Music/Popular Culture

RIP Lou Reed: one of rock’s most influential artists dead at 71

Solo and with Velvet Underground, Reed changed the rock landscape forever

When the iconic Velvet Underground & Nico album was released in 1967 I was all of six years old, so VU was never a part of my lived experience. I never became a fan of their music, exactly, although my inner rock historian grew into a deep respect for their place in the canon. This respect only grew as the magnitude of their influence became clearer and clearer over the past 20 years or so.

Lou Reed, the genius behind VU and a man whose legacy is unarguably among the most important in popular music history, died earlier today.

Those who know me will tell you that I not only loves my rock ‘n roll, I’m a student of its roots and its culture.I care a lot about influence and creative lineage and I especially appreciate it when artists understand where their sound came from, either directly or indirectly. Back in 2008 I penned a piece on obscurity and influence, highlighting some of the artists across the past few decades whose impact on what came later far surpassed the fame and success they enjoyed for their own music. The primary focus of that article was Joy Division, but I led with this:

Many people have heard of Velvet Underground, although comparatively few have actually listened to them, but if you factor VU’s overwhelming influence out of our collective cultural history would we have had Bauhaus, Echo & the Bunnymen, Lenny Kravitz, Sonic Youth, Jesus & Mary Chain (and subsequently Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), Galaxie 500 (and the army of bands that followed their lead) and REM?

This barely scratches the surface, though. Have a look at the “followers” listings for the Velvets at AllMusic.

Brian Eno
David Bowie
Joy Division
Patti Smith
Roxy Music
Sex Pistols
Sonic Youth
Talking Heads
The Stooges
The Verve
Duran Duran
Echo & the Bunnymen
Galaxie 500
Jonathan Richman
Mink DeVille
My Bloody Valentine
New York Dolls
Pere Ubu
The Church
The Cure
The Dream Syndicate
The Fall
The Feelies
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Gang of Four
Gary Numan
Glenn Branca
Hüsker Dü
Iggy Pop
Jane’s Addiction
Jim Carroll
Let’s Active
Love and Rockets
Mercury Rev
Mott the Hoople
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Spacemen 3
Sun City Girls
Swell Maps
Television Personalities
The Chills
The Flaming Lips
The House of Love
The Modern Lovers
The Psychedelic Furs
The Verlaines
Throbbing Gristle
Tom Tom Club
Big Star
Dirty Three
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
My Morning Jacket
The Dandy Warhols
The Fiery Furnaces
The Go-Betweens
The Strokes
The Vaselines
The Weather Prophets
Agent Ribbons
Au Dunes
Deleted Scenes
Stevie Jackson
Simple Minds
Th’ Faith Healers
That Petrol Emotion
The Boo Radleys
The Chameleons UK
Controlled Bleeding
Dead Boys
Yo La Tengo
Young Marble Giants
Amon Düül
Beat Happening
Belle and Sebastian
Rocket from the Tombs
Silver Apples
British Sea Power
Peter Bjorn and John
Pussy Galore
The Raincoats

I’m willing to bet that our friends in The Lost Patrol and The Blueflowers wouldn’t object to being on that list, as well. Fiction 8, too. And Paul Lewis. Most of my musician friends, in fact. Have a look at the genres this list encompasses.

  • Alternative
  • Indie
  • ElectroPop
  • Grunge
  • Glam
  • Goth
  • Krautrock
  • Post-Rock
  • Space Rock
  • Industrial
  • Noise Pop
  • Shoegazer
  • Punk
  • Garage
  • New Wave
  • Post-Punk
  • Jangle Pop
  • Power Pop
  • Classic Rock
  • DreamPop
  • Chamber Pop

Get the idea? The Beatles were the biggest thing in the history of popular music and it’s hard to imagine any band or solo artist ever surpassing the influence they exerted, both musical and cultural. But it’s entirely possible that the #2 position on that list belongs to Lou Reed. If you’re a devotee of serious popular music today, it’s nigh-on inconceivable that your collection is free of Lou Reed’s legacy, whether you knew it or not. Odds are that your library, like mine, is teeming with bands that owe their souls to VU & Nico, White Light/White Heat and all that followed from the Velvets and, later, from Reed’s solo career.

Reed made his name as an urban avant gardiste, as head of the house band for Andy Warhol’s pop art uprising. By the time he was through, he’d done as much, if not more, to shape the sound of popular music in ways that would endure for decades.

Thanks, Lou. We owe you more than we could ever have repaid.


Image: AllMusic Guide

5 replies »

  1. Bummer, I hadn’t heard about his death until now. In the next few days I’ll be sure to play some of his albums and some VU.

    • Reed would have been a major influence with or without Cale, it’s a matter of public knowledge the two never even got on all that well. Aside from that what poor form you show to make a statement of that nature before the body’s even interred.
      Another crass sod who understand less than they think they do about what Lou’s entire body of work leaves as a legacy. Heroin is pure Lou and while Cale’s work backing that piece live on Rock and Roll Animal is marvelous only Lou could put into words the experience of the drug so succinctly. Critic Ellen Willis wrote “No other work of art I know about has made the junkie’s experience so horrible, so powerful, so appealing; listening to ‘Heroin’ I feel simultaneously impelled to somehow save this man and to reach for the needle.”