Colorful Lou Reed has had a Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame career. You hear all these stories alleging that he’s a miserable interview and here at The Giant Panther we’ll never know. The closest I ever got to Lou Reed was Orchestra R/C Row RR seat 102 on March 10, 1989 at The Orpheum Theatre in Boston on the New York Tour. Those of you from New England will recognize this seat as roughly 14th row on the aisle. The New York tour was fabulous and though it was my only time to see Lou Reed he did not disappoint. The first half of the show was New York played in its entirety and the second half was a greatest hits run through. It was fabulous. I’ve been a Lou Reed fan since around 1972. It probably coincided with my first listen to Walk On The Wild Side, but I was clueless about the lyrics. I just knew the colored girls sang do, do, do, etc. My love of The Velvet Underground came later; hey I was barely six when they released their first record so cut me some slack would ya? Believe me, it had nothing to do with Waiting For The Man (the idea not the song) and I wasn’t much for bending genders. Speaking of which, funny how many of my musical heroes seem to have done some experimenting when I’m kind of straight laced that way. Kind of? Strike that, not kind of. It definitely doesn’t stop me from buying scores of records by David Bowie, Elton John or Lou Reed, that’s for sure. If you don’t have a copy of Lou Reed’s 1989 CD called New York that’s a mistake. Pound for pound it could be Lou’s best record as far as I’m concerned. I know them’s fighting words, but it’s my opinion. Love that record to death. Check it out if you like Lou Reed and slept through the late 80′s.
Lewis Allen Reed (although some sources are in fact quoting the name Rabinowitz so I’m not exactly sure what is true and what isn’t…thank you to the reader who wrote in below) was born March 2, 1942. Many people think of Lou’s speak singing in the same vein as a Bob Dylan, but as much as I worship Bob Dylan, Lou can really sing in my opinion. I don’t know how these folks who chain smoked for many years have such clean sounding voices. Lou’s got a low voice, but it rarely sounds strained to me. I don’t know Rod Stewart’s smoking habits for example, but imagine he did his share of it with that voice. Keith Richards? Please. He croaks God love him. Awesome book Keith! I never heard so many “cats” (as in that cat was cool) or “mates” in my life. Love his music just the same as you all know by now. Lou Reed has a wonderful catalogue too. The Velvet Underground stuff speaks for itself, but Lou’s has been releasing records non stop for nearly 50 years now. He’s not afraid to go completely off the rails like when he released Metal Machine Music in 1975, but he has had great “singles” over the years. Remