Loaded: Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition
Of The Velvet Underground’s four albums (discounting 1973’s in-name-only Squeeze), Loaded is the straightforward one: The songs are short, the writing is direct, and the feel is closer to something you might hear on classic-rock radio than at a downtown happening. Aren’t they supposed to be transgressive and avant-garde? And here they are singing about cowboys (“Lonesome Cowboy Bill”) and trains (“Train Round the Bend”) and young girls who are lifted by the spirit of rock ’n’ roll (“Rock & Roll”)? Is this the counterculture, or is this “American Pie”? Listen to Loaded expecting White Light/White Heat and you might be confused, even disappointed: There’s nothing that bites or tears at the fabric of what rock music can be. But listen to it as part of the band’s broader creative journey and it offers a kind of wholeness: Whereas The Velvet Underground’s quiet balances White Light’s noise, Loaded’s simple American pleasures not only balance the progressive, arty quality of The Velvet Underground & Nico, but they’re also a reminder that for however far out the band got, they were still the children of doo-wop (“I Found a Reason”) and Chuck Berry (“Head Held High”), of energy and rhythm and a music that put its audience first. Lou Reed was never shy about his criticism of hippie culture. But one of the best comparisons for Loaded is the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, which came out two weeks earlier, in late 1970. Both are examples of radical bands growing into something accessible. But they’re also instances of a moment in rock culture when even radical bands were embracing the myths and imagery of early rock ’n’ roll as fertile ground—not just The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band,” but The Stooges’ Fun House and, eventually, New York Dolls. They were plenty radical in their way, but listen to Loaded and you realize that The Velvet Underground weren’t trying to destroy rock ’n’ roll—they were trying to keep it alive.