In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: songs we discovered through movies.
The saying goes that not a lot of people bought The Velvet Underground records while the band was still together, but everyone that did started a band. It may be more accurate to say that everyone who did started a conversation, evangelizing the music of Lou Reed and company to anyone with open ears and an open mind. So it’s fitting that one of cinema’s strongest crusaders for the gospel of pop, High Fidelity, should feature a character stumping for the Velvets. During one of the film’s many sequences of record-store idle, Rob Gordon (John Cusack) and his Championship Vinyl staff riff off their “top five side one, track ones” with a customer played by Alex Désert. Rob’s “feeling kinda basic,” and his picks reflect that: Tracks like “Janie Jones” from The Clash’s self-titled debut (which is only track one on the U.K. version) and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Nevermind. Number four in the list, meanwhile, is the most basic, Velvet Underground-esque of The Velvet Underground album-openers, the scuzzy dynamo of barrelhouse piano and dentist-drill guitar that kicks of White Light/White Heat. It’s a safe list, as Jack Black’s Barry points out, but only because each song’s an accepted classic. Of course they’re accepted classics because each one of them is a goddamn masterpiece.
But Rob wouldn’t have caught as much flack if he went with one of the two Velvet Underground songs that actually play during the course of High Fidelity. Music supervisor Kathy Nelson pulled “Who Loves The Sun” from the opening grooves of 1970’s Loaded, the last Velvets record to feature Reed and the band’s most obvious attempt at courting commercial acceptance. It’s an atypical choice—as is its companion on the High Fidelity soundtrack, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”—considering the fact the lead vocals are handled by bassist Doug Yule, who’d later lead the band through its ill-advised final LP, Squeeze. But it’s right in line with the contrarian spirit in which High Fidelity begins, the story of a hopeless romantic whose biggest obstacles to true love are his snobbish tendencies. But even with Yule’s honeyed delivery, “Who Loves The Sun” is undeniably a song by The Velvet Underground written by Lou Reed, with the brittle interplay between Reed and Sterling Morrison’s guitars and the heartsick detachment of the lyrics. (“Who loves the sun? / Who cares that it makes plants grow? / Who cares what it does / since you broke my heart?”) As someone getting his first taste of the Velvets through High Fidelity and The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s a summery curveball, a sign of the tremendous depth within the band’s four “official” full-lengths. If I drew a favorite “side one, track one” from one of those albums, I’d probably go even more basic and pick “Sunday Morning” from The Velvet Underground & Nico—but in terms of a top five songs I discovered through movies, the list wouldn’t be complete without “Who Loves The Sun.”