The other Velvet Underground...from Australia

If you search on Discogs -- not to mention Google -- for information about a certain musical group, you will often find that more than one artist has used the name you are searching for. But, seriously...who would have thought that more than one band called themselves the Velvet Underground?

There was once an Australian band by that name, who were entirely unrelated to the seminal American band led by Lou Reed. This band was formed in 1967, and disbanded in 1972 -- which means that they existed concurrently with the American Velvet Underground, although they claimed to be unaware of that band's existence. They said that they (like their American counterpart) took their name from Michael Leigh's 1963 nonfiction novel about aberrant sexual behavior.

The Australian Velvet Underground hardly had the same historical significance as Reed's influential band, but they did have some: Malcolm Young, the co-founder-to-be of AC/DC, was a member of the Australian Velvet Underground in their later days, as was Dave Evans, the pre-Bon Scott frontman who would sing the lead vocal on AC/DC's first single in 1974. Two other members were drummer Herman Kovac and guitarist Les Hall, who were later members of another Aussie rock outfit called the Ted Mulry Gang.

Confusion between the two Velvet Undergrounds has been forever minimized by the fact that the Australian band only recorded and released one single, which was issued only in Australia on the Festival label in January 1970. This single did not feature young Malcolm, nor did Evans or Kovac participate. Future TMG guitarist Hall was on board, along with Steve Phillipson, Mark Priest, and Dave Schofield.

Based on their one single, this Velvet Underground did not sound much like the band from New York. However, they could have been mistaken for a band from California. Both sides of the single contain covers of songs originally recorded a few years earlier by California bands. Lead singer Steve Phillipson -- who was reportedly the kind of performer who would set his clothing on fire on stage -- sounds something like Arthur Lee of Love. Sure enough, the single's B-side is a cover of Love's "She Comes In Colours". At first listen, it sounds almost identical to the original, with slightly different vocal phrasing in the chorus. But those who know the Love version by heart will notice that the second and third verses are sung in reverse order -- and there is a fourth verse added, with lyrics that could be mistaken for Lee's: "When I was out of my mind, I screamed for your help/But you could not comfort me, You're wrapped up in yourself". Nice touch! They also got slightly creative with the A-side, a cover of the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody To Love". They added a Hendrix-like instrumental intro, and omitted two verses (these guys were not exactly lyrical purists). Phillipson wisely did not try to affect a male Grace Slick; instead, he sings the song the way Arthur Lee might have if Love had recorded it. It's an intriguing rendition, although it is marred by a much weaker instrumental outro than that of the Airplane's version. In fact, that bit of minimalism is the one thing that could cause this recording to be mistaken for one by the American Velvet Underground. Otherwise, this single is a fascinating footnote from a hidden corner of rock and roll history.


Velvet Underground - Somebody to Love / She Comes in Colours

Velvet Underground "Somebody To Love" b/w "She Comes In Colours" (Festival FK-3466) 1970

Track Listing:

a. Somebody To Love
b. She Comes In Colours

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