The premise is simple: twenty albums that I either play the most, are my favourites or changed my life in some way (no matter how small). Usually a combination of the three.
First mention for The Velvet Underground and Nico.
Discovering this album, and hearing it for the first time, was a rite of passage. That much is true, not just for me, but for millions of young people, and could still be. Lou Reed’s tales from the dark underbelly of New York made The Velvet’s the perfect band for Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. That was a marriage that didn’t last, but the Warhol connection probably gave them more exposure than might have otherwise been the case. Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker were not your average rock band, and nearly fifty years on and I concede that they are not for everyone. Yet there has probably never been a band that has so insidiously changed the music landscape, while selling so few records.
A band that never truly rocked in the traditional sense, The Velvets throbbed, pulsating with a hypnotic allure. Released in the year of Flower Power and Sgt. Pepper, The Velvet Underground and Nico was quite happy to stamp in the shallow ersatz-psychedelic puddle with its leather fetish shoes. This was music at odds with the fashionable leanings of ’67 and that was to be its strength and hope for its own commercial longevity. There is a solid argument for this album having almost single handedly created (or at least pre-empted) Punk, New Wave. Goth and Indie rock, among other things. I won’t stretch that argument too thin, but I will say, it resonates as much now as it ever did. It’s also a decadent and dangerously sexy album, no doubt helped by the presence of chanteuse Nico. The Velvet Underground and Nico also has a very strong pop sensibility, although most of its songs have a discordant quality that renders them unlikely to make the top forty (which they never did), and yet it makes these rough diamonds all the more precious. This isn’t an album for the masses; it’s far too avant-garde for that, but the irony is it probably did inspire thousands of garage bands to form and perhaps go onto greater things (or at least a more commercial future). To the average modern music listener, this album can sound muddy and dirgy, but like panning for gold in a murky river rich with it, you will find the dazzling beauty very soon, if you truly start listening for it. Also, the one thing you want to know when you’re 15, is that, yes, the world isn’t perfect, but there are parts of it that are for you, and this album was for me. It still is. And if you missed the clues, not just in the experimental music, the iconic album art or even the band’s fashion sense….The Velvet Underground practically invented the idea of what constitutes timeless ‘cool’.