Five 1960s bands that broke up far too soon

The world would be better if these bands had not ended too soon.
Evening Standard/GettyImages
5 of 5

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND – 1967-1970 (4 albums)

As much as I would like to, I cannot make the claim that the Velvet Underground was the greatest rock & roll band of all time. They just weren’t around long enough. But the famous Brian Eno quote about their impact remains as important today as ever. “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 30,000 copies, but everyone who bought one ended up forming their own band.”

The VU had an oversized impact on many facets of rock & roll. Their front man, Lou Reed, expanded the lyrical universe of what a rock song could cover by leaps and bounds. Heroin addiction and sadomasochistic sex were just two of the subjects he covered on their sensational debut, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Reed observed the darker side of his environment and wrote pop songs about it.

Meanwhile, John Cale was pushing the bounds of musicianship at the same time, knifing his electric violin through the songs and experimenting with what kinds of sounds an electric guitar could create. Their drummer broke down barriers by merely existing. All-boy rock bands didn’t have girl drummers until Maureen Tucker showed that they, in fact, could. With Andy Warhol initially managing them (he created the iconic Banana cover on the first album), they were expanding the very nature of performance in their live shows.

The Velvets played noise rock and art rock, psychedelia, and basic pop rock with equal elan. Reed could write heartbreakingly beautiful ballads as well. Unfortunately, he didn’t play with others very well. He fired Warhol first. Then he booted Cale. Cale was replaced by Doug Yule, who played an important role in the two final albums.

The last one produced two of their biggest hits – “Rock and Roll” and “Sweet Jane.” They are both impossibly catchy rock songs. But Reed needed to move on. There was one more album released by the Velvet Underground a few years later, but it was really just a Doug Yule solo project. It paled in comparison. Reed and Cale would team up a couple of decades later to produce a tribute album after Warhol’s death. Songs for Drella suggests that there was a lot more ground the Velvets might have covered had they remained together.

More music news and analysis