While we may have read Brian Eno’s quote about the Velvet Underground a thousand times since VU cofounder Lou Reed’s passing, it still holds true. “The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years,” Eno said. “I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” Singularly influential, the Velvet Underground changed the sound, feel and look of music—not to mention the sound, feel and look of New York City; Reed is NYC’s patron saint of rock & roll. In his honor, we present a playlist of our favorite artists inspired by Lou. So pull on your leather jacket, take a walk around our great city and steep in the sounds.
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“Roadrunner” (1972) by Jonathan Richman
Modern Lover Richman saw the VU over and over again as a teen. “I’m in love with rock & roll,” he sings on this throbbing track that bottles the Velvets’ “Sister Ray,” shakes it up and cracks it open in the middle of suburbia.
“Is This It” (2001) by The Strokes
If the VU invented NYC rock & roll, the Strokes did a nifty job of reminding the kids why it felt so damn good. These pretty teens in skinny jeans would go on to cover Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” but the band’s breakout album, Is This It, was the real hit.
“Teenage Riot” (1988) by Sonic Youth
Hypnotic, messed-up vocals; chiming, filthy guitars; and effortless, effortless cool—Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore said the song was about appointing Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis President—make this a perfect part of Reed’s misfit lineage.
“Dream Baby Dream” (1979) by Suicide
“We started getting booed as soon as we came onstage,” cofounder Alan Vega has said of early Suicide shows. “Just from the way we looked they started giving us hell already.” If that’s not reason enough to include NYC art punks Suicide on this list…
“Good Feeling” (1983) by Violent Femmes
Ecstatic, narcotic longing permeates the Femmes’ “Good Feeling.” Bassist Brian Ritchie recently said of the Velvet Underground, “They were the ones that made rock & roll intelligent. [Lou Reed] was a true artist. He didn’t care what people thought. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, regardless of the impact. I see him as a heroic figure.”
“Rebel Jew” (1994) by Silver Jews
David Berman’s Silver Jews project received a ton of VU comparisons, but this witty, sad, funny number is actually written about Jesus Christ rather than Lou Reed. Perfect, then.
“Run” (1992) by Spiritualized
A band born of Spacemen 3 (whose motto was “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”), Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized merged woozy drone with serious grooviness on this beyond-gorgeous cut—a veritable paean to Reed & Co.