I'm kind of surprised this thread doesn't already exist.
I feel like the musical innovation and cultural significance of VU is often overlooked, not just with how heavily VU influenced later artists, but in their own time as well. Bands like The Beatles and Pink Floyd constantly receive recognition for their substantial contribution to the music industry and society in general - but The Velvet Underground is regarded more as a smaller, less significant project, which I don't think is fair.
The Velvet Underground was one of the first - if not the first band to play seemingly random notes and noises during live performances, for which they received no applause or appreciation - the audiences just sat there gawking at the band in their tiny, make-shift New York City venue.
This doesn't sound impressive at all, but in the late 1960s the music scene was mainly focused on the hippie counter-culture/jam band movement and with making grand political statements with their music, while VU made it very clear in interviews that they were completely removed from this whole hippie/San Francisco music scene and had no political agenda whatsoever. Their entire focus was pure musical experimentation and manipulation of sounds. "…and they had the feedback from the guitars which sounded like 12 million guitars going at one time with these amplified, intense screeches that really hurt the eardrums, and it was nothing but chaotic confusion of noise" -Ingrid Superstar. They were the first band to really get into what would later be picked up and manipulated into the "metal" sound.
An example is what was originally called "The Nothing Song" and later renamed "Melody Laughter" which I'm trying to track down on the internet, but to no avail. I have it on one of the CDs that came with their CD box set, but that's currently at my parents' house. #useless
After they were picked up by Andy Warhol and his financial partner Paul Morrissey (VU's official manager) they started focusing more on putting together more cohesive songs, which led to their first album and "Andy Warhol and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable," the latter being described as a multi-media artistic experience. They were the first band to really employ visual art as a means of enhancing their performances without the assumption that their audiences were all high or tripping on lsd. Actually, VU was never a big advocate of psychedelics, they were all about heroin and speed, contrasting the softer "at peace with the world" feeling other bands of the 1960s were trying to evoke.
This is the most famous image associated with that act.
It's worth noting that their first album, "The Velvet Underground & Nico" was heavily influenced by Andy's materialistic take on art, but that was really the only album of theirs that he hand a hand in.
Andy's favorite song of their was always "All Tomorrow's Parties," which is about a poor girl lamenting about how she has nothing to wear to all of the events she wants to attend. Typical.
The other two really famous songs from that album were "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs." Also, in case there was any doubt, Warhol did design the banana.
Another track on that album was "Femme Fatale," which is believed to have been written by Nico about Edie Sedgwick, who had pretty much been kicked out of the whole pop art scene by that point. I always loved that idea.
I also thought it was really neat/interesting how heavily Lou Reed used heroin and still never got addicted.
Their second album, "White Light/White Heat" was always my favorite album. The title is a reference to heroin. Of course.
The whole album took on a really dark, sarcastic sense of humor, or so it seemed to me. My favorite tracks from that album are "The Gift" which is about a long-distance boyfriend who mails himself to his cheating girlfriend, only to get stabbed to death when she tries to open the package - "Lady Godiva's Operation" which is about a transsexual dying on the table during a sex-change operation, and "Sister Ray," which I used to play on repeat for hours because it made me feel like I was actually there in new york in the late '60s. And I lovelovelove John Cale's voice.
The only major critique I have of the band at this point is how much Lou Reed sounds like Bob Dylan. He admitted in interviews he was a huge Dylan fan, and I wish Lou would have left the folksy sound to artists who were more... acoustic. A good example of this "Here She Comes Now."
I wasn't really a fan of their album "The Velvet Underground" and also always thought it was stupid of them to put out a self-titled album as their third studio album, but whatever. Their fourth album "Loaded" has the songs "Sweet Jane" and "New Age" on it, which I'm a fan of.
I feel like they really went downhill after White Light/White Heat though. That's just my opinion, and a LOT of people really only like their last two albums.
I think my favorite Velvet Underground cover is actually Tori Amos' "New Age." I love what she did with the lyrics.
Anyway, I don't mean to go on a whole pseudo-historical rant here. I just really love this band and have always been fascinated with the pop art movement in general. I also love how straight forward and obvious they were with their drug and sex references, like with "I'm Waiting for the Man," where Lou sings about waiting for his drug dealer in Harlem.
What do you guys think? I'm curious if anyone has any favorite VU albums, because I'm so attached to the first two that it's hard for me to wrap my ahead around the idea that people actually favor the last two. What are you favorite VU covers??
Anyone have any favorite songs or quotes from the band? I have so many but I'll shut up now.
EDIT: I forgot to mention how much I love the fact that Lou Reed is married to Laurie Anderson <3 and that they were the king and queen of the Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn, two years ago now I think.