Dozens of previously unreleased songs by Velvet Underground founding member Lou Reed were recently discovered on a cassette tape at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The tunes, dating from 1975, are on one side of a cassette labeled “The Philosophy Songs (From A to B and Back),” a reference to Warhol’s book of a similar title on which they’re based. (Songs on the other side of the tape are from 1975 concerts by Reed dubbed from soundboards.)
“It sounds like he recorded them in his apartment with an open-air microphone, just voice and acoustic guitar,” Judith Peraino, a professor of music at Cornell University, told the Cornell Chronicle about the newly discovered works. Peraino unearthed the recordings while doing research at the museum and said her first reaction was “disbelief and uncertainty.”
The cassette was archived along with about 3,500 audio tapes collected by Warhol, who collaborated with the late rocker in the 1960s and was the Velvet Underground’s band manager at one point. The artist helped bolster the group’s rise to fame as “Warhol superstars” within the downtown scene, and Reed and his fellow bandmates were fixtures at Warhol’s Factory in New York.
Peraino released her findings Wednesday in an article titled “I’ll Be Your Mixtape: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and the Queer Intimacies of Cassettes” published in the Journal of Musicology. Included in the article, with permission from Reed’s estate, is a 30-second clip of one of the songs.
In a video interview with the Chronicle, Peraino says the tape has vocals by a singer whose voice she “didn’t immediately recognize” as Reed’s, adding that the recordings had a “sort of very intimate, close-miked sound” and that city traffic and other noise could be heard in the background between songs.
“The sound of Reed’s voice on ‘The Philosophy Songs’ is very different from his live concert performances on Side 1,” she says, adding that the “rare” discovery is “certainly a highlight of my career.” She also notes that the “gift aspect” of the tape is especially important.
“Lou Reed intentionally created both a curated set of songs and a composed set of songs on tape meant only for Warhol,” she told the Chronicle. “This is a harbinger of the mixtape culture and gift-giving that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s.”
In her findings, Peraino discusses how the tape “reflects Warhol’s and Reed’s failed attempt to collaborate on a stage version” of Reed’s album “Berlin,” which was released in 1973. She also looks at how Warhol’s personal “audio aesthetics and taping practices” infiltrated Reed’s recordings from the time period.
“Reed brought an experimental and literary sensibility to his songs, composing vivid and sometimes brutal portraits of complex characters in sound and words,” Peraino said of the artist, who died in 2013. “This tape from 1975 reveals an intimate side of Reed’s musical portrait-making through a story that is his own, touching on his ongoing involvement with Andy Warhol.”
One question remains: Will the recordings ever be available for sale to the public? Rolling Stone reports that it is unlikely due to complex legal issues surrounding actual song ownership and rights, as they involve both music created by Reed and words written by Warhol.