Lou Reed would have turned 74 today
Cohan Chew

07:00 2nd March 2016

2 March: Today marks what would have been Lou Reed's 74th birthday. Although only active for nine years (1964 to1973) The Velvet Underground’s everlasting legacy continues to inspire artists to this day.

Forming the foundations of punk rock by promoting the do-it-yourself attitude of garage rock, the Velvet Underground’s sound and outlook found a place amongst 60’s pop, 70’s punk, 80’s rock, 90’s grunge and 2000’s indie rock. Indeed, the Velvets don’t really sound like a typical 60’s band and could easily be mistaken for a modern day rock and roll band.

To this end, the list of artists that drew inspiration from the Velvet Underground is endless and continues to grow.

To commemorate what would be Lou Reed’s 74th birthday, we take a look at some of the best artists for whom the Velvet Underground was seminal influence.

  • U2 - Bono once said "Every song we've ever written was a rip-off of a Lou Reed song" and even performed a 'Satellite Of Love' duet with Lou Reed himself during U2's Zoo TV tour.

  • Sex Pistols - The Velvet Underground created the framework of punk rock, which would be built upon by the Sex Pistols in their revolutionary sound that would later galvanise the anarchic British punk movement. Simple power chords pumping beneath powerful lyrics were both Lou Reed's and the Sex Pistol's musical basis.

  • Joy Division - Karl Bartos of Kraftwerk once described Joy Division as "the Velvet Underground with synthesizers". Indeed, 'Transmission' sounds like an updated version of 'Rock n Roll', whilst the solo in 'Day Of The Lords' is structurally the same solo from 'Venus In Furs'. Additionally, Joy Division often covered 'Sister Ray', which would continue to be covered by New Order.

  • Sonic Youth - Equally as influential in their own right, Sonic Youth's etching on the history of American punk rock is of paramount importance. However, Sonic Youth's heavy but minimalistic sound would not have fully evolved without the existence of the Velvet Underground, who lit the way for upcoming punk bands at the time.

  • Morrissey - Morrissey once said "At the age of 12 I went to see Lou Reed by myself... it seems extraordinary to me now, to imagine a 12- or 13-year-old going by themselves, to see somebody such as Lou Reed who was at the time singing exclusively about transsexuality and heroin and death and the beauty of death and the impossibility of life".

  • REM - Michael Stipe and Pete Buck were said to have first bonded over their love for the first Velvet Underground record. The band's influence on REM would later manifest itself into their own song writing as well as unique covers of 'Pale Blue Eyes', 'Femme Fatale' and 'There She Goes Again', that are almost disguised as REM originals.

  • Talking Heads - The Talking Heads introduced the world to a new wave of sounds that incorporated a mix of punk, pop and almost everything that was happening in the mid 70s. With it, came their classic 'Once In a Lifetime', which lifted its organ riff from the Velvet Underground's 'What Goes On'. Without the Velvet Underground, the Talking Heads would certainly be incomplete in their infusion of genres.

  • Flaming Lips - Wayne Coyne said "What makes a lot of ideas important is their context... The Velvets never sounded to me like a 0s band." This timeless sound is something that the Flaming Lips would incorporate into their own music.

  • The Strokes - Julian Casablancas tweeted in 2013 that "Lou Reed is the reason I do everything that I do" and later said that Reed was "everything - the reason I started the label, music... I just felt the injustice, of how amazing he was... For me he's on the Mount Rushmore of rad dudes." When Is This It dropped, the Velvet Underground was echoed by reviewers in the most positive manner. The Strokes updated the Velvet Underground sound and carried them forward to the 21st century.

  • Arctic Monkeys - Alex Turner told BBC Radio 1 that 2013's AM was inspired by the Velvet Underground's 1985 compilation album, VU, "I actually stole it from the Velvet Underground, I'll just confess that now and get it out of the way. The 'VU' record, obviously". The band's acoustic cover of 'Walk On The Wild Side' is also a very worthy contender for the best Velvet Underground cover.

  • Roxy Music - Brian Eno once suggested that although the Velvet Underground did not break any records in album sales, those who bought a Velvet album went on to form a band. The Velvet Underground were known as an incredible art band, with the likes of Andy Warhol supporting their work. Equally, Roxy Music was the quintessential art school band, following in their footsteps and expanding their sound.

  • David Bowie - the Thin White Duke was an open and proud Velvet fan. 'Queen Bitch' from Hunk Dory was written as a tribute for Lou Reed and his gang whilst Bowie's 1967 cover of 'I'm Waiting For the Man' is a classic in itself. Bowie also produced Lou Reed's Transformer in 1972, which was home to two of Bowie;s most beloved songs, 'Perfect Day' and 'Satellite of Love'.

  • The Kooks - the epitome of mid 2000's indie rock, the Kooks' mash-up of The Rolling Stones' 'Beast of Burden' and 'Sweet Jane' will make you wonder why you never realised how similar these two rock and roll classics are. The Kooks undoubtedly rejuvenated the Velvet Underground sound for the mid 2000s youths.

  • LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem's 'Drunk Girls' unashamedly calls upon the Velvet Underground's 'White Light/White Heat' through its entirety, demonstrating that even electro-rock can give credence to Lou Reed's legendary ear for a tune.

  • Nirvana - Nirvana's acoustic radio cover of Velvet's 'Here She Comes Now' demonstrated the band's diverse talent as well as their love for Lou Reed and his band. Slightly more chirpy than a typical Nirvana song, this Velvet Underground cover somehow till feels like an original Nirvana number and i's clear how important the Velvets were for the development of Nirvana's sound.

More about:


Photo: wenn/Press