Forgotten Records: The Band Without The Face, Part 4: The Velvet Underground – Squeeze
Squeeze (The Velvet Underground album)

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It’s a story older than Rock ‘n’ Roll itself. A band makes their bones around a charismatic frontman. Maybe he writes the songs. Maybe he just sings them. In either case, he’s the face of the group, the one the people come to see. Then, something happens. Maybe the frontman dies. Maybe there’s an argument over money. Maybe his own inflated ego causes him to start a potentially ill-fated solo career. Whatever happens, the band decides they don’t need their charismatic frontman any longer, and they’ll go on without him. Sometimes, this works. After Buddy Holly died, The Crickets went on with different frontmen for years. Joy Division lost the iconic Ian Curtis, and went on with a name change to become even more popular and successful as New Order. AC/DC had more success with replacement vocalist Brian Johnson than they did with Bon Scott. Yet, for every band that goes on with their new frontman and succeeds, many more fail. These are some of their stories.

Squeeze, the final album released under The Velvet Underground name, is a strange case, and the phrasing of the previous clause should give away some of the reason why. True, it was recorded without the legendary face and voice of the band, Lou Reed, but that’s not all it’s missing. John Cale is gone, having left the band before the recording of their eponymous third album. Drummer Maureen Tucker is not on this record, neither is multi-instrumentalist Sterling Morrison. Who does that leave? Only Doug Yule, Cale’s replacement. Yule took over vocal duties on the tour for Loaded after Reed’s departure two months before that album’s release, putting him in a natural position to take over as the band’s leader. I certainly don’t fault that. Somehow, though, an album got recorded and released featuring no original band members–just hired guns alongside Yule–and released under the name of one of the defining groups of the 60s. What the hell happened?

To his credit, Yule begged the label to release the album under his own name, and to record a real Velvets album with at least Maureen Tucker–Sterling Morrison also having decided to call it quits–but the label would have none of it. The sheer existence of Squeeze is the result of cashing-in, not by the band (or what was left of it), but by their manager, Steve Sesnick, who sent the majority of the Loaded touring band back to America so as to better control the eventual output. Yule wrote the songs in the studio, together with Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice. Any further attempt by Yule to impose some creative vision on the project was, naturally, smacked down. Sesnick mixed the record to make it a big commercial release–which it failed to become. It was only released in Europe, and there weren’t even any singles pulled from the record to promote it.

Fine, but what does Squeeze sound like? Certainly, not like The Velvet Underground, but not offensive to the ear, either. Squeeze is one of those misunderstood albums, cursed to be forever dismissed as a pretender to a powerful legacy at worst, and a mediocre rock album at its best. In spite of its history, I have neither come to bury Squeeze nor to praise it. It’s worthy of neither. Listening to the album, it’s clear Doug Yule is not the songwriter Lou Reed was. Whether this was the result of the unusual production circumstances is unclear, but nothing on Squeeze is as remarkable as even the weakest of the Reed-era Velvet Underground songs.

The Velvets have had many sounds, but they’ve always sounded like themselves. Something unmistakable and indescribable, and it’s clear that Squeeze doesn’t have it. What it does have is a fair amount of trying on different musical styles. Yule tries his hand at country rock (“Little Jack”), Beach Boys homage (“Caroline”), Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles (“Crash”) and honky-tonk blues (“Wordless”)–but the majority of the album is little-more than straightfoward early–70s rock. It’s those stylistic experiments that are the most memorable songs on the album. As soon as Yule and the hired hands on the album step back into the world of crunchy rhythm guitars and 4/4 beats, everything becomes just forgettable. Songs like “Mean Old Man”, and “She’ll Make You Cry” are just dull exercises of form. If I sound like I don’t have much to say about the album, it’s because I don’t. It’s very easy to write a couple hundred words about a good record, and write a couple thousand words about a bad record. It’s a lot harder to write at length when something is as middle-of-the-road as Squeeze.

The Velvet Underground only collapsed in on itself not long after the album’s release. The band was ditched by Sesnick on their 1972 tour, and Yule called it quits in the middle of 1973 where he was billed as The Velvet Underground by the tour manager, despite his protestations. Naturally, Squeeze fell out of print quickly, except in France for some reason where LPs were pressed until some point in the 1980s. There are no official CD releases of the album. It’s given the shortest of short shrift in all documentation. Box sets deliberately exclude it. However, live recordings of the Yule-led band, in its various configurations, were released as part of the live box set, Final V.U.–one of a myriad of cash-ins upon the Velvet Underground legacy.

If there’s a happy(-ish) ending to the Velvet Underground story, it’s that the original lineup of the group reunited in 1993 for a tour and released a live album, Live MCMXCII. Sterling Morrison wanted to bring Yule in as well, but he was voted out by Reed and Cale. [1] The reunion, of course, didn’t last, and Sterling Morrison died in 1995. The final Velvet Underground reunion, save for a joint interview appearance in 2009, was at their induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They performed a new song, in memory of Morrison: “Last Night, I Said Goodbye to My Friend.” Yule was not involved. Naturally, none of these reunions involved any tracks from Squeeze. Truly, it’s the black sheep of the band’s back catalog, and really, it’s only worth tracking down if you’re desperate to complete your Velvet Underground collection–and even then not so much. Worst of all, it’s not that it’s not worth tracking down because it’s bad–there is a lot of value in a truly bad record. Squeeze is just a perfectly tolerable, if slightly dull 70s rock record, recorded under the wrong name.

  1. After the fact, Yule stated that he wouldn’t have been able to join them anyway.  ?

Richard J. Anderson is a writer based in Philadelphia, PA. He blogs at SansPoint, and also keeps track of neat things from the internet at Want a Breath Mint.

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