The Velvet Underground were managed by Andy Warhol and were the house band at his studio the Factory and for his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. The provocative lyrics of some of the band's songs gave a nihilistic outlook to some of their music.
Their 1967 debut album, titled The Velvet Underground & Nico (which featured German singer Nico, with whom the band collaborated) was named the 13th Greatest Album of All Time, and the "most prophetic rock album ever made" by Rolling Stone in 2003. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the band #19 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
Reed was born into a Jewish family at Beth El Hospital in Brooklyn and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. Having learned to play the guitar from the radio, he developed an early interest in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and during high school played in a number of bands. His first recording was as a member of a doo wop-style group called The Jades.
Reed received electroconvulsive therapy in his teen years to "cure" homosexual behavior; he wrote about the experience in his 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons". In an interview, Reed said of the experience:
They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland County to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page 17 and have to go right back to page one again.Reed began attending Syracuse University in the fall of 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing before finding his true calling when he began hosting a late-night radio program on WAER called "Excursions On A Wobbly Rail". Named after a song by pianist Cecil Taylor, the program typically featured doo wop, rhythm and blues and jazz, particularly the free jazz developed in the mid-1950s. Many of Reed's guitar techniques, such as the guitar-drum roll, were inspired by jazz saxophonists, notably Ornette Coleman. Reed graduated from the Syracuse College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in June 1964.
Noted poet Delmore Schwartz taught at Syracuse and befriended Reed, who in 1966 dedicated to Schwartz the song "European Son", from the Velvet Underground's debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico. In 1982, Reed recorded "My House" as a tribute to his late mentor: "My Dedalus to your Bloom was such a perfect wit." He said later his goals as a writer were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music" or to write the Great American Novel in a record album.