The Velvet Underground are sort of a “late-bloomer band” for me, in the sense that I discovered them after I was already well-aware of legends such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. And that’s why I feel sort of weird when ranking them as high as I do with those bands. But in all honesty, the Velvets were incredible – one of the truly unique and original bands in the history of music. Their music went virtually unnoticed at the time of release and since then, their relative popularity has increased by nothing but merit – lots of bands started to claim them as a primary influence (especially punk and alternative artists). While you’re still very rarely bound to hear them played on the radio alongside say, the Beatles or the Stones, they’re still every bit as essential of a listen as those two bands or any other band you’d want to compare them to. And here’s three reasons why:
1) Originality. As I mentioned above, Velvet Underground are one of the most unique bands to ever walk on this planet of ours. Lou Reed was* an artist who has always stayed true to his vision – whether it involved putting himself into the shoes of a heroin addict, managing to sound like the most romantic and optimistic person on the planet, or crunching his guitar into noise mode. But that’s not all. Each member brought along something unique to the band’s sound – be it the steady, no-cymbals drumming of Moe Tucker, John Cale’s piercing, Eastern-flavoured viola or Nico’s icy vocal performances on the first album. The result is a sum of distinctive artistic personalities that, together with the dozens of influences incorporated, proved them to be a highly distinctive band right from the very beginning.
2) Diversity. Much like The Beatles, the Velvets adopted the “try-everything” approach right from the very start, setting absolutely no boundaries for themselves. Now, I’m not really good at genre classifications (what would you classify, say, ‘Venus in Furs’ as ?!), so I won’t even try to do that. But let me tell you, from the raw to the polished, from the long to the short, from the unlistenably intense to the almost-commercially accessible, or from the heart-breakingly sad to the upliftingly optimistic, it’s all there, in that short discography. The Velvets shuffled so easily through genres, moods, atmospheres, themes and attitudes, and came out with so many winners in each cases, that it has to be heard in order to be truly believed.
3)Their albums. Under the guidance of Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground released only 4 albums. “So what’s so special about them?”, you might be wondering. Well, the fact that fans have endlessly and violently argued over the years on which of them 4 is the best should give you a hint. But they’re all not only incredibly good, they’re also completely different from one another. ‘Velvet Underground & Nico’ is so diverse and full of contradictions that it defies any adjectives, ‘White Light/White Heat’ is as dark, raw, distorted and intense as its cover suggests, ‘Velvet Underground’ is the exact opposite of it: gentle, quiet and introspective, while ‘Loaded’ is more accessible and radio-friendly. Because each album’s got its own unique personality, listening to them chronologically, as I did, is the equivalent of reading a good book full of unexpected twists and turns. You know, the kind of book that you won’t be able to put down.
*Sad is the fact that I started to write this essay before Lou Reed’s death on the date of October 27, then had to modify the verbs’ tenses. A sincere RIP and many thanks to one of the greatest musicians I have ever had the chance to listen to.
Categories: 3 Reasons Why You Should Listen to a Band