The Velvet Underground - Squeeze Released: February 1973
Career Misstep, Pop Anomaly or Repeat Offender: Career Misstep
The Case Against Squeeze: The fifth and final album by legendary rock band the Velvet Underground, Squeeze was primarily recorded by recent recruit Doug Yule, without input from Lou Reed, John Cale or any of the band’s classic lineup. Though rarely heard, it became the notorious black spot at the end of the band’s discography, a dull and unnecessary addition to the classics that had come before it.
“It’s the sort of pricey collector’s item you really shouldn’t ever pay money for, lest you get laughed at by whomever you’re trying to impress.” - Rolling Stone
“Yule and his studio cats, headed by Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, do create something that’s a square, cheerful knock-off of Loaded, containing none of the depth or innovation, but a little bit of its sunny swing.” - Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AllMusic
“It lacks the sophistication of Reed’s songwriting, and the smugness of his vocal delivery. It lacks Tucker’s deceptively simple drumming, which brought so much naive tribal charm to the band’s proper recordings. As a solo Yule album it works, but because it comes under the Velvet Underground name, it crumbles under the weight of prior accomplishments.” - Crispin Kott, PopMatters
Doug Yule was an unknown and rather unassuming musician from Long Island when he met the Velvet Underground in 1968. In Boston, where the Velvets often played, he happened to be living with friends of the group’s manager, and they would stay with them when they were in town. Not much has been said about why he was chosen to join the band after Lou Reed pushed out John Cale, besides the fact that he was a competent bass player and he got along well with them. Yule toured and recorded with the Velvet Underground for the next few years, appearing on their excellent but less experimental third and fourth albums.
As a pregnant Maureen Tucker took a break from the Velvets, Yule’s role grew. On Loaded, he played a number of instruments and sang lead vocals on four songs. Under the tutelage of Lou Reed, in one of the most important bands of the period, the Velvet Underground could have been a great sprinboard for Yule’s career, but after Loaded, a dissatisfied Reed departed the group, and between Tucker’s pregnancy and Sterling Morrison’s pursuit of a Ph.D in medieval studies, Yule became the unlikely, defacto leader of a disintegrating Velvet Underground. He was left alone to tour with a new lineup and record the band’s final album Squeeze almost entirely by himself.
Shifting lineups reveal a lot about bands. To those of us who’ve never been in one (and surely many of us who have) they can be mysterious things. Those writing credits may make one member look like the brain of the group but its only when the others are filtered out that you see what they really contributed. The Velvets are a prime example of this. Without Nico and Warhol’s influence, they became louder and harder. Without Cale, they became gentler and more song oriented. Without Tucker, well, her brief absence didn’t change things too much, but Reed’s departure soon after sure did.
Squeeze is a toothless and heartless affair. The album’s opening track, “Little Jack”, can be a little jarring: with no context, there’s no way anyone would associate the bouncy, blues-and-country-tinged number with the Velvet Underground’s previous output. The song, like the others on the album, is a spase one. Yule was accompanied only by Deep Purple’s Ian Paice, Boston musician Willie “Loco” Alexander and a few uncredited session musicians and female backup singers. Yule sings lead on every track, and his voice can be embarrassing at times. Its fragility had lent a pained beauty to “Candy Says” and “Who Loves the Sun” in the past, but it falls short on Squeeze. On tracks like “Little Jack” and “Mean Old Man”, he tries to mimic the disaffected rock and roll cool of Lou Reed but strains and warbles instead.
Squeeze is essentially a Doug Yule solo album, but its light and careless sound owes a lot to the Velvets’ previous record, Loaded, which itself had been an attempt at commercializing the band. Even Squeeze’s cover art (one of its best attributes actually) firmly identifies it as Loaded’s twin. Yule’s songwriting also seems to owe a lot to what is perhaps the one 60s group more influential than the Velvets, the Beatles. The painfully whimsical “Crash” sounds like a cheaper, less remarkable “Martha My Dear”, and in general, the album’s more rustic sensibilities are reminiscent of the Beatle’s later albums. The influences are sound, but Yule lacks the skill to make good use of them, and his melodies range from clumsy to passable. Closer “Louise” starts with great energy but quickly meanders, before sputtering to a quiet end where it should have reached a grand climax.
Ultimately, what would offend any VU fan the most about Squeeze is how boring it is. Its songs are devoid of passion, edge or experimental spirit. It’s true that those factors had begun to wane long before Yule became the band’s leader, but Squeeze also lacks the previous two albums’ meloncholy and tuneful intelligence. What remains is an empty husk which bears little resemblence to the earth shaking band that had once carried its name.
Squeeze was an unmitigated disaster. Savaged by critics, it was only ever released in parts of Europe and never reissued. Much of its infamy over the years grew from rumor alone, as before the internet it was expensive and damn near impossible to even find the album. Fans disregard Squeeze entirely and the various boxsets and compilations released in the last 30 years always exclude it.
You can’t help but take pity on Doug Yule. Though they later made amends, the reactions to Squeeze by Reed and other VU members were not kind. Yule was left out of the band’s reunions in the 90s and ignored by the press. He has only very recently been asked to make appearances alongside his bandmates as a member of the Velvet Underground. The blame and bitterness caused by Squeeze and the band’s dissolution has always been aimed most at Yule, and it’s not particularly fair. Yule seems to have taken his reputation in stride, and offered an explanation to critics in the liner notes of the 2001 live box set Final V.U.:
Bands were, and occasionally are today, one of the few truly democratic institutions. You can’t fire someone from a band…In a band, everyone’s equal. If they’re not, it’s not a band. When bands need to change, to lose one or two people, they break apart and reform. The majority keeps the name. When the Velvets broke apart and came back together without John, I joined. When Lou quit and everyone else still wanted to play, we did. Sure, [Velvets manager Steve] Sesnick was whispering one thing in this one’s ear and something else in that, but when it happened, there was a band, an entity of its own, and the members who remained desired to continue, so they did. Looking back, it’s easy to say that the band ended or changed dramatically at that point, and it did. When John left it also changed dramatically. But while it was happening, in the present tense, the band played on.
You can’t blame Yule for soldiering on, or say he was trying to ride the band’s reputation to personal glory. Looking back, the Velvet Underground and their key members seem like monolithically influential figures, but back then Lou Reed was just a guy, an immensely talented guy, but a guy who Doug Yule had worked and recorded alongside for several years. Yule had every right to call himself a member of the Velvet Underground. Though recording alone was a bad decision, it can’t be called a ludicrous one, and by all accounts was not entirely Yule’s in the first place.
Listening to Squeeze, I keep imagining Doug Yule in an empty London recording studio, fully aware of the scrutiny he would face, and maybe secretly aware that he didn’t have the chops to measure up to what had come before. The Velvet Underground certainly meant a lot to him, just like it would come to mean so much to so many musicians and fans. When faced with the death of the Velvet Underground or the chance of it becoming mediocre, Doug Yule picked chance. Would you have chosen any differently?