The Velvet Underground’s Squeeze would be an anomaly in any band’s discography, let alone one of the most influential groups of the 20th Century. Disowned by critics and fans alike for, among other things, not featuring any of the band’s original line-up, Squeeze is an impersonation, but hardly as bad as you might have been made to believe. Here’s how this strange recording came to be and why it faded into obscurity.
The break-up of the Velvet Underground
Lou Reed joked in an interview taken in the early 1970s that he was considering sending look-alikes out on the road to play live shows for him. The talented and cynical leader behind most of the Velvet Underground’s work may have been referencing the fate of his former group but also quoting directly from a page in the music industry’s handbook.
In the early days of records, when visuals of the performers were few to come by and usually of poor quality, managers would unashamedly hire musicians to pose as more famous bands. This practice occurred, especially in the U.S.A., inciting fewer riots than one might imagine. It allowed the group or solo artist to perform in multiple locations simultaneously. It meant, essentially, an army of musicians all promoting the same record or single.
In many ways, this is what happened to the Velvet Underground. The irony was that neither was the group commercially successful enough to warrant such treatment nor that the counterfeit resulting album is as terrible as its reputation would have you believe.
The breakup of the Velvet Underground seemed inevitable for some time. While the band achieved high notoriety and critical praise, they never gained much commercial success. Furthermore, tensions within the group led to the dismissal of John Cale, a vital ingredient in the group’s sound. However, the death knell was the group’s uneasy collaboration with Steve Sesnick. He had taken over management after the group severed ties with artist Andy Warhol.
In one of the most famous quotes about rock music, Brian Eno once said, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” The future Roxy Music founder was right. Bands indebted to the New York group’s sound began appearing almost immediately after their dissolution. One of them was the band that recorded Squeeze.
The VU’s brief but influential career
Indeed, the Velvet Underground was one of the first groups to achieve fame through word of mouth rather than record label maneuvering. The group was formed in early 1964. It included singer-guitarist Lou Reed, multi-instrumentalist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Moe Tucker.
From the beginning, the band has had an unorthodox approach to songwriting and performing. This, in part, endeared them to famous New York artist Andy Warhol. He supported and co-produced the band’s debut Velvet Underground & Nico. Warhol insisted on the involvement of one of his associates, German model, and artist Nico, and also provided the iconic artwork.
The album included noteworthy compositions like Heroin, Venus in Furs, or Waiting for the Man. The subject matter chosen by Lou Reed was unusual for pop music. It put pop songwriting in closer ties to other more serious art forms than it had ever been.
Departing from Warhol’s influence and his visual project The Plastic Exploding Inevitable, the group recorded three more excellent albums. White Light/White Heat included traces of maniacal garage rock but also bold sonic experimentation. It would be the last material recorded with John Cale. The musician would go on to have a tremendous solo career, which includes the album Paris 1919. His departure, however, would sow the seeds for the group’s demise.
In 1970, the group recorded their self-titled third album, which yielded more critical praise. (It includes the oft-covered What goes on) Now with Doug Yule taking over for Cale, and pressures mounting, the band released one final record, Loaded. The album’s title may have been a play on words. Lou Reed was confident he has “loaded” up the records with hits. He was certainly right. Songs like Sweet Jane and Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ would go on to exist as bonafide classic. However, predictably, the album did not sell. The band slowly disintegrated after that. By 1972, Lou Reed would record his seminal album Transformer, and plans for a return to the VU would be shelved for many years.
Who is Doug Yule?
Doug Yule is a highly talented musician and friend of Lou Reed’s. He may be treated as the villain in the story of Squeeze, but, in many ways, this is not fair.
By most accounts, Yule was asked by Reed himself to join the group as a replacement for John Cale. Filling in Cale’s shoes was no easy task. The Welsh musician played numerous instruments and had left his stamp on the Velvets’ sound.
Like Reed, Doug Yule was born in New York. He was a multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, horn, as well as guitar. Yule discovered rock n’ roll in the mid-1960s. He’d been a member of several rock groups. He had studied acting and was close to the New York art scene. Most importantly, he was an ally for Lou Reed.
Certainly, Yule was deemed capable enough of taking on the job in the group, and his role was to flesh out the sound. As time wore on, his role became more prominent, not least in part at the request of manager Steve Sesnick who may have picked up on Reed’s hesitance to promote the band in a more commercial and conservative way.
The fifth Velvet Underground album
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to divorce the sound and image of the Velvet Underground from Lou Reed. However, several elements were at play to make things more difficult in 1970. For one thing, if you’d not had the chance to see the band live, your only visual queue as a fan was through grainy photographs.
