Today marks two years since the passing of Lou Reed, one of the most influential artists in rock music. Lou is everything a rebellious angst-ridden individual loves about rock and roll. He’s an artist that challenges you as if he almost wanted you to dislike him. He was a cynical realist and he somehow wins you over and entices you. When you listen to his music.. Truly listen, with an open mind, it will expand your thoughts and imagination. He was arrogant and truly transgressive, he was one music’s greatest outcasts because he didn’t give a fuck whether he was liked or if he was a critic darling. He didn’t romanticize his characters or his music.. He made music simply because it was what he loved.
He’s been greatly imitated and idolized by generations (of genres like punk, glam, grunge, indie rock, etc) not only by fans from all over but by musicians like Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, The Jesus And Mary Chain, and The Strokes to name a few.
Think of Lou as perhaps the Jack Kerouac of rock n roll poetry.
This version of Heroin (initially by the VU) is on Lou’s live Rock and Roll Animal album is surprisingly raw meanwhile the Velvet Underground’s version is more put together.
From the breakthrough 1972 album Transformer and produced by Mick Ronson and not surprisingly David Bowie, you can hear Bowie’s inspiration on this track (he even does the backing vocals) and while that’s all well in good the two were rivals for much of the era so when they came together, it was an intergalactic song of infidelity and dynamic voyeurism.
From the 1975 same-name album, the track is a perfect mix of brood, vulnerability, and adolescence. Its narrative transports you to a nostalgic time that we perhaps have all been there before with its beginning lyrics and then later lyrics like “When you’re all alone and lonely/ in your midnight hour/ And you find that your soul/ it’s been up for sale.”
From his 1978 album of the same name, Street Hassle is Lou’s magnum opus.. It’s an 11-minute rock opera broken into three separate parts: Waltzing Matilda, Street Hassle, and Slipaway. It has a William S. Burroughs quality, the essence of the track is about junkie culture and life on the streets with lyrics like “Some people got no choice/ And they can never find a voice/ to talk with they can even call their own/ so the first thing that they see/ that allows them the right to be/well they follow it/ you know it’s called … bad luck.” The song also features an uncredited spoken word section from none other than Bruce Springsteen.
Also from the breakthrough 1972 album Transformer and the help of Mick Ronson and David Bowie Lou’s most famous song gives us a glimpse of his world with Andy Warhol. It’s a sweet and nostalgic telling of Andy Warhol’s crew coming to New York City and documenting the seedy underbelly of life in the ’70s with “taboo” subjects like transsexuality, blowjobs, narcotics, and male hookers.. It wasn’t exactly mainstream. The track was Lou’s only American Top 40 hit and goes to show that a little transgression goes a long way.