John Cale

Vintage Violence

Columbia Legacy

This lost 1970 masterpiece presaged an entire school of haunting pop music, from R.E.M.’s “Perfect Circle” to half the stuff on 4AD Records. The Welsh-born, classically trained Cale, a founding member of Velvet Underground, had been working with avant-garde composers—LaMonte Young, Terry Riley (e.g. a bonus track here, “Wall”)—when John McClure, a producer at Columbia Records’ classical division, tapped him to cut a “pop” album. Lewis Merenstein, who’d produced Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, was brought in to co-produce; Garland Jeffreys’ band Grinderswitch backed Cale, who wrote and recorded these songs over three days. The result was an elegiac hybrid of classical, rock, country and pop forms—dreamy numbers (“Gideon Lied,” “Big White Cloud,” “Please”) alternating with bouncy, off-center pop cuts (“Hello There,” “Adelaide,” “Cleo”)—all anchored by Cale’s sonorous voice and electric viola. Essential.