A reflective look at the history books shows that New York City can boast a proud reputation of curating a stringently defined sound as it impacted the world of music no end. Since the dawning of pop culture, the skyscrapers of the concrete jungle have had an indelible sonic bearing on the bands that herald from the Big Apple.
The Velvet Underground are undoubtedly a cornerstone of the New York sound. Their cooler than cool stylings and “I’m walking here” attitude epitomises the street hassle on-the-ground sound of the city that never sleeps.
As Richard Hell, the musician who was at the forefront of the CGBG punk scene with The Voidoids, once said: “Thing always change, and New York teaches you that.” This notion of perpetual change is perhaps why the city has ploughed into new musical territory time and time again.
Sometimes this has meant that bands fall foul of the oldest cliché in the book – but one that typifies why such terms seamlessly enter the lexicon – they become victims of being ahead of their time. This is the issue that the Velvet Underground faced in the snowballing end of the sixties. Case in point is the following classic quote from Brian Eno: “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band! So I console myself in thinking that some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.”
Fortunately for me, Casablancas also ratified this cliché in an interview with Rolling Stone, when he remarked: “The Velvet Underground were way ahead of their time. And their music was weird. But it also made so much sense to me. I couldn’t believe this wasn’t the most popular music ever made. In the beginning, the Strokes definitely drew from the vibe of the Velvets.”
And fortunately for The Strokes, they caught the right wave to foist their new garage indie sound upon the world and in the process garnered headlines along the lines of “The Band Who Saved Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Therein, it wouldn’t take long for the articles to pick up on the obvious influence of The Velvet Underground on their sound. A comparison that The Strokes were no doubt thrilled by.
In fact, Julian Casablancas touted much of the success he has had in his music career as being down to The Velvet’s winning out over The Beatles for his attention. “I have that maybe advantage that I didn’t like or listen to the Beatles,” he said in a 2018 interview with Virtue. “I feel like that’s almost like the branch of, like, 98% of stuff you hear. But then there’s the Velvet Underground. I know Lou Reed hated the Beatles.”
This devotion to the band has not only influenced his sound, but in an even more direct sense, he has covered his New York forebearers on several occasions, including a stellar take on ‘Venus In Furs’, which you can listen to below. But first, let’s take a look at his favourite tracks.
Back in 2018, the frontman was asked to be part of a Tidal multimedia project celebrating the New York art scene. Naturally, he was their go-to man to craft a playlist comprising of his favourite Velvet Underground songs. Of course, such things are highly subjective, but he’s not a million miles away from getting it right if I do say so myself.
Julian Casablancas’ favourite Velvet Underground songs:
- ‘Rock and Roll’
- ‘Sweet Jane (Live)’
- ‘I’m Waiting For The Man
- ‘Pale Blue Eyes’
- ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’
- ‘Candy Says’
- ‘Sunday Morning’