The influence of the Velvet Underground on rock greatly exceeds their sales figures and chart numbers. They are one of the most important rock and roll bands of all time, laying the groundwork in the Sixties for many tangents rock music would take in ensuing decades. Yet just two of their four original studio albums ever even made Billboard's Top 200. If ever a band was ahead of its time, it was the Velvet Underground. Brian Eno, cofounder of Roxy Music and producer of U2 and others, put it best when he said that although the Velvet Underground didn't sell many albums, everyone who bought one went on to form a band. The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, U2, R.E.M., Roxy Music and Sonic Youth have all cited the Velvet Underground as a major influence.
The Velvets' addressed such taboo subjects as sexual deviancy ("Venus in Furs"), drug addiction ("Heroin," "White Light/White Heat"), paranoia ("Sunday Morning") and the urban demimonde ("All Tomorrow's Parties"). In so doing, they brought rock and roll into unexplored experiential realms with a literary and unabashedly adult voice. Musically, the group ranged from droning, avant-garde improvisations ("Sister Ray") to songs built upon time-tested rock and R&B foundations ("I'm Waiting for the Man"). The Velvet Underground managed to be both arty and earthy, reflecting the duality within the college-educated but streetwise Lou Reed, who wrote most of the material.