Rock And Roll

Album: Loaded (1970)
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Songfacts®:

  • In the liner notes to the Velvet Underground's box set Peel Slowly And See, Lou Reed wrote, "'Rock and Roll' is about me. If I hadn't heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating - to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from. That would have been profoundly discouraging. Movies didn't do it for me. TV didn't do it for me. It was the radio that did it."
  • The band recorded this in 1969, during their final weeks with the Verve label, but the well-known version appears on their 1970 album Loaded.
  • Do remember that the album Loaded was supposed to have mainstream appeal. This song perhaps makes the definitive case that Lou Reed boxed in by executive meddling is not the same as Lou Reed given free rein to do whatever he wants by an avant-garde art house. Loaded is an album that divides fans.

    Even though it is obviously tailored to mainstream appeal, Velvet Underground managed to slip a subversive edge around "Rock & Roll": It inverts the standard three-chord progression and has five-bar verses with an especially laid-back approach to the lyrics. It's done loose and lazy, perfect for the subject, but subtly averting it at the same time.

    This looks like a good time to answer the question: What genre do The Velvet Underground belong in? Some say punk, some alternative, some experimental. It was all of those and none of those - Velvet Underground as it was originally formed would doubtless have had the same disdain of conventional labels as does Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead fame (by the way, Lemmy says he identifies more with punk than metal). The most correct identity that is widely accepted is "protopunk" or "inspiration for punk." While not having a punk sound as it is understood today, they did bring characteristics to rock music (an aggressive attitude, a rebellious spirit, anti-establishment ideas, and a deliberately crude and minimalist sound) which have since become the hallmarks of the punk genre. Punk rock, when it came along in the early 1970s, was about yelling "You think too much and you don't get it!" at establishment rock (and likely following with "It's all about the money to you anyway!"). The Velvet Underground had that idea early on, even if they expressed it as John Cale smashing a whole stack of china dishes instead of Johnny Rotten snarling "Anarchy in the UK!" So, we'll endorse protopunk, not punk.
  • To settle another argument: Lou Reed left right after the album Loaded was in the can. As told in The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side, for June-to-August of 1970, the Velvets were booked at Max's Kansas City in New York City. August 23, Reed had played two sets when he simply left the stage, walked up to producer Sesnick, said, "I quit," and walked out the back door, got into his parents' car (they drove down from Long Island), and rode away, without any drama or fuss. In Reed's historic 1971 interview with Lester Bangs for creem magazine, Reed stated that the breakup wasn't anybody's fault, but just the way the music business is - he left because he wasn't making any money, and felt that they'd never be successful.
  • Alice Cooper recorded a heavy version for his 2021 Detroit Stories album. Alice told Apple Music he loves the "New York heroin chic" vibe of the Velvet Underground original, but for his cover, he thought, "What happens if we take this song to Detroit and put a V8 engine, and soup it up?"

    Alice recruited for his version guitarists "honorary Detroiter" Joe Bonamassa, and Steve Hunter, who played with both Alice and Lou Reed in the 1970s.

