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Random Jukebox: The Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes at 50

Released in March 1969, the Velvet Underground’s eponymously titled third opus marked a notable shift in style from the New York noise merchant’s previous recordings. In other words, a sensitive step away from the avant abrasiveness of White Light/White Heat and I’m Waiting For The Man, the epochal double whammy that made such an impression on a newly christened David Bowie.

Album No.3, their first since Doug Yule replaced John Cale, contains a swathe of reflective, melodic songs that are about various forms of love, and none more affecting than Pale Blue Eyes.

Widely regarded as his greatest-ever ballad, Lou Reed wrote the song for Shelley Albin, a girl widely regarded as his “first love,” during his time at Syracuse University in the early 1960s. Deeply touching, it is almost frighteningly personal; indeed, the first time Reed played it to VU bandmate Sterling Morrison, the guitarist protested, “if I wrote a song like that, I wouldn’t make you play it.” 

Hauntingly slow, its stark accompaniment a duet for warm guitar and almost religious tambourine, Pale Blue Eyes documents a kind of so-so love that many people have experienced, but few have ever been able to voice so effectively. Even more affecting is what amounts to the punch line, the half-regretful “the fact that you are married only proves you’re my best friend.” Years later, as he notes in his 1991 book Between Thought And Expression, Reed admitted that the song’s original inspiration did, in fact, have hazel eyes.

The rum sod.

Steve Pafford

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