You wouldn’t have been alone in this. In fact, super-fan David Bowie first met Doug Yule and was convinced that he was speaking to Lou Reed. The two shared a physical resemblance, sure. But, also, management did little to discourage the idea that Reed was, by 1970, no longer a part of the band.
Drummer Maureen Tucker was attached to contribute to a fifth Velvet Underground album. She soon left the project, though, only to be replaced by Deep Purple’s Ian Paice. If that does not strike you as odd, I highly suggest digging into one of Paice’s drum solos.
Against all odds, it seemed, Steve Sesnick managed to wrangle a recording deal with Polydor and keep shush about the slowly disintegrating group. Doug Yule was, effectively, put in charge of writing and recording a new Velvet Underground album all on his own.
For his part, as the few interviews he’s done over the years reveal, Yule was perfectly aware of the circumstances. These were hardly ideal, but the musician took up the task. At the encouragement of Sesnick, he had become more involved in the VU’s work since first joining the group. While it is hard to imagine Sesnick and Yule did not consider the effect of releasing a group that contained none of the band’s original members, both had reasons to put those considerations to the side momentarily.
The vast majority of the recording on the album was done by Doug Yule. This may have been encouraged by Sesnick, according to many reports, as a way to save up money. Later, once basic tracks were made, Ian Paice stepped in to redo the drums. How did Sesnick get the drummer of one of the biggest hard rock bands in the world to participate in the project? Paice has, so far, not elaborated on the matter.
The album was, by most accounts, rushed. In one of the rare instances where he speaks of the project, Yule compared it to a tenth-grade term paper that needed to be turned in on a fast-approaching deadline.
Did the album turn out to be the payday that Sesnick envisioned? No. Like most other Velvet Underground albums, it failed to sell. However, unlike those, it was viewed as an oddity. It certainly looked and sounded like the VU. But, with cheap production and stories about Reed’s lack of involvement, it disappeared from stores quickly. Later, it was all but erased from history. When it is included in the band’s discography, it is usually accompanied by a caveat, an apology, and, often, a few gags. The Very Best of The Velvet Underground includes no trace of songs from Squeeze.
Is the Velvet Underground’s Squeeze that bad?
Yes and no. Frankly, while it includes none of the original cast, it sounds like the Velvet Underground for the most part. Furthermore, while the previous four albums were also not made using state-of-the-art equipment, the lack of budget for Squeeze is glaringly noticeable.
Would the reaction to the album be as harsh had it appeared under Yule’s own name? Certainly not, but it wouldn’t have received the attention it did either.
Most of the tracks on the album are reminiscent of the Velvets’ rock n’ roll period. For the most part, the arrangements are simple, the pacing is quick, and the lyrics are quirky and witty.
In fact, if you’ve heard the demos of the band that have appeared on Deluxe Edition reissues of their iconic records, they somewhat resemble the tracks on Squeeze. Little Jack sounds like a number that didn’t quite make the cut for Loaded. Crash feels like a distant relative of I’m sticking with you. Sounds like Dopey Joe and She’ll make you cry sound like someone trying to do a Lou Reed song, something that Reed entertained himself with on occasion. The record tends to drag on a bit toward the end. However, the final song on the record Louise, a barroom saloon stomper about an old hooker, is the highlight of the record and might have deserved a better fate.
Aftermath and the Velvet Underground reunion
Squeeze disappeared without a trace almost immediately after release. By this point, Sesnick and Yule must have known they were flogging a dead horse and ceased using the monicker.
Doug Yule’s reputation as a member of the Velvets suffered. Devotees of the band blamed him for Squeeze, viewed by few as a genuine article in the group’s discography. The guitarist did, however, reconnect with Reed briefly, joining his live band during the mid-1970s. He then retired for nearly 30 years before making sporadic appearances during the 2000s.
The Velvet Underground did reform their original line-up in 1992, attracting massive attention from the music world and mainstream media. Lou Reed got to meet Vaclav Havel, the band was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, while MTV Unplugged and the Glastonbury Festival came calling. Although Sterling Morrison championed it, Doug Yule was not invited to the reunion.
Lou Reed’s solo career was very successful, and many of his albums, like Transformer, or Berlin, are held in extremely high regard. John Cale’s was also critically well-regarded, especially his album Paris 1919, and he produced albums for the likes of Patti Smith and the Stooges.
Sadly, Sterling Morrison passed away in 1995, ending any future reunion plans for the band. Lou Reed passed away in 2013. The surviving group members remained active in helping promote the band’s back catalog.
The Velvet Underground is often hailed as one of the most influential groups in the history of rock music. In spite of an ever-growing interest in their work, Squeeze, their final album remains largely forgotten outside of YouTube oddities and is rarely included in the group’s official discography.