Anyone coming cold to The Velvet Underground’s fourth album could easily have jumped to the wrong conclusion when it was first released, in 1970. Here was a record by a band best known for writing provocative, drug-addled songs such as Heroin and Sister Ray, and it was called Loaded and housed in a trippy sleeve depicting a New York City subway entrance. Surely that all pointed to it being their most decadent-sounding record yet?
“The title was a reference to the fact that the label and [frontman Lou] Reed and [manager Steve] Sesnick all wanted hits,” bassist Doug Yule later explained. “The album was ‘loaded’ with hits.”
Listen to ‘Loaded’ here.
Speaking to The Velvet Underground Fanzine in 1994, Yule shone a further light on the group’s mindset at the time of recording the album: “On Loaded there was a big push to produce a hit single, there was that mentality: which one of these is a single, how does it sound when we cut it down to three and a half minutes? So that was a major topic for the group at that point. And I think that the [group’s self-titled] third album to a great extent shows a lot of that, in that a lot of those songs were designed as singles.”
Leaving its deliberately ambiguous title aside, Loaded has proved the most divisive of The Velvet Underground’s four studio albums featuring original frontman and primary songsmith Lou Reed. However, while it lacks the edgy, avant-garde leanings of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the sheer abrasive intensity of White Light/White Heat, or the mellow insouciance of The Velvet Underground, Loaded is still a fine record that stands on its own merits.