When is a Velvet Underground album not a Velvet Underground album? When it’s “Squeeze.”
Officially the fifth and final studio album put out under the Velvet’s name, “Squeeze” is the album that Velvet Underground fans ignore, that never gets acknowledge on any collections and allegedly pissed off Lou Reed for the rest of his life. Recorded in 1972 and seeing only a European release in 1973, “Squeeze” didn’t have any of the Velvets from the classic era of the band on it. The only person playing on it was junior member Doug Yule. Considered today as the “forgotten member” of the Velvet Underground, to put “Squeeze” in perspective, it was like if Vinnie Vincent released an album of solo material and put it out under the name KISS. That’d be lunacy, but that’s what Doug Yule did.
So who was Doug Yule, and why does everybody hate him?
Boston based bassist Doug Yule first met The Velvet Underground when they played The Boston Tea Party night club in 1968. Yule caught the attention of Velvet’s guitarist Sterling Morrison, and when founding member John Cale left the band later that year, Yule was asked to join the band. Yule started playing live shows with the Velvets, and he made his recording debut on their 1969 self titled album.
Now I want to be clear. I don’t hate Doug Yule. In fact, I consider myself to be a fan of the guy. I believe that Doug Yule made an interesting and dynamic contribution to The Velvet Underground and was highly influential in creating a shift from the band being an underground band to adopting a more mainstream sound which really worked for the group. In fact, Doug sang lead vocals on two of my all time favorite Velvet Underground tracks – “Candy Says” and “New Age.” Furthermore, Doug was a major force in the production and sound of the Velvets’ fourth album, “Loaded,” which is arguably their best album. I mean, we all love “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” with the iconic banana cover, but “Loaded” is the more listenable of the two albums. On “Loaded” Doug played both bass and organ, harmonized with Reed and sang lead on multiple tracks. The Velvet Underground had evolved a lot between 1967 and 1970, and Doug Yule was a big part of that evolution.
Now, if there was a “villain” in this story, it isn’t Doug Yule but is, in my opinion, manager Steve Sesnick. But, Sesnick had a major influence on Doug Yule who unwittingly took the fall for his bad decisions. Owner of the already mentioned Boston Tea Party night club, the Velvet’s hired Sesnick as their manager after they parted ways with Andy Warhol around 1968 – the same time that Yule joined the band. It was Sesnick who encouraged Lou Reed to go in a more commercial route with “Loaded,” and it really was good advice. Some of Reed’s best songs, including “Sweet Jane” and “Rock n’ Roll” came out of it. However, Sesnick really saw Doug Yule as being his guy, and its been noted by members of the group that Sesnick would often pit Yule and Reed against one other. By the end of 1970, after their legendary residency at Max’s Kansas City, Reed had had enough of Selsnick and what was turning into a constant power struggle within the group. At the final concert Lou told Moe Tucker he was out, and left the band.
So, you’d think that if Lou Reed, the defacto leader and creative force within The Velvet Underground, quit the band, that’d be ir – right? Well, The Velvet Underground were in a bit of a pickle. They had signed a two album deal with Atlantic Records, and when Lou left, he took with him all of the songs and master recordings that the band had been working on for the next album. He’d go on to record solo versions of most of them for “Lou Reed” and “Berlin” (eventually the unreleased versions of these songs would find their way on the 1980’s compilations “VU” and “Another View”). Meanwhile, Atlantic Records was not interested in a Lou Reedless Velvet Underground and instead of continuing with the group as it now was, they released a live album “Live at Max’s Kansas City” in 1972 and let them out of their contractual obligation.
Meanwhile Yule, along with Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker were still performing as The Velvet Underground, but it just wasn’t sitting right with Sterling and Moe, and eventually both of them left the group. Moe was raising a young family, and Sterling left music to become a tug boat captain. But Yule, egged on by Sesnick, wasn’t done with the rock n’ roll life and was possibly suffering of illusions of grandeur. With the “Velvets,” whoever they were by this point, primarily touring in Europe, Sesnick got a deal with Polydor for a new “Velvet Underground” album which would see a European release, and he sent Doug Yule into the studio to start writing and recording this thing. This, of course, came to be “Squeeze.”
“Squeeze” hit shelves quietly in 1973 and was released in England, France, Germany, Spain and Japan. Meanwhile, in New York City, Lou Reed had released his masterpiece “Berlin,” and was still riding high on mainstream success with 1972’s “Transformer.” Without Lou Reed on “Squeeze,” the fact it was credited to The Velvet Underground was a joke and fans immediately turned their back on it and disowned it. Polydor Records didn’t even release a single for the album. Quickly Doug Yule realized that the idea of this was pathetic and after only a few promotional shows for “Squeeze,” he called it quits and officially allowed the Velvet Underground to die.
Now, was “Squeeze” really all that bad? I mean, most Velvet Underground fans have never even heard it and only know it by reputation and lore. I was lucky to buy a copy from Bluestreak Records in Peterborough, ON at a fairly high price, and only because owner Tim Haines knew I was a huge Velvet Underground fan and told me he had obtained a copy. He sold it to me directly without it ever being displayed in the store. Otherwise, I’ve never ever even seen a copy of this thing, But, when listening to it tonight, I can honestly admit its not a terrible sounding album. I can recognize that stylistically It was building on the sound and feeling where “Loaded” left off. But something is missing, and every song is forgettable. Honestly, I can’t name a single track on it, and as soon as each song ends I can’t recall what I heard. Obviously Reed’s songwriting just isn’t there, and Doug Yule was not the creative force Reed was.
But, on the surface, its not a terrible rock album. I wonder what would have happened if Doug Yule had released it under his own name as a solo album, and not as a Velvet Underground album. Would it have had a different reception? I predict it might still have been forgettable, but maybe Doug Yule’s reputation wouldn’t have taken such a major hit.
No doubt, the release of “Squeeze” hit a nerve with both the fans and the members of The Velvet Underground, and Doug Yule has been disowned from the group and its history. It was also said to be a bone of contention with Lou Reed, who held a grudge towards Yule for the rest of his life Now Lou Reed is pretty famous for being a stormy guy, and was famous for holding grudges. But a deeper dive into Yule’s career shows that the grudge might have been formed long after “Squeeze” was released., What many don’t realize is that Lou Reed and Doug Yule worked together afterwards quite a lot. Doug played bass on Reed’s 1974 album “Sally Can’t Dance,” and joined his touring band as their bassist. He was also brought back by Reed for his following album, “Coney Island Baby.” But somewhere along the line, things must of soured between them. In a 2014 interview with Vice, Yule talked openly about Lou Reed’s dislike of him and about trying to avoid him, unsuccessfully, at an art event. Meanwhile, during the 1993 Velvet Undergound reunion tour, when a reporter asked Lou where Doug Yule was he flippantly answered, “Dead, I hope.”
The most glaring insult to his place in the Velvets’ history was Doug Yule’s omission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when The Velvet Underground was inducted in 1996. Some say that there is a rule with the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame that members outside of the original line up are not inducted, but I don’t know about that. Ronnie Wood didn’t join the Rolling Stones until 1975 and he got in with them. Honestly, whether he deserved it or not, Doug Yule is the black sheep of the Velvet Underground family. But I’ve been called a black sheep before. Black sheep can be cool.
But does he deserve it? Honestly, even without counting “Squeeze”, Doug Yule was featured on more Velvet Underground albums than John Cale and Nico, and he was part of the architecture of some of the Velvet Underground’s most dynamic tracks. Doug Yule deserves a little bit of love, even in sake a poorly executed idea like “Squeeze.”