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Pale Blue Eyes

Singer: The Velvet Underground

Record Label: MGM Records

Music Director:

The love song that showed the world a sensitive Reed
NIDHI GUPTA  2nd Nov 2013


By August 1967, the tensions between John Cale and Lou Reed, frontrunners of The Velvet Underground, had escalated to the point of no return. This was despite a strong shared sensibility in the experimental and the alternative, which the two had fostered three years earlier, while Reed was still working as a songwriter for Pickwick Records. Cale had been eased out of the band before they started recording their third (self-titled) album, perhaps the most memorable for its distinctly uncharacteristic lyrics and sound, drumming up a rhythm far softer than the drug-soaked and abusive ambience that was their mainstay.

Guitarist Sterling Morrison credits this departure for the subdued nature of songwriting and sound score on Pale Blue Eyes, that most mellow of songs to come out of the band's repertoire. In The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on The Wild Side, the biography of the band, Morrison says, "Cale's departure allowed Lou Reed's sensitive, meaningful side to hold sway. Why do you think Pale Blue Eyes happened on the third album, with Cale out of there? I said, 'Lou, if I wrote a song like that, I wouldn't make you play it.' My position on that album was one of acquiescence."

Pale Blue Eyes, essentially a love song, was written by Reed for Shelley Albin from Syracuse University, Reed's first love, who at the time was married to another man. Surprisingly Albin's eyes were hazel, as Reed notes in his book Between Thought and Expression. But Reed was at pains to establish the need for experimentation. "I really didn't think we should make another White Light/White Heat. I thought we had to demonstrate the other side of us. Otherwise, we would become this one-dimensional thing, and that had to be avoided at all costs." When deciding on a song to play for the first reunion of The Velvet Underground at the Fondation Cartier in 1990, Lou Reed initially said he wanted to play Pale Blue Eyes, but when someone reminded him that the song was from after John Cale's tenure with the band, Reed declared "then it will have to be Heroin".

Reed passed away last week, at the age of 71. But thanks to songs like this, he will linger on in this dimension.

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