Here are my reviews of albums by The Velvet Underground.
1967: The Velvet Underground and Nico (10/10) with Nico
It’s hard to put into context just what a radical record this was when it came out. (Even more radical when it was recorded, nearly a year earlier.) With the exception of the opening track, which tricks the listener into thinking they might be listening to some kind of arty Dylan imitator, there is practically nothing in popular music history to have prepared the listener for the onslaught of a combination of high and low culture perhaps unequaled in music history. Avant garde “classical” music meets garage rock. It would make no sense if it didn’t make so much sense.
Not only was this record one of the couple most path-breaking pop rock albums ever made when it was released, but it also inspired so many people to try to make music themselves that it’s kind of hard to overstate its influence. Has anything sold so little and influenced so many since?
Tied for my #1 album of 1967. Read my reviews of albums released in 1967.
1968: White Light / White Heat (10/10)
If “Heroin” was not the invention of noise rock, and the kicking down of the (very artificial) door between rock music and noise-as-music outside of rock music, then White Light/White Heat does whatever “Heroin” couldn’t. The hints of feedback and dissonance on the debut are ratcheted up by a factor of at least 10 on this record, though the first side of the record is considerably less noisy than the second.
It’s not just that the Velvets influenced people by showing us all that you too could start a band, they also showed that you could make anything you want sound musical. Few people knew that in 1968.
Tied for my #2 album of 1968. Read my reviews of music from 1968.
1969: The Velvet Underground (9/10)
A drastic left turn away from their noisy, in-your-face sound to something mostly softer and mellower, with suggestions of power pop and indie pop and naive rock and that kind of thing. It turns that Lou Reed is a really good songwriter and can write all sorts of styles. It turns out this band is more versatile that you might have expected, attempting both pop and the avant garde on the same record.
This is likely a much better point of entry than the first two records, and it’s also a strong set of songs (including some of Reed’s very best of his career). And it is mostly very different from the earlier albums, which feels like artistic growth even if it’s less revolutionary. But it’s just not as pathbreaking or as important as the first two.
1970: Loaded (9/10)
It’s incredible to listen to Loaded and think it was recorded only four years after their debut and only two years (give or take) after White Light/White Heat, two of the most radical rock records ever made. You wouldn’t have the faintest idea from listening to this record. It’s a remarkable transformation.
Of course, that transformation had already started on the self-titled record, even if that album has some minor remnants of their previous experimental attitude. And so this wouldn’t have been the surprise that we might think.
But it’s still a rather shocking turn. And the set of songs might be even stronger her than they were on the self-titled. (I haven’t made up my mind.) It sure is loaded with catchy songs. And it stands as one of the earliest proofs that Reed was truly one of the great songwriters of his era.
Also, with the self-titled, it probably forms the foundation of power pop or underground pop, or what have you. Is Big Star imaginable without these records?
Anyway, it’s a great set of songs. The only reason it isn’t a complete classic is because of the existence of the self-titled record.
1973: Squeeze (???)
I have never listened to this notorious “final” album. Read my reviews of music from 1973.