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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Velvet Underground owe so much to Doug Yule – why was he written out of history?

Yule has been largely written out of Velvets history too. And that despite the fact he was a key member for a significantly longer period than John Cale. Especially objectionable is the idea – not exactly discouraged by the Haynes film – that he was a glorified session man. In fact, he was an important creative foil to Reed and, within just a few weeks of joining, sang lead vocals on Candy Says, arguably among Reed’s finest Velvet Underground compositions.

Reed had felt 21-year-old Yule’s naive vocal style worked well with the track, which is about Andy Warhol muse Candy Darling. Yule would go on to be fully involved in the writing and recording of 1968’s “Grey Album” (officially titled The Velvet Underground) and 1970’s Loaded – the latter regarded as the Velvets’ catchiest, with quasi-hits such as Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll.

His sin, in the eyes of some fans, was not to be John Cale. The Velvet Underground had started as an equal partnership between Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker – and singer Christa Päffgen ,aka Nico. She had joined on the suggestion of Andy Warhol and his frequent collaborator Paul Morrissey. They felt she brought mystery and glamour and served as a counterpoint to Reed’s spectacular dourness. 

Cale, even more than Reed, was responsible for the dissonant tone for their 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico. Drawing on his avant-garde background he helped create a record that shattered the mould for rock ’n’ roll by finding beauty in ugliness. And which served as the perfect framing device for Reed’s lyrics about heroin, prostitution and sexual deviancy. 

Alas, The Velvet Underground wasn’t big enough for two geniuses. Cale and Reed butted heads. And in 1968 Reed arranged his former friend’s expulsion. Enter Yule as Cale’s stand-in on bass. He wasn’t a particularly big fan of the Velvets and knew his job was to please Reed. “John and Lou pushed against each other a lot,” Yule said to Uncut in 2014. “It was like a constant ongoing tug of war. Then when Lou found himself as the main guy, the main songwriter, everything was much more cooperative.”

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