The Velvet Underground was falling apart when it came time for the band to make its fourth and final album to feature Lou Reed, Loaded. The group's third studio effort, the self-titled release from 1969, had bombed so badly that it resulted in the outfit being dropped by its label, MGM Records. Picked up by Atlantic subsidiary Cotillon, the band set out to make a record "loaded" with hits, hence the title.
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The fragile state of the band finally collapsed towards the end of the Loaded recording sessions when Reed walked away from the band. When asked if the remaining members finishing the album without him was the "final straw," Reed explained during a 2016 interview: "The final straw was long before that. No, it was just a terrible thing with the manager. Where the manager feels that he is more important than the artist, or is in competition with the artist. It’s always a bad situation. You know, the manager has an apartment and the artist is sleeping on the floor by the fireplace like a sheepdog."
The album was also made with the group's founding drummer, Moe Tucker, was MIA due to her first pregnancy: " It was still fun, as long as it was fun… You know, Sterling was always threatening to go back, but Maureen just got pregnant. That’s the only thing about Loaded, she was pregnant. Our drummer was not a lesbian. Old Moe, she’s got five kids now, for God’s sake. And [her son] Richard is a guitar player. I gave him one of my custom guitars."
"Loaded was done in New York and we were all living separately," remembered Doug Yule, who replaced John Cale before the group's third LP, to Uncut in 2014. "Loaded was focused and commercial and the manager [Steve Sesnick] wanted to have more FM play. He convinced me to think more commercially and so we started out softly, like you can hear on The Matrix tapes. We then wound up with Loaded being recorded with very FM oriented stuff like 'Who Loves The Sun,' 'Head Held High' and 'Sweet Jane.'"
Released on November 15, Loaded was yet another commercial flop, failing to even chart on the Billboard 200. The record did, ironically enough, arrive with multiple "hits": two of the most enduring and radio-ready tracks in the group's entire catalog, the perennial "Sweet Jane," and "Rock & Roll." Both tunes have been covered relentlessly by other artists, with Reed often citing the Cowboy Junkies' version of "Sweet Jane" as his favorite.
Loaded currently sits at #242 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, right between the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle (#243) and Massive Attack's Blue Lines (#241).