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Reissue CDs Weekly: The Velvet Underground, Neal Ford & the Fanatics | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Velvet Underground, Neal Ford & the Fanatics

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Velvet Underground, Neal Ford & the Fanatics

Presumably the last word on 'White Light/White Heat' and the definitive collection of Texan Sixties stars

A happy Velvet Underground show their shiny new album off

The Velvet Underground White Light/White HeatThe Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat

The shadow cast over the reissue of The Velvet Underground’s second album White Light/White Heat by Lou Reed’s recent death is a poignant reminder that an awful lot of time has passed since this still-vital inspiration for much of today’s indie rock was first released. As a 45th anniversry edition, this does mark an unusual milestone but as seemingly the last word on the album it’s hard to imagine what could constitute a 50th anniverary edition. The Velvet Underground have been endlessly examined and re-examined. The vaults must now be bare.

If you don’t have the Live at the Gymnasium bootleg, the two other draws as bonuses are an alternative “I Heard Her Call my Name” and a scrappy, early take of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” recorded in May 1968. Both have never been heard before. The other, lesser, attractions are the mono version of the album – where only “Lady Godiva’s Operation” varies conspicuously from the familiar stereo – and the smart, book-bound package of the 3 CD so-called Super Deluxe Edition, which also includes a flexi-disc of a live “Booker T”. Don’t bother with the cut-down, 2 CD Deluxe Edition (the stereo album with seven bonus tracks and the Gymnasium show) as it’s a pointless waste of time designed to squeeze more blood from the stone and maximise income. Curiously, the December release date for these packages misses the actual anniversary – the album was issued in January 1968.

The Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat ad Beyond the bonus tracks, less familiar material and packaging, the other concern is what this actually sounds like. A direct comparison of the new stereo remaster with an original stereo pressing of the album shows that the murk has been excised – individual instruments can be heard and the dynamic range is greater. A comparison with the CD version of the album in the Peel Slowly and See box set also shows the new version as more dynamic, with a greater contrast between peaks and troughs. This new version does, though, have a somewhat disagreeable toppiness that takes some time to get used to. This may be a result of new EQ, rather than an hitherto hidden aspect of the masters which has been newly revealed.

As for the mono master, created like the stereo on 18 September 1967, making a comparison is not as easy. Anyone have an original pressing? However, it does have a pleasing density and the random noises of “Lady Godiva’s Operation" are more prominent than on the familiar.

The Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat master tapeThe bonus tracks appended to the stereo and mono albums would have sat better on their own disc so as not to distract from the main event. Upping this to four discs wouldn’t have markedly affected the sale price. Mono single mixes are included, as well as the frequently bootlegged instrumental of “Guess I’m Falling in Love”. There are also two cheeky new versions of “The Gift”, where what was on the left and right channels is now spread across both channels – a track apiece for John Cale's recitation and the band's instrumental (mixed in stereo).

Live at the Gymnasium has to be heard. The new version, direct from Cale's tape, sounds massively better and more immediate than the distant acoustic of the bootleg. The between-song elements have been edited out and the volume dropouts have not been corrected. This essential show, from 30 April 1967, shows how powerful the band were live and features the first outing of "Sister Ray".

David Fricke's pithy essay draws on a specially arranged interview conducted this August with Lou Reed. Velvet’s experts Johan Kugelberg and  Richie Unterberger also have their hands in the set. The images in the book are amazing. If you don’t have this album, get this. If you do, get this anyway as it’s the best it's likely to get. Until the 50th anniversary, that is.

Overleaf: Neal Ford & the Fanatics


Neal Ford & the Fanatics Good MenNeal Ford & the Fanatics: Good Men

As Houston, Texas’s biggest band over 1966 and 1967, Neal Ford & the Fanatics' only concern about New York was probably whether they could shift their regional success onto the national stage. Still, they weren’t doing too badly. Their 1967 single “Gonna be my Girl” sold 6500 copies inside a week. Police escorted them to their shows. They prevented The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” from reaching number one in their home city.

Unlike a lot of the Sixties bands Texas is notable for, Neal Ford & the Fanatics were a straightforward, rough-edged pop combo who sound as though they had just escaped from the garage. They were not freaks like The 13th Floor Elevators, Red Crayola or the pre-ZZ Top Moving Sidewalks. In the liner notes, Ford says "I thought the Elevators were ahead of their time, but I didn’t want to go there.” This meant they were left behind as fashions moved on. But as this fine, superbly annotated and packaged anthology makes clear, they consummately caught the sound of the times. Northing on Good Men, the first collection of their material, is sub par and, at their best, Ford & co were potential greats.

The mysterious 1966 single “I Will if I Want to” is an atmospheric nugget in the mould of The Yardirds’s “Still I’m Sad”. The melodic title track (heard below), unreleased at the time, is a ripper which must have inspired the chucking of at least some of the underwear hurled their way at live shows. In another American state and with some business muscle behind them they could have been as big as Paul Revere & the Raiders. Texas’s gain back then. And our’s now thanks to this splendid collection.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Listen to Neal Ford & the Fanatics’s “Good Men (are Hard to Find)


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