In 1967, The Velvet Underground & Nico released their self-titled album. It reportedly sold only 30,000 copies in its early years. It peaked at 171 on the Billboard charts. It did not achieve commercial success. Nor critical acclaim. As an active band, The Velvet Underground did not become popular.
Many years later, The Velvet Underground has been credited as one of the most influential bands of all time. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the band at 19 in their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. Their third album, The Velvet Underground, did not even reach the Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart upon it’s release. And now it is heralded is a classic, 10/10 record.
What happened? Why was The Velvet Underground a forgotten, unsuccessful band in their heyday, yet praised as genius so many years later? Lou Reed’s group took rock music and infused avant-garde, casting off the shackles of modern music, experimenting with unheard sounds, delving into dark subject matter, and creating music like nothing the world had ever seen. It was weird. It was different. People weren’t ready for it. People have an idea of what music should be and what music should sound like, and The Velvet Underground did not align with these ideas. They took music in a new direction. They opened Pandora’s musical box, inspiring thousands of bands, paving the way for new genres, and creating timeless sounds that are praised and adored to today.
As a general rule, what’s popular isn’t usually good. The masses don’t know good. They are told what is good. They are told what to like. Unable to recognize genius when it stares them in the face, or sends sonic vibrations through their eardrums. That is until, you know, some day people start saying, “you know… this is actually pretty damn good”. People are followers. But they caught on eventually.