Press "Enter" to skip to content

Every The Velvet Underground Album Ranked Worst to Best

The Velvet Underground is the quintessential band that everybody knows is important, but nobody actually listens to. They have a paltry 3.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify, which seems like a lot until you see that fucking Hoobastank has 9.5 million. But if you know anything about the Velvet Underground (or “the Velvets,” if you’re a pretentious asshole), you know they’re one of the coolest and most influential rock groups of all time. So, let’s peel back past “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” (kidding, we know that’s a Doug Yule solo track) and rank their venerated oeuvre. Yeah, normal bands have mere discographies; pioneering geniuses have oeuvres.

5. Squeeze (1973)

“Squeeze,” technically the final release from the Velvets (OK, like any true fan of this band, I am a pretentious asshole), is a universally reviled album that nobody thinks even counts, because it contains none of the band’s original members. And the Velvet Underground without Lou Reed is irredeemably bad, like the Misfits without Glenn Danzig, or the Dave Matthews Band with Dave Matthews. For any contrarians who call this album “surprisingly listenable” or whatever, that’s exactly the problem — the Velvets’ genius lies precisely in how unlistenable they are.

Play It Again: There’s nothing worth playing even once here, unless you’re interested in how presciently AI-generated these songs sound.
Skip It: Yeah.

Honorable Mention: VU (1985)

Since the Velvets only have four proper LPs, their cultish fanbase clings to outtakes, a million different live albums, expanded rereleases with pointless alternate mixes, and bootlegs that have absurd names like “The Fuckwell Tapes ‘68” and “Live From Old Skinny Larry’s Manhattan Tenement,” if I’m remembering those correctly. While there’s incredible music all throughout, much of it is geared toward diehard fans without jobs. But, if you’re looking to get into the Velvets’ extended universe, start with VU’s delightful set of outtakes recorded 1968-69 and released long after the band called it quits. This quirky gem, the better of two outtakes albums, contains most of a storied “lost album,” which I hear was discovered over at Old Skinny Larry’s place on the Lower East Side before it got converted into a luxury unit.

Play It Again: “Stephanie Says”
Skip It: “Andy’s Chest” (the Transformer version is far superior)

4. Loaded (1970)

“Loaded,” the Velvets’ true farewell, is their only album that won’t clear out a room of normal people. It’s not as boundary-pushing as their earlier work, but Lou’s virtuosic songwriting and pop sensibilities really shine throughout this gorgeous, well-constructed record. Doug “Judas” Yule’s vocals are featured heavily, which some people hate, especially given his “Squeeze” blasphemy. But let’s be honest, you can’t even tell the difference between him and Lou singing here anyway. This is the Velvets’ weakest proper album, meaning it’s only slightly less than perfect.

Play It Again: “Rock & Roll” shows how a Velvet Underground song can be great even when it’s not about doing heroin or getting your dick sucked.
Skip It: “Train Comin’ Round the Bend” could have used a few lines about doing heroin or getting your dick sucked, because it probably isn’t anybody’s favorite Velvet Underground song.

3. Self-Titled (1969)

In yet another example of our country’s anti-Welsh racism, Lou Reed canned founding member John Cale before making this record. On one hand, this is a shame, because Cale masterminded the unpleasant droning that helped make the first two albums so artistic and cool. On the other, if Lou never fired him, Cale wouldn’t likely have made that stunning rendition of “Hallelujah” from the first “Shrek.” And what’s more, we wouldn’t have this achingly tender and subdued record. Although the Velvets stopped singing about drugs for this album, songs like “Pale Blue Eyes” are the sonic equivalent of opiates — warm, transcendent, and tragic. So actually, yeah, fuck Wales.

Play It Again: “I’m Set Free”
Skip It: “The Murder Mystery”

2. The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Punk. Shoegaze. New Wave. Ragtime. Cumbia. The Velvets’ legendary debut single-handedly invented these genres and more, changing popular music forever — despite famously being a commercial failure early on. Did you think we weren’t going to mention that fucking Brian Eno quote? Too bad. He said, “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years, and it’s all because he went door-to-door asking people to please listen, and they did. And Lou actually made a lot of friends that way and learned that friendship is important and maybe he shouldn’t be so mean. And I think he mentioned some of those people started a band!” Sorry, but that explains it all.

Play It Again: “The Black Angel’s Death Song” (and don’t complain)
Skip It: If any of you jim-jims skip a single song on this perfect record, I will go Valerie Solanas on your ass.

1. White Light/White Heat (1968)

Oh ho, weren’t expecting this at number one, were you? The Hard Times is a punk site, so of course this rabid underdog is our favorite. Look up “proto-punk” in a dictionary, and you’ll soon learn that standard dictionaries don’t contain niche terms like that. But do some Googling and yeah, you’ll see this album is proto-punk as fuck — the primordial ooze from which so much beautiful filth has sprung. The Velvets’ debut was supremely avant-garde, but White Light/White Heat was somehow even avant-garder, reaching unparalleled heights of cacophony and unintelligibility. If White Light is your favorite Velvets record, the one or two people in your life who give a shit will (SWEETLY) respect this as a cool choice.

Play It Again: “Heard Her Call My Name”
Skip It: “Sister Ray” — but that wouldn’t be very proto-punk of you.