Overtime on "After Hours": A Closer Look at a Velvet Underground Classic


The Velvet Underground: the first names that come to mind are Lou Reed, Nico, and even Andy Warhol. Standing (literally) in their shadow, however, was the young Maureen “Moe” Tucker. I say this lightly, but her minimalist style of drumming in Velvet Underground contributed to the experimental sound for which they’re known. In fact, her style was so transformative that Rolling Stone named her as one of the top 100 drummers of all time (77 on the list to be exact). 

Listening to The Velvet Underground’s discography, I was taken aback by the song “After Hours” on their eponymous album. Surrounded by songs driven by Lou Reed’s classic rock vocals and soft electric guitar, the sweetness of Moe Tucker’s contralto voice accompanied by a solo acoustic guitar was a sudden paradigm shift. As she counts the song in at the beginning, you get an immediate vibe of childlike innocence. Her beautiful, slightly off vocals are far different in style than the other female vocals featured on VU songs (see: The Velvet Underground and Nico), but it is a perfect finale to Reed’s classic songs. 

So why is this one of the only songs her vocals are capitalized on? The reason she sang it initially was that Reed felt the song was “too innocent and pure” for him to sing. It was not just about her innocent voice, however, but who she was. Even on her solo discography, she was overshadowed by her studio artists (Sonic Youth and Lou Reed were featured on multiple albums). This song was not only her chance for the limelight but a personal allegory of her place as an artist. Reed commented on her performance of the piece, commenting that “It has nothing to do with singing. It has everything to do with being. It’s completely honest. Guileless. And always was. I couldn’t sing that song. Maureen could sing it, and believe it, and feel much more.”

Reed may have wrote the song, but Moe made it hers. He practically wrote the song for the shy, sheltered drummer. But how did she own the song so well? “Because it’s about loneliness. With Maureen doing it, especially being just a little off-key, it has its own beauty and strength and truth to it.” Moe’s step onto the front stage came with great response, too. The song was later covered by over 10 artists, including Pearl Jam and REM.

VU dissolved in the ‘80s after their breakup, and all of the members went their own ways. Lou Reed continued making music, as did John Cale. Moe moved to Georgia and got a job in a Walmart distribution center. She faded into infamy, and her last piece of music was released was in the early 2000s. While other members of her band are idolized, her true influence is often forgotten. Her time in the spotlight was the song “After Hours,” an anthem to loneliness. No other song could encapsulate her contribution to VU, and for that I feel the song is a masterpiece. Not to mention, it’s also straight up adorable. 


By James Straub


Special thanks to Amina Rustemovic.

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