The Velvet Underground and Nico
Of the four Velvet Underground albums fronted by Lou Reed, it’s imperative to start with The Velvet Underground and Nico to understand the group’s importance; their next effort is also extremely groundbreaking but less accessible, while the third and fourth albums lack the experimental streak that makes this debut so compelling.
The two key songs are ‘Venus In Furs’, where Reed discusses S&M over Cale’s viola scrapings, and ‘Heroin’, where Reed factually discloses his drug habits over a dramatic backing. If the rest of the album isn’t quite as compelling, it’s mostly interesting, ranging from the sweet pop of the opening ‘Sunday Morning’ to the garage rock of ‘Run Run Run’ and the flat out experimentation of the closing two tracks. There are quibbles; Nico detracts from three otherwise excellent songs with her monotone singing, while the final two songs are more interesting than they are listenable.
But there are so many important and musically memorable innovations originated on tis album that The Velvet Underground and Nico is required listening for any student of rock and roll. As Brian Eno famously wrote: “only a few thousand people bought that record, but all of them formed a band of their own.”