Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
“The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” This statement, or something similar, has long been attributed to musician/producer/synth & ambient music pioneer/all-around sonic architect Brian Eno. Whether or not he was responsible for this oft-referenced quote, it perfectly sums up the immense influence the group had on generations of musicians that followed in their footsteps. Right from the start they were onto something unique & challenging, yet their debut has a number of accessible songs for the uninitiated, as I explain below.
For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.
From GREAT OUT OF THE GATE Part 4:
Few bands have been as influential on future generations of musicians with little commercial success as The Velvet Underground, the quartet consisting of New Yorkers Lou Reed (guitar, vocals & principle songwriter), Sterling Morrison (bass, guitar & backing vocals) & Maureen “Mo” Tucker (drums & percussion) and Welshman John Cale (viola, piano, bass & much more). They were championed by artist Andy Warhol, who produced their debut album, designed its iconic cover and recommended the addition of German model/singer Nico to their lineup. I don’t think I heard any of their music until I was well into my 20s, and even then I was just a casual fan. All of that changed in 2001 when my band at the time was hired as the house band for a Halloween party at a hip New York club, where we performed this album in its entirety with different singers & musicians joining us on each song. In preparation for that gig, I played the album dozens of times so I could learn Tucker’s drum tracks perfectly, and in the process gained a new-found appreciation for this record. They may have a reputation as noisy, dissonant, avant-garde outsiders (which applies to tracks like “Venus In Furs” and “The Black Angel’s Death Song”), but there’s a lot of subtlety & even serenity to be found on songs like “Sunday Morning,” “Femme Fatale,” “There She Goes Again” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Reed also delivered two songs that capture the essence of New York’s gritty, drug-addled underbelly: “Heroin” and “I’m Waiting For The Man.” It’s not always easy listening but the mood is intoxicating, and Nico’s deadpan vocal contributions on a handful of songs, while not to everyone’s taste, are surprisingly endearing.
I’ve met as many people who consider The Velvet Underground their favorite band as those who think they’re unlistenable. Are you among those extremes or somewhere in the middle?