You don't really need to play the first one (since I think at the beginning of the game they ask you a series of questions and you make the ME1 story on the fly). But to get a better experience of the story, the aliens, etc.. I would suggest playing the first one, well.. first
Nope, that is not true about having no need for saves from ME1. Though what you stated floated around for a time, Bioware confirmed that you get to make no choices that can can begin the game without the same effects as carrying over saves from the previous game. Kind of sucks too, because I bought the PC version (I just recently built a very high end gaming rig), but I already have the saves for the 360.