Musicheads Essential Artists: The Velvet Underground

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The Velvet Underground
For their brief but immeasurable impact on the history of rock music, the Velvet Underground are Musicheads Essential Artists. (Courtesy of the artist / MPR graphic)

Each day during Minnesota Public Radio's Spring Member Drive, The Current will highlight a different artist who has made a significant contribution to the music world and a lasting impression on the music we listen to today. We call them Musicheads Essential Artists.

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, 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"). 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. – Lou Papineau, Minnesota Public Radio member

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.

Essential album: The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground, Loaded

Essential tracks: "I'm Waiting For the Man," "Heroin," "Pale Blue Eyes," "What Goes On"

The Current's Jade on the Velvet Underground:

Musicheads Essential Artists


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