Lou Reed RIP: What If Everyone Who Bought The First Velvet Underground Album Did Start A Band?

Velvet Underground Members To Share Stage At New York Public Library

Lou Reed, Velvet Underground

A popular perception of the Velvet Underground, fronted by the late-Lou Reed, is that while the group didn’t sell many records, they inspired legions of musicians to start bands. In fact a popular trope is that the Velvet Underground’s first album “The Velvet Underground & Nico” only sold a few thousand, but everyone who bought it formed a band.

That quote has been attributed to Brian Eno from a 1982 interview in which the musician and producer reportedly said the Velvet Underground's first album only sold 30,000 copies during its first five years but that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” 

So lackluster were the band’s initial sales that when Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground in 1970 he moved back with his family in Long Island and worked as a typist in his father’s office before embarking on a fruitful solo career.    

While the Velvets, which included Lou Reed with John Cale, Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker managed by pop artists Andy Warhol with stints by Nico and Doug Yule, may not have sold well in their time (1964-1973), their catalog continued selling way past the band's demise. 

According to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks sales since 1991, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” sold 560,000 copies – well above the thousands or tens of thousands they sold in their time. The Velvet Underground’s catalog has sold some two million albums since 1991.  And the band’s second best-selling album according to SoundScan was its greatest hits collection, "The Best of Velvet Underground" which sold some 308,000 copies followed by “Loaded” which has sold 250,000 copies.

Here are the band's current tallies:

Velvet Undergroun Charting Albums:
(Title – Peak on Billboard 200 - SoundScan–era (1991-present) sales)
"The Velvet Underground & Nico" - No. 171 – 560,000
"White Light/White Heat" - No. 199 – 113,000
"VU" - No. 85 – 90,000
"The Velvet Underground" - No. 197 (first released in 1969, charted in 1985) - 201,000
"Live MCMXCIII" - No. 180 – 77,000

Other Non-Charting VU Albums That Sold Significantly:
"The Best of Velvet Underground" - 308,000
"Loaded" - 250,000
"Peel Slowly and See" - 70,000
"Live with Lou Reed Vol. 1" - 55,000

Sales figures courtesy of Nielsen SoundScan.