Lou Reed and Nico - Record Store Day 2022 special releases

One month after the influential 1967 Velvet Underground And Nico album turned 55 years of age, special releases by Lou Reed and Nico were issued on Record Store Day 2022.

Lou Reed was the co-founder and the creative force behind the Velvet Underground. The RSD release I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos was a vinyl LP containing 13 demo tracks recorded by Reed in October of ’71 at RCA Recording Studios in New York. This was Reed’s first recording session after he departed from the Velvet Underground in 1970, beginning his long solo career which continued until his death in 2013. This LP was limited to 7,550 copies. Apparently, this album was briefly released digitally on Apple Music in Europe just before Christmas 2021, with four additional tracks, but was quickly removed within days. As of this writing, plans for future releases of the album are unknown.

These recordings were demos of songs which turned up in finished form on the solo albums Reed recorded for RCA between 1972 and 1976. A few of them – “I’m Sticking With You”, “Lisa Says”, "She’s My Best Friend”, “Ocean” – were then-unreleased Velvet Underground songs which later turned up on the 1984-released VU album. Reed recorded these demos in a single day, alone with an acoustic guitar; after flubbing his first take of “Perfect Day”, Reed can be heard saying he would “leave out the tricky guitar bits”. This low-key approach to the songs shows us a side of Reed we hardly knew, even if you’ve listened to his massive catalogue. Reed’s usual talk-singing takes the form of more singing than talking during these demos, albeit in limited and unmelodic fashion. Reed comes across very much like a straightforward singer-songwriter of the early-‘70’s here, before he was corrupted by the cartoonish excesses of the glam-rock era. This is no big surprise when we hear him playing songs which would be included on his self-titled 1972 debut (i.e. “Wild Child”, “Going Down”, “Ride Into The Sun”). But when we hear him play songs which would turn up on the Bowie-produced Transformer – namely “Perfect Day”, “I’m So Free”, and “New York Telephone Conversation” – the minimal amount of exaggeration is most welcome.

The most remarkable tracks: The song “Kill Your Sons” became a deranged pre-punk protest song against electric-shock therapy on the 1974 album Sally Can’t Dance; this early demo version turns out to be a Vietnam-era anti-war folk song, though the lyrics still paint Reed’s views in bold colors. “Berlin” later became the introductory title track for Reed’s 1973 concept album; although this demo version is long, it sounds as though the song was originally meant to stand alone – as it does on Reed’s solo debut – instead of being part of a larger project. The stripped-down acoustic version of “Ocean” turns out to be the virtual equal of any fuller-bodied version by Reed or the Velvets.

I’m So Free is not merely a pleasant surprise; it actually provides an essential glimpse at Reed during a major turning point in his musical evolution.

Lou Reed “I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos” (RCA Legacy 19439944251) 2022

Track Listing:

1. Perfect Day – Takes 1 & 2 (4:01)
2. I’m So Free (2:07)
3. Wild Child (4:18)
4. I’m Sticking With You – Take 2 (1:50)
5. Lisa Says (5:19)
6. Going Down – Take 2 (2:25)
7. I Love You (2:09)
8. New York Telephone Conversation (1:38)
9. She’s My Best Friend (2:41)
10. Kill Your Sons (4:44)
11. Berlin (4:33)
12. Ocean – Takes 1 & 2 (5:03)
13. Ride Into The Sun – Take 2 (2:27)

These four tracks appeared on the brief European digital release, but not on the LP:

14. Hangin’ Round – Take 2
15. Love Makes You Feel – Take 2
16. I Can’t Stand It
17. Walk It And Talk It

For the same Record Store Day, a live album by Nico was issued, documenting her February 1983 concert at the Hacienda in Manchester, England. Nico was the German chanteuse who performed with the Velvet Underground during their association with Andy Warhol in 1966, and sang the eerie lead vocals on three songs on their aforementioned debut album, earning her an uncommon star billing on the record. Live At The Hacienda ’83 was pressed in translucent purple vinyl, and was limited to 2,000 copies. The OBI strip that comes with the record states that it is a “rough live recording for fans & collectors” – which is certainly truthful, because the sound quality is far from pristine. However, that’s not always a major drawback, as the distant sound sometimes furthers the moody atmosphere.

This 1983 show took place five years before Nico’s death in 1988, and two years after her 1981 studio album Drama Of Exile was released. That album was her first studio release in seven years. Where most of her earlier solo albums used harmonium to create eerie moods, Drama Of Exile had an updated new wave Gothic sound and utilized a backing band that apparently listened to plenty of early Cure and Banshees. It is pleasantly surprising, then, that Live At The Hacienda ’83 is mostly fused with the harmonium-based sound of her earlier recordings from 1969 through 1974. Some of the tracks, especially “One More Chance” and “Vegas”, are marred by loud and intrusive drums. But others, like “Janitor Of Lunacy”, “Valley Of The Kings”, and “Tananore”, are good presentations of the horror-movie-like sound that Nico specialized in, with her often deadpan vocals blending well with the background sounds. By contrast, the performance of the Drama Of Exile song “Purple Lips” demonstrates that album’s updated Gothic style to advantageous effect. VU purists may object to the electronic Krautrock treatment given to this performance of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, but it does give the song a newer kind of hallucinogenic quality; a piano-based rendition of “Femme Fatale” is closer in sound to the original, but it inexplicably is cut off before it ends. And at the end of the record, we hear only about four minutes of Nico and company covering The Doors’ “The End”; that performance presumably went on much longer, and what we hear suggests that it was intense. Live At The Hacienda ’83 is certainly a fragmentary document, but its better moments might make it worthwhile for diehards.

Nico “Live At The Hacienda ‘83” (Culture Factory/Cherry Red 783491) 2022

Track Listing:

1. One More Chance
2. Saeta
3. My Heart Is Empty
4. Sixty Forty
5. Janitor Of Lunacy
6. Valley Of The Kings
7. Vegas
8. Purple Lips
9. All Tomorrow’s Parties
10. Tananore
11. Femme Fatale
12. Afraid
13. The End

On a related note, Nico's 1985 studio album Camera Obscura received an LP reissue on Record Store Day (Beggars Archive bbl 63 lpe), limited to 1,500 blue vinyl copies. On this album, produced by John Cale, Nico was backed by a synth duo called the Faction. It was her final album released before her death. The album showed Nico continuing to evolve as an avant garde artist in the new wave era, recording absorbing Euro-style electronic pieces, as well as a fairly old-fashioned rendition of the jazz standard "My Funny Valentine".