John Cale was profiled in The New York Times last Sunday. Creeping up on his 81st birthday, Cale has a new album out, may Jah bless and keep him. The article is well-written and does a better job than I could of summarizing his career. Here’s a link; if you’re stymied by the paywall, buzz me and I’ll gift it to you. (One of the benefits of having relatively few readers is that I can offer this kind of personalized service.)
Back in late 1964, Cale found himself rehearsing with Lou Reed and the Primitives in advance of a brief tour slated for early 65. Terry Philips had planned for them to lip-sync to “The Ostrich,” though I think they ended up playing it live; but even if they doubled or tripled or quadrupled its two-and-a-half minute length, they were going to need other material to fill out the set.
It doesn’t appear that they learned “Sneaky Pete,” though they could easily have folded it into “The Ostrich” and no one would have been the wiser. Nor does it seem that they played “The Fuck Around Blues,” much as I’d love say they did. A song list from a December 3, 1964 rehearsal looks like this:
- Won’t You Smile (1st take)
- The Ostrich (1st take)
- The Ostrich (2nd take)
- Won’t You Smile (2nd take)
- Johnny Won’t Surf Anymore
- Teardrops in the Sand
- Sad Lonely Orphan Boy
- Shame, Shame, Shame
In addition to “The Ostrich,” “Johnny Won’t Surf Anymore” and “Teardrops in the Sand” are Pickwick songs that we’ve covered in this blog. “Sad Lonely Orphan Boy” is a tune written by Terry Philips with Pickwick staffer Jerry Vance that was recorded by in-house unit “the Beachnuts,” but never released; no version of it seems to have survived. And “Shame, Shame, Shame” is a Jimmy Reed cover:
That leaves “Won’t You Smile,” which is a new song that Lou Reed and John Cale cooked up for the occasion.1I wish there was a live Primitives tape I could share with you, but alas, any such artifact must await the advent of time travel. (I’d also pay a pretty penny to see their appearance on American Bandstand, which I bet aged Dick Clark at least a little.) The best I can do is this version, released in 1965 as the B-side of a single titled “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket” by a band called the All Night Workers:
The Workers, according to the ever-helpful Lou Reed: A pre-VU discography,
consisted of Syracuse-area mates of Lou Reed: Otis Smith (band was previously known as Otis and the Headliners — Syracuse University frat band mid-60s), Lloyd Baskin (later of Seatrain), Billy Elmiger, Steve McCord (the man Felix Cavaliere asked to be in the Rascals but settled for Gene Cornish instead ’cause Steve knew music was no replacement for a degree!), and some other guy. Lou had been a McCord roomate during his Syracuse years. The All Night Workers were a great fraternity band. Some members went to NYC circa 67-68 and metamorphised into the Albert (who had a couple of albums in the late 60s) without Baskin but with Otis Smith the singer. There is also an Otis and the Elevators single out there someplace.
Although neither Reed nor Cale was involved in the Workers’ recording session, “WDYS” sounds very much like a lost VU track. (Or at least the music does; the vocals are more soul-oriented.) It’s entirely possible that the Velvets played it some point in their early days when they needed material, but if so there is no documentation. But we can say for sure that Moe Tucker recorded it in 1986 for her EP Moejadkatebarry (which also includes two VU songs and a Jimmy Reed cover). Her version, recorded with the notorious Jad Fair of Half Japanese, is raw to say the least:
Other versions of “Why Don’t You Smile” have been recorded by British rockers the Downliners Sect (1966), soul singer Donnie Burks (1967), and neo-psych devotees Spiritualized (1991). It works in all these different styles; it’s just flat-out a great song, an auspicious beginning to a historic partnership.