It's not just that the Velvets redefined rock as bohemian underground rather than youth culture. It's that their underground sound proved nearly as big, as spacious and fertile, as rock. As all aboveground rock. One band's sound. Now, when punk is your image of  rock you prize rebellion above sound: Iggy Pop or Johnny Rotten's ability to freeze time and stand outside the world, rather than VU or the Ramones' ability to reshape how we live inside it. The one is a rupture; the other a gesture of state-building. The one sparks an inferno; the other lays the foundation for a school.
This distinction is worth holding in mind when listening to the Velvets, for what you hear, a generation later, has as much in common with blues and especially gospel as it does punk. There's call-and-response vocals, more giggly and burbling than anything Lou Reed would ever offer the world again, with little exhortations thrown into the empty spaces; there's testifying music that rides on its chord changes and ramrod beats like congregants sweaty and happy to have called down the Lord. To be sure, the tunings are odd, and the lyrics dark, and this mattered too, but only as devices to escape the oppressive do-re-mi of hippie sounds ripe for embalming on FM. The Velvets sound the way they do for the same reason a great singer will hit a note slightly flat and just behind the beat: that's where the rapture is waiting. The secret of the band's endurance is that it was never at war with rock; it just heard it differently. Correctly.
So you really do need to hear every note of every album. The Velvet Underground & Nico is the prototype: La Monte Young monorail rock on "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Run Run Run," "Heroin" and "Venus in Furs" paperback tales of drugs and S/M, "The Black Angel's Death Song" and "European Son" dangling viola and guitar chaos, "I'll Be Your Mirror" and "Sunday Morning" improbably lounge-ish, the stolen Marvin Gaye riff that powers "There She Goes Again" demonstrating Reed's pop savvy. John Cale's Cageian sonic disruptions and Andy Warhol's famously absent production prevent the album from ever finding a full groove (the guitars, especially, remain bound to 1966), but history's plowed a groove in anyway, helped by Tucker's oceanically gongish, backbeat-indifferent drumming.


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