You walk into a record store, in some ambiguous city. The city doesn’t matter. You walk up to the sign that says ‘The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, etc.’ and you flip through until an album with a green background, red and blue lettering and a ladies bottom on it stops you.
You pick up this album and you look at it. You read the title and it says ‘1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed’. You flip it over and look at the back, reading the liner notes by Paul Nelson. Then you open the gatefold, and there on the right side, in a small font so as to fit all the words, is a paragraph written by Elliot Murphy.
Now you may well be thinking who is Elliot Murphy. We were. His words moved us immeasurably. He writes with honesty, passion and a true love of The Velvet Underground and everything they represented to outsiders back then, and outsiders now. We had never really fully been able to put into words why we loved them or why they had captivated a nation. What was it about their sound, their look, their lyrics that made people love them. Made people like David Bowie bragg to a taxi driver about meeting Lou Reed (even though technically he didn’t meet him on that occasion, but that’s another story for another day.)
The Velvet Underground are legendary. Their music is incendiary. But more importantly they represented a generation of misfits, outsiders and those who simply had no conception of social norms. Maybe it was because they were writing and performing in New York, a world within a world, where ‘normal’ didn’t exist. Or maybe it was because they did what they did, wrote what they wrote, played what they wanted to play without a care for if it fit in. They became a defining element of the counterculture movement and their music stays relevant to this day, and hopefully will forever.
Murphy perfectly captures that feeling one gets the first time they listen to The Velvet Underground. That sense of magic and wonder, and a sense of understanding. Maybe you finally understood yourself, or you finally understood that you don’t have to understand yourself. Or you realised that someone out there in the world was making music that you felt synchronicity with; maybe you weren’t alone because if you liked this music there must be others who liked this music.
The story goes that Murphy was looking for a record deal and travelled to New York in 1972 to meet with Paul Nelson who was head of A&R at Mercury Records. Paul was a key figure in the folk scene but was also producing and putting out 1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed, and they hit it off.
At the time, Murphy was listening to Loaded on repeat and states that his first album (Aquashow released in 1973 on Polydor) was inspired by Lou. Paul asked him if he wanted to write the liner notes for the album and he obviously jumped at the opportunity. He suggests that Lou Reed liked what he had written, and got in contact with him and that’s how he later came to be signed to RCA Records.
When we were researching for this, we started off by simply liking the liner notes. Something about the words written moved us, we felt like the person writing them captured the essence of why music is important. We didn’t know that a beautiful story of serendipity and chance was about to be discovered; reflecting exactly what the album itself is about.
The album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed was released in 1974 after Reed and John Cale had departed and braved new phases of their careers. As a result, the album became an ode to something which didn’t exist anymore. Maybe it’s not their best album, that’s a matter up for debate and a certain level of subjectivity. Maybe it’s not even their best live album, Live at Max’s Kansas City is perhaps rawer. But Murphy was able to write about the music that mesmerised a generation and the people that made it, from the point of view as a fan. He doesn’t talk with the authority of an insider, but speaks as if he himself is on the outside looking in, just like the rest of us and we think that makes the album a standout one.
You walk to the checkout and you spend some unimportant amount of money on yet another Velvet Underground record and you leave. Maybe the liner notes will speak to you and bring you comfort, or maybe you won’t even read them. Either way, you hold greatness in your hands.