How many times have you heard a song and thought, this reminds me of (insert other song/artist)”?
Two events during the past week got me thinking about influence in music. Firstly, a recording widely considered the most influential album of all time turned 50. It’s an album which at the time was considered a flop, The Velvet Underground and Nico, by The Velvet Underground.
The Velvets are now well known, although those unfamiliar will more likely be aware of the band’s lead singer, the late Lou Reed, who had a prolific career highlighted by hit single Walk on the Wild Side.
Musician Brian Eno was quoted in 1982 — 15 years after The Velvet Underground and Nico came out — discussing the album’s impact.
The record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years, Eno said, but “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.
The album is certainly beyond its years, mixing sounds that would decades later be considered indie rock, noise rock, twee pop and more with lyrics about drugs, S&M (sadomasochism) and other topics risque by modern standards, let alone for the mid-60s.
Its sounds can be heard echoing through everything from Bowie to Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and two bands full of massive Velvets fans — U2 and REM.
News arrived during the weekend about another, possibly even more influential musician.
Rock music pioneer Chuck Berry died aged 90.
In his book full of interview excerpts, Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead, Neil Strauss speaks with the reclusive legend.
Since my copy of the book is apparently missing, I’ll paraphrase. Essentially, Berry tells Strauss he started playing this energetic music that would soon be known worldwide as rock ‘n’ roll because of the way people would react to the sound. In that way, he said, the people invented rock music.
A few years later, Elvis Presley would make rock music a cultural phenomenon and every day new bands started in garages, each hoping to capture that same feeling Berry did back in the late-1950s.
It’s easy to say today’s music doesn’t have what it takes to be so influential, but that’s dismissive.
Thanks to the internet the whole world is connected and musical influence can spread much faster than ever before.
Only time will tell which artists inspire the next waves of music.
Maybe it will be a band hardly anybody has heard of yet, as it was with the Velvets, or maybe it will be an innovator who thinks up a new way to communicate through music, like with Berry.
One thing is certain. Like the late Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry said, it will be the listeners who decide.