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speakerpic flag Mare Smythii / US - New York / England - Full Moon 153 - 03/11/09

Speakers' corner
The Only Ones + The Velvet Undergound

Following up our retroscope series of 2006 and 2007 - here's the New Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves/vaults of rock. Since there was no article last moon, here's a double dish presenting two albums presented to the world 30 and 40 years ago these days.

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The Only Ones
Even Serpents Shine
CBS

I'll never forgive myself skipping The Only Ones' first ever visit to Norway in August last year, even though I'll blame some of the reason for me not being there my stupid, prolapsed back. A second chance, please, maybe in a small club around?

The year after The Only Ones' eponymous debut album, holding key tracks "Creature of Doom", "Language Problem", "No Peace for the Wicked", and the c.l.a.s.s.i.c. "Another Girl, Another Planet", the band put out their second platter. The band was critically acclaimed in their time, but not embraced by the greater masses. They have been, still are, shockingly underrated and little known. Without The Only Ones there wouldn't have been bands such as The Strokes, The Libertines, Babyshambles/Dirty Pretty Things, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys and loads of others.

In March (9th according to wikipedia) 1979 their second album, Even Serpents Shine hit the shelves. If you're asking me, it's even better than their debut. Much better. Produced by Peter Perrett and bassist Alan Mair, the album unveiled more of Perrett's excellent songwriting skills. And, as always, the band was a stellar unit, with John Perry's signature guitar-playing, Mike Kellie's steady drumming, and Mair's ditto bassing. From the opening laziness of "From Here to Eternity", the record proves its status as a rock classic. "Flaming Torch" and "You've Got to Pay" follows the good path, while "No Solution" is terrific. "Inbetweens", with its opening seagull guitar squeals, as well as its distinct and sober solo parts, is pure magic. With their lazy, dizzying and dazed sound, plus songs even seasoned with guitar solos - as f.i. "Inbetweens" and "Out There in the Night" - it's somewhat understandable they were a bit on the side alongside their 'punk cohorts' at the time. Yet, they've got this punky snap, as with "Programme", alongside the more glammy, mid-1970s melodic rock.

"Curtains for You" and "Someone Who Cares" are both majestic songs, from out of the same alley as "From Here to Eternity", "Inbetweens" and "Out There in the Night". Then comes the "opus magnum" of the album, called "Miles From Nowhere". It's a total masterpiece of a rock song, and most definitely a contender to "Another Girl, Another Planet" as Perrett's/The Only Ones' best song ever. The (almost) instrumental "Instrumental" closes the album, as the 11th track. 11 songs - and not a weak moment! It's a fact.

Even Serpents Shine is an extraordinarily great album, and one of my all time, top ten, lone island picks!


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The Velvet Undergound
The Velvet Undergound
MGM/Verve Records

I recall the second night (I think... not sure, since I saw both shows... maybe it was both nights...?) of R.E.M.'s two gigs at Rockefeller, Oslo, June 1989, they ended the show with a neat cover version of "After Hours". Maybe not the all-time-best song by The Velvet Underground, but an incredibly charming little song it is. R.E.M. have covered a lot of Velvet Underground songs: "Pale Blue Eyes", "Femme Fatale", "Sweet Jane", and "There She Goes Again" to name a few. In fact, a LOT of bands/artist have covered Velvet over the years - performed live or recorded in the studio. To name some very few (who's had cover versions included on their albums), just to show the variety among the fans of the VU: Japan, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Duran Duran, Tom Tom Club, Billy Idol, Vanessa Paradis, The Runaways, James.

After their 1967 debut with the now iconic The Velvet Underground & Nico, and hanging out, partying with Andy Warhol and his court, The Velvet Underground (VU) was the hottest from the NYC underground without turning into big stars. They preferred art, avant-garde rock and experiments with sound, which happened full-on with their 1968 sophomore album, the noise-feast/paranoid ride of White Light/White Heat. White Light was the last with founding member John Cale on board, and a third album would see the band go in another direction(s). Without Cale, his viola and his exploration in sound. Lou Reed was master and commander, writing more songs to become classic pop and rock pieces.

Reed, alongside guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, teamed up with new bass player Doug Yule. Yule (from Boston, Mass.), who's had befriended the band during their many visits to the Tea Party club (Boston), had his live debut with VU in October 1968, and some 5 months later The Velvet Underground was released (March 12th, 1969). From the velvet (fabric, not band) opener, "Candy Says", telling the sad story of Candy Darling's (of the Factory "staff") urge to be a woman, this is a laidback, übercool record. "What Goes On" follows, showing the twin-guitar-jangly alt-country-pop band VU had become. "Pale Blue Eyes" is one of Reed's finest songs, a ballad with tears in its eyes. "Some Kinda Love", "I'm Set Free" and "Beginning To See The Light" all surf-ride the same carefree coolness being the albums 'red thread', sort of. Sadness with a strange, happy twist. "That's The Story Of My Life" also has this happy-go-lucky feel. The near 9 minute long "The Murder Mystery", by far the longest track ("That's The Story Of My Life" and "After Hours" clocks in at just over 2 minutes each!), is a short story with a soundtrack. In fact, it's a 'double short story', or documentary, as it sees Reed and Morrison reading two separate lyrics (with Tucker and Yule joining in on the chorus). Various words, various speed, a good way to spin heads and minds. The lyrics, or the long poem, are said to be a bit band autobiographical. "Isn't it neat (sweet?) being unique?", goes one line. The Velvet Underground were unique indeed.

After hours. Then there's "After Hours". My R.E.M. memory. This silly, little charmer. Sung by Maureen Tucker, in fact written for her to sing. She has later admitted to be very very nervous recording it. Off key and all, but it's working brilliantly, giving the loneliness of the lyrics the right touch of realism. But, again, despite the sad and lonely tone -- again, there are traces of happiness and hope, and humour. Bleak. Or dark. Because the melody itself has sort of a comic, old cinema, or vaudeville, feel. "If you close the door / The night could last forever / Leave the sunshine out / And say hello to never / All the people are dancing And they're having such fun / I wish it could happen to me". "After Hours" is the perfect end to this album. Play it again.

Copyright © 2009 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Only Ones article/review: Down On The Farm Festival, Norway.

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