I've always loved set lists--those ephemeral pieces of paper with a list of the songs to be played at a particular concert, usually written out by an artist or band member before the show. These days, they're often typed out on a computer, printed out, and taped on the ground in front of each band member's monitor by a roadie. But back in the day, they were usually scribbled out quickly by a band member on whatever scrap of paper was handy, and set down somewhere close to whoever was going to call out the songs.
Often left on the stage after the show, these were sometimes snatched up by wise fans--and just as often thrown in the trash by someone with no sense of history. Thank god, then, that the late Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison had a real sense of history. Sterling was one of those artists who seemingly saved everything--he had a great collection of Velvets records, acetates, posters, handbills--and he even saved the setlists.
Above is a Velvet Underground set list (handwritten by Sterling) for their January 15, 1970 date at The Quiet Night in Chicago. The band played a week's worth of gigs at this club, and as we can see from this, played multiple sets each night. The songs date from the first 3 Velvets albums (their most recent was the self titled "The Velvet Underground", released in March, 1969) as well as some songs that remained unreleased until much later. Their final album (OK, the final one with Lou Reed,) "Loaded" wouldn't be released until September of 1970. I'd love to hear from anyone out there who might have other set lists they want to share--or perhaps sell. I'm always on the lookout for this type of unique item.
Here's something that truly qualifies as American history--a letter from Sis Cunningham, founder of folk song magazine BROADSIDE, to Ralph J. Gleason, legendary music critic, dated November 5, 1964. In it, Cunningham responds to questions Gleason has asked about the origins of the topical song movement.
Cunningham also relates the most recent Dylan news, and gives her read on his songwriting--remember, she was the first to publish Dylan's songs (in Broadside) and was among the earliest of his enthusiastic supporters. In this letter, written a mere 5 days after Dylan's historic "Halloween Concert" at Philharmonic Hall in New York, Cunningham tells Gleason about a Dylan backlash brought on by his abandonment of the topical song, relating that some of Dylan's followers consider his career at an end, consoling themselves that "he wrote five or six great songs while he lasted."
Cunningham tells Gleason how ridiculous she thinks this is, shares her opinion of Dylan as an important poet, and relates how Johnny Cash wrote a letter supporting Dylan to BROADSIDE that said "SHUT UP, and let him sing !" This is the most articulate and right-on defense of Dylan I've ever read. She truly "got" Dylan, and it's fascinating to read such a prescient appraisal of his talent, so early on. Note also her brief defense of the Beatles at the end of the letter.
42 years later, it's an amazing thing to read--and I think we would all agree that he managed a few more than 5 or 6 great songs.