Mystery package Lou Reed mailed to himself in 1965 could contain The Velvet Underground’s first recording

If you played in a band in high school or college, you always faced the conundrum of how to copyright your work. Sending something in to the US copyright office costs $45, which is big bucks for a high school or college band. So a lot of groups use the “poor man’s” copyright – mailing a copy of the album to yourself.

The idea is that if someone rips off your music you can take them to court with the unopened package, show the judge the postal date, open the package, and voila—you’ve shown that it’s your song.

It turns out such a recording—possibly the earliest known recording from The Velvet Underground, still sealed like a time capsule in the “poor man’s copyright” envelope—was uncovered this year. Posted on the Lou Reed Facebook page back in July, it was discovered when going through boxes at Lou’s office space.
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The Velvet Underground was just starting out in 1965—it was a full two years before their album “The Velvet Underground & Nico” would come out, with its iconic songs and Andy Warhol cover. At this point they weren’t even called the Velvet Underground. It was just Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison jamming out in their Ludlow Street loft.

But apparently in May of 1965 the band or Lou Reed recorded some songs and felt like it was necessary to protect their ownership of them. So Lou used the poor man’s copyright and mailed himself the tape. This is a full two months before what has been considered the first demo that the band recorded, in July of 1965.

Who knows what it contains? Perhaps Lou, who had already written “Heroin” and “Venus In Furs,” was trying to develop proof that he wrote the songs and lyrics before going in and recording a demo with the with rest of the band? Or perhaps it’s a previously unknown tape of some of the band’s first jam sessions?

Regardless, Lou knew of the package. In an interview during the 90s he said, “I’m not going to listen to it. I don’t want to hear these things any more.”

And that’s what made Lou so great—always pushing forward, searching for the next great sound.

Ed note: Aram Bajakian played guitar with Lou Reed for his final touring years. Read more about his experiences here.