in 1970 would be an album of concise pop songs, so of course, that is exactly what they delivered.
Living as the kings and queen of the underground was all well and good, but after three albums and horrible sales figures, a little success must have started to appear attractive. Instead of writing intensely explicit lyrics about taboo subjects, Lou Reed directed his focus to the mainstream, with songs about “Sweet Jane,” “Rock and Roll” and “Lonesome Cowboy Bill.” Instead of telling us the gory details about “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, he asked us, “Who Loves the Sun.”
The title was a clue to the album’s intent – they called it “Loaded” because Atlantic Records, their new label, told the band that they were only interested in releasing an album “loaded with hits,” so they attempted to comply, and did so as only a band of malevolent misfits could.
Over the course of the previous three albums, the band steadily splintered apart, and the trend continued here unabated. Nico lasted one album, John Cale two, and for ‘Loaded” it was Maureen Tucker who took leave of absence due to pregnancy. Before the album was completed, Lou Reed would take a hyper-extended leave of absence. As the band’s only remaining songwriter, he took with him any chance of the band’s ability to continue as a commercially viable unit, although they would struggle forward for a short while.
Suddenly, with the release of this album, the Velvet Underground was actually getting airplay. New York radio played both “Sweet Jane” and “Rock and Roll” in irregular rotation. How weird was that? The band’s hardcore fans might not have dug it (and back in 1970, they sure didn’t have anything else buthardcore fans), but the other 99.95% of the population now had the opportunity to hear the Velvet Underground for the very first time.
On the strength of this album, particularly those two tracks, a lot of people started to explore the band’s back catalog and their legend started to grow exponentially. The commercial veneer of “Loaded” did its job, but there was still plenty of weirdness to explore. “New Age” portrays the quick seduction of a has-been actress and “Oh Sweet Nuthin’” tears through a parade of losers as if they discovered a new way to win, but the lyrics here were mostly secondary to the arrangements, as most songs were just really good rock and roll tunes. Like a new drug that seduces you to go deeper, this was the Velvet Underground’s ‘gateway’ album. Be careful, or you’ll end up getting hooked.
September 1970 - Billboard Did Not Chart