"Who Loves the Sun" / Velvet Underground
There's got to be some reason why I only have one Velvet Underground track on my iTunes. I mean, I've got Lou Reed solo stuff; I've got John Cale solo stuff. But the fact is, I was way too young and mainstream to listen to Velvet Underground when they first came out in the late 60s. Come on, I was listening to the Monkees then! I didn't have a single friend who followed that band; I didn't even know who they were.
Later on, when I started to listen to Lou Reed, someone told me Lou had been in Velvet Underground, as if that was all I needed to know. I wanted to seem like I was in the know; I just nodded and said, "Really? Cool." Even after that, I constantly confused the Velvets with the New York Dolls -- you know, underground NYC band, avant garde, they're all the same. Oh, the shame of it.
If I had to have only one Velvet Underground song on my iPod, you'd think it would be something more iconic -- like "Heroin," maybe, or "Sweet Jane." (I've heard Lou Reed sing both at various times.) My dim notion of VU's music was that it was snarly and surreal and dense. Imagine my surprise when someone gave me a mix tape with this Beatle-y, bright pop confection. That was Velvet Underground? Maybe I should reconsider . . .
So I listened to more of their stuff. Still no go. I know that their debut album is supposed to be one of the great records of all time, but come on -- Nico's vocals are like fingernails on a blackboard to me. I don't even care if Robyn Hitchcock is a huge Velvets fan. Sorry, but if rock snob status depends on pretending to like this band, then I'll just have to pass.
"Who Loves the Sun," though? It is absolutely delicious.
While many VU purists scorn their 1970 album Loaded as a crass bid for mainstream airplay, the fact is it's the Velvets' only really accessible album. Once John Cale and Nico were out of the picture, Lou Reed was determined to show the world what a versatile songwriter he was. (Then of course he left the band before Loaded was even released -- go figure.) "Who Loves the Sun" is the opening salvo in this campaign, the first cut on the album. It isn't even sung by gravel-voiced Lou, but by Doug Yule, VU's bassist.
The tempo is bouncy, the lyrics simple. "Who loves the sun / Who cares that it makes plants grow / Who cares what it does since you broke my heart." That's a classic romantic literary conceit, seeing oneself as out of step with nature when love goes wrong. Yet it's hard to totally believe in his heartbreak, what with that major-key melody, the boppy backbeat rhythm, and those cheery background harmonies. I hear the Beatles here, even the Beach Boys or the Mamas the Papas. It's a happy song.
Here in the Northeast, the sun is finally out again after a week of dreary rain. On days like this, I have to burst into song. There's "Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks, and then there's "Who Loves the Sun." No matter what the lyrics say, it's still my go-to song for the first day of spring, a total charmer.