This is the sound of Lou Reed and John Cale in a room, laying down demos for what would become some of the Velvet Underground’s best-known songs. Here, in splendid embryo, are I’m Waiting for the Man and Heroin, plus a dozen more original cuts; just vocals and acoustic guitar, with occasional harmonica on top. A recognizably nasal Reed introduces each song with variations on “music and lyrics, Lou Reed”.
Their Bob Dylan cover – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – sets the tone. Much of this compilation is heavily in thrall to the folk era, and yet Reed’s signature sound is unmistakable. Recorded on reel-to-reel, the demo served as a cheap way of proving copyright when he mailed it to himself. The envelope remained purposely unopened until it was found among Reed’s effects in a storage unit. Previously unheard on any other archival release, these versions genuinely add to his already considerable myth. Pale Blue Eyes changed a lot between 1965 and its inclusion on 1969’s The Velvet Underground LP. A song called Men of Good Fortune would end up on Reed’s Berlin album, but this is a radically different folk song. Perhaps sweetest of all is a doo-wop cut, Too Late, that finds Reed and Cale larking about.