Shirley Halperin
November 14, 2008 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut has long been known as the album that launched a thousand bands. Forty years later, that honor goes to Rock Band, which has prompted untold millions to pick up a (plastic) instrument. ”Rhythm games” exploded in 2008 thanks in large part to the pioneering title Guitar Hero, but it was the full-band formula — drums, guitar, bass, and a microphone — that kicked the jam into overdrive. Since its launch last fall, sales of MTV Games’ Rock Band (a set including instruments costs $170 on average) have surpassed 4.5 million units. ”We sold everything we could make,” said MTV Networks president Van Toffler of last year’s Christmas rush. Expect history to repeat itself this holiday — and possibly again in 2009, thanks to building buzz about a Beatles edition. ”It’s just a game,” says Smashing Pumpkins singer Billy Corgan, whose music appears on both Guitar Hero and Rock Band, ”but I haven’t felt this much energy and excitement around music in a long time.”

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