On this day in 1970, legendary singer and alternative pioneer Lou Reed performed for the last time with his iconic band The Velvet Underground. The final gig at Manhattan rock club Max’s Kansas City was recorded live that night and released in 1972 as the band’s last record fronted by Reed.
Some say The Velvet Underground were as influential as the Beatles, and if you list the roster of bands who cite them as an influence it would be hard to argue otherwise. The Sex Pistols, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Talking Heads and even mainstream giants U2 have listed the Velvets as influences to their work. There is no arguing that the Beatles were the mainstream rock n roll band of the 60’s and 70’s, but there’s also no doubt Velvet Underground were that for the alternative scene. Loved by misfits and outsiders still to this day because of the poetic way Reed could humanize the dark side of society, the band did and will forever speak for the downtrodden.
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Roxy Musicfounder and guitarist Brian Eno is said to have made the apt observation and prediction that while only a handful of people bought Velvets’ original release, everyone who did went on to start their own band. Velvets co-founding member and guitarist Sterling Morrison was quoted saying to the BBC in 1993 that they were “the original Alternative band. Not because we wanted to be, because we were shunned into it.” This was long before alternative music had any place in the commercial world, and intentionally or not, they went on to shape the scene for decades to come.
A classic example of a band who “wasn’t appreciated in their time”, they weren’t only futile to the charts of the time, they were treated as the outsiders they sang about. They embodied punk rock before punk rock was even a thing at all. They didn’t belong in the 60’s, but thank goodness for them, or who knows what would have happened to the alternative scene, or if there would have even been one at all.