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At this point in music history, it's become a given that the Velvet Underground were one of the most important and innovative rock bands of their era, and that the four albums they released during their lifespan rank with the most challenging and satisfying work in the rock canon. For beginners and dabblers, though, this invites the question of where to start exploring the group's catalog, an especially vexing question since each of the Velvets' albums has a very distinct musical personality, from the approachable and upbeat surfaces of Loaded to the all-out assault of White Light/White Heat. While Gold, an installment in Universal's ongoing series of "best-of" albums, was doubtless intended as "the Velvet Underground's Greatest Hits Writ Large" (an ironic approach, since the group never had anything even approaching a hit when they were around), it's also one of the best introductions to the group's repertoire that's been released to date. Universal opted not to license any material from Loaded (the VU's final album, released by the Atlantic offshoot Cotillion) for this collection, but short of that, Gold offers a healthy overview of their first three albums, and doesn't shy away from the band's more abrasive material (including all 17 howling minutes of "Sister Ray" from White Light/White Heat). Some of the Loaded-era music is represented by live performances from the epochal 1969: Velvet Underground Live set, the key tracks from the so-called "lost album" (previously unearthed on the historical anthology VU) are present and accounted for, previously unheard versions of John Cale's last session with the group appear here for the first time, and Lou Reed's and Sterling Morrison's contributions to Nico's Chelsea Girl can also be found. The mastering is crisp and well detailed, and the booklet includes a handful of rare photos along with a well-considered history of the group by Scott Schinder. Anyone with a serious music library really ought to have the four original albums in total, and anyone planning a significant commitment to his Velvet Underground collection ought to simply pick up the outstanding box set Peel Slowly and See, which is all the VU most folks will ever need and then some. But if the Velvet Underground are one of those bands you've always heard about but never listened to, Gold offers a splendid road map to their brilliant and diverse demimonde, and offers more than two and a half hours of evidence why their music still matters so much.
Formed: 1964 in New York, NY
Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s
Top Albums and Songs by The Velvet Underground
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