The Velvet Underground and Nico, released months before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club in 1967, is no concept album, but it is the distinct product of multiple creative forces pulling in different directions and boasts every bit as much diversity, complexity and ambition. End of similarity. Rather than politely challenge the summer-of-lovers with charming new musical ideas, the Velvets here treat rock almost as an afterthought to a shameless freedom learned from decadent 19th Century poets. Lou Reed, the band’s primary force, dives headlong into the tawdry and the forbidden, stamping out coy innuendo by singing plainly — and positively — about hard drugs, squeezing enough I-meant-to-do-that noise out of his guitar to nourish generations of punks and shoegazers. Jim Morrison pushed similar values to much greater commercial effect that same year, but the other Doors were nowhere as bold.
By acclamation one of early rock’s most feral releases, the album quizzically opens to the delicate sound of celeste and the ambiguous grace of “Sunday Morning.” From there it cycles through arch social knifeplay (no doubt encouraged by “producer” Andy Warhol), voiced in a Teutonic deadpan by Nico; the classically informed rock-parodying fury of John Cale’s viola; Reed’s arsenal of calamitous guitar freakouts, credibly narcotic droning and unironic dips into “standard” rock fare. With its many teeth, this strange key opened many doors.