Comments: 15

  • Mike from Virginia BeachHey Paul, not sure if you've gotten a chance to actually listen to this song yet....I just wanted to say that you should. It's a GREAT song with a killer (yet subdued) guitar jam to it. Plus it's ironic and quirky and....well....it's Lou Reed. The live version on Rock n Roll Animal is phenomenal as well....but a whole different level guitar-wise. Honestly, one of the greatest songs I've ever listened to.
  • Keith from Centerport, NyI don't get why everyone needs to put music genres in boxes..No one started punk, it was a naturel evolution. Remember Captain Beefhart?? from the 60's?? along with Wild Man Fisher?? At the root of music is emotion. Anger oriented, or sadness oriented, or joyful song. Rock will survive as long as music is felt and delivered from the soul.. VU was a great band and left many influences, just like any other band or artist that comes up with creative sounds. Who cares if someone gets credit for punk..The roots of rock go very deep, long before most of us were even conceived, and it will continue long after we are gone. Just enjoy it, because in the end, thats all that matters
  • Josiah from Mesa, AzOh and Lou did not leave during this album. He left after it. The title Loaded comes from when the record label asked Lou to write more "radio friendly material". So Lou wrote songs that were more structured and catchy than his previous albums and called it Loaded sarcastically because it was Loaded with hits hahahaha.
  • Josiah from Mesa, AzJD your just a pompous know it all who obviously really knows nothing. First off VU are considered by many people including such heroes of the genre as Henry Rollins to be a pre-punk rock band. In music journalist's terms proto-punk. Watch a little DVD called Punk Attitude and you might actually learn something about what punk is and where it came from.
    Pixies not very underground but a great band. Janes Addiction....I'm sorry I can't handle that CRAP. Dead Kennedy's, Misfits great bands but also not very underground. Stop trying to act like you know so much about music when all the bands you name are common knowledge to anyone who even has the slightest interest in music beyond what they are fed on the surface by the media. Has music declined since the late 70's. Not really, you just have to look harder since the corporate age of the 80's ruined the music industry. The Velvet Underground did not save Rock music but they sure as hell are one of the most influental bands of all time. As far as The VU being an alternative band.....Please man......DON'T SAY STUPID STUFF!!!
  • Jd from Clintondale, NyWow is everyone 15 years old? Velvet Underground didn't save rock n' roll, they most definitely didn't create punk/hardrock (which of their songs was punk by the way? oh right they don't have any cause they were a noise/experimental/alternative rock band.), If you were somewhat in tune with punk music you'd of said a band that actually was almost punk such as the MC5 or The Stooges. and Dave from Pittsburg was obviously close minded enough when he said rock has spiraled downhill since the late 70s. Ever hear of the Pixies, Jane's Addiction, Dead Kennedys, Crass, The Misfits, oh I'll even go mainstream with the Smashing Pumpkins, AFI, Elliott Smith (sorta rock), Rage Against the Machine? I could on for ages with great bands after the Clash which is what i figured Dave from Pittsburgh meant when he said late 70s. Don't say stupid stuff huh Dave? You just said one of the dumbest.
  • The Last Dj from Hell.a., CaGranted this is an original & great song but is no one familiar w/the Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels cover? Ol' Mitch rocks the hell out of this song & puts the "Ooomph" in it where Lou forgot to. Influenced by the Godfather of Soul, Mitch Ryder went on to have a profound effect on greats like Bob Seger & Bruce Springsteen.
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhWell, most people in the West that have any knowledge of history have at least heard a passing reference to the Velvet Underground, which is an amazing feat for a band that never had a single on the pop charts. If you think about it, even the supposed stalwarts of album rock had a few single hits. So, that's nearly an unheard-of feat. However, as far as saving rock and roll and their music being enjoyable, I honestly cannot enjoy music that is intentionally noisy to the point of being painful- of course that only applies to some of their songs though. Actually, I don't know this song in particular- only heard their first album. Figured I'd comment anyway.
  • Steve from -----, Paright on dave
  • Patrick from Pittsburgh, Pait doesnt matter that they werent the most popular band, you dont see extremely popular pop groups that are still having an impact on the music scene. What hs is saying is that VU was the first of their kind, and even though werent extrememly popular to everyone, they were a part of a movement and impacted the people that mattered to the actual music scene, not to the pop culture of the day. They created hardrock punk music.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIf I remember correctly, Lu Reed had left the band during the recording of this particular album. I talking about Loaded.
  • Jake from Hillsborough, NcThe demo version from the Loaded: Fully Loaded is even better. Not that the original isn't good, but the demos amazing.
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaI have the album 1969 live, and compared to the Loaded version, this version is probably the best. Another good song on that album is New Age. I love that song.
  • Dave from Pittsburg, PaI don't understand how you can say that the velvet underground saved rock when half the world has never heard them andi dont no if youve noticed but rock is on a downward spiral and it has been ever since the late 70s. Dont say stupid stuff.
  • Craig from Madison, WiWhat is often forgotten about the Velvet Underground is how fun their music could be, and this song is one of their most fun. Next to the Beatles, the most influential band of all time, although most don't know their music. In a time of hippies and bubblegum, they were the only real rock band out there, saving rock (almost literally) one fan at a time. Lou Reed's "life was saved by rock n roll." Lou returned the favor by saving Rock's life.
  • Tom from Newark, DeEven for a very under appreciated band, this is an under appreciated song. I knew of VU for a number of years with out ever hearing this song. One fine morning (okay, it was actually the afternoon) I was driving back from visiting a friend in NYC, and turned on a New York station and heard this song. I loved it!
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