Monday, November 15, 2010

(Most) Influential Rock Album: The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico
In the beginning of the 70s, a young man christened David Jones (and far more familiar as David Bowie) named a band as an influence. It was called The Velvet Underground and almost nobody had ever heard about it. Sometime later Bowie produced an album of Lou Reed's. A good album. Impressed by Bowie's statement and the successful album of Reed, people started to be interested in Lou Reed's former band recordings. Subsequently The Velvet Underground & Nico became a mandatory record for every music collector around the world and took its undeniable place among the most influential albums in the history of rock music.

But although often voted most influential album of all time (ahead of the Beatles' far more popular Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), The Velvet Underground & Nico is still relatively unknown to the broad audience. It's not so obscure as at the time when Brian Eno claimed that although almost nobody bought the album upon its initial release, everyone who did formed their own band, yet it will never be amongst the most famous records in regard to casual music fan. The reason? It was considerably shocking then, and it's shocking even today.

Even though all of the 4 Lou Reed featured Velvets' albums were very strong, the band's debut effort was the one that showed most of their innovative ideas and talent gathered at one place. Where the rest of the Velvets' releases were more narrowly oriented in terms of musical variety, their first record was a kaleidoscope of sonic concepts. There were the divine and dreamy Sunday Morning, the catching rhythm and blues of There She Goes Again, the troublesome beauty of All Tomorrow's Parties, the monotonous Venus in Furs, the loving I'll Be Your Mirror, the garage rock attack of I’m Waiting for the Man. There was hardly a weak track on the album and naturally the band never managed to create such an exceptionally strong album during their brief lifespan again.

The Velvet Underground & Nico was not only remarkable for its music. Except for droning vocals, scraping guitars and minimalistic drumming (influencing later dozens of styles including punk and new wave) the album was notable also for its lyrics. While other bands at the time were singing about love, peace and other hippie stuff, Lou Reed and the band were telling stories about the dark side of the contemporary hedonism. Their lyrics were about urban decadence, heroin addiction, sadomasochism, sexual experimentation, all of these hardly acceptable in movies or literature at the time, let alone in popular music. The Velvet Underground were as much unconventional in their lyrics as they were in their music.

A few bands in the history of rock music could claim to have broken so much new ground throughout their whole careers as the Velvet Underground broke with just a single album. The immense influence over performers like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Roxy Music, New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols, Television, Talking Heads, U2, Bauhaus, Joy Division, R.E.M., Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, The Pixies, The Cars and many others, most of which praised as founders of new musical styles themselves, makes The Velvet Underground & Nico a rare gem in the rock music history. It's been considerably ahead of its time thus met with disrespect in the 60s but as it often happens with real masterpieces, in the succeeding decades, the album has been gradually acquiring the recognition it deserves among both musicians and music listeners.

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