I’ve worked at a Record Store, I’ve read magazines, I’ve seen some serious atrocities (Green Day’s Dookie being put above Pixies’ Doolittle), so I’ve decided to put together my own list to set the record straight on what happen to be the real best albums of all time. Granted I take influence from other lists in the compiling of this one, but I think you’ll agree that I’m a fair and balanced listener who leans into classic rock, jazz, and alternative in about equal measure. If you disagree with this list, you are wrong.
#1: The Velvet Underground & Nico
Right off the bat I’m starting with a controversial decision, but where else are you supposed to put an album that even the charlatans at Rollingstone admit is “the most prophetic album ever”? You probably think it’s bad enough that I didn’t lead off with the consensus-lead best band in the world, The Beatles. It seems like a rule in lists that The Beatles have to have albums in the #1 and #3 spots with heavy argument about which album occupies which spot. I’m not going that route. The Velvet Underground & Nico is too much of a destroyer of an album. It contains too many elements from too many sources of music and literature and combines them with lyrics that are too old, too controversial, too rebellious for rock and roll. Lou Reed’s love of rock and roll may have been the purest love for anything inanimate that a human could ever experience and that just makes it all the better.
The album has been called the first proto-punk album but honestly that’s not even close to what these persons were making. They were a highly heterodox group with a drummer who played her drums standing up and with mallets. There was no full-time bass player. And Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison made the kind of guitar duo that should’ve made The Rolling Stones jealous. The set of songs featured on this particular album are, in fact, so good that even Nico, who was forced on the group by manager/producer Andy Warhol couldn’t ruin her three tunes even though she sings like low-pitched modeling ditz who couldn’t possibly get any more superficial. That superficiality, though, actually improved her cuts, though, as they were about Edie Sedgwick, an individual who can’t get past clothes, and being a mirror.
None of her songs count as the worst song on the album. Lou Reed handles all the rest of the songs singing in a mallard monotone that burns beneath the songs but never explodes. “I’m Waiting For The Man” is one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever while “Sunday Morning” is pastoral pop at its best and “Heroin” is exemplar of rock and roll minimalism and “There She Goes Again” is an improved re-write of “Hitch Hike” even as perhaps the worst song on the album. And that’s where this thing stands. If the worst song on an album is an improvement of the hit song “Hitch Hike” by Marvin Gaye then there can’t possibly be anything to complain about, and so it is. Some of the boundaries they would push further on White Light/White Heat, their follow-up, but they would never achieve such an impenetrable wall of songs as this again even though each of their albums would be a fellow masterpiece in their own right. Honestly, getting too far into it will ruin it, I think, if you haven’t heard it, but my immediate reaction upon first playing it was to play it again. I don’t think I ever immediately had to hear something again after my first impression before or after this album.
That’s why I put this album at #1. No other album avoids filler as successfully as this album does.