A line from a Robert Christgau review of The Velvet Underground and Nico also summarizes their brief but immeasurable impact on the history of rock music: "It sounds intermittently crude, thin, and pretentious at first, but it never stops getting better."
Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker, and Doug Yule recorded four albums between 1967 and 1970, and the repercussions are still being felt and absorbed. The songs were allusive vignettes steeped in sex, drugs ("I'm Waiting For the Man," "Heroin”), and the unease of urban life on the fringe. Sonically, they balanced discordant, relentless repetition ("Sister Ray") with lovely reveries ("I'll Be Your Mirror," “Pale Blue Eyes”). Their last hurrah, Loaded (1970), boasted hooky, accessible classics-to-be ("Sweet Jane," "Rock & Roll") that altered the band's outre rep.
The Velvets' influence can be heard in the work of Patti Smith, R.E.M., Sonic Youth, and countless other acts, and was refined and enhanced by Reed and Cale's solo careers. Their legacy is truly essential.
Fun fact: Atlantic Records, which signed the Velvets after they were dropped by MGM, encouraged the band to make an album "loaded with hits," which inspired the name of their fourth release.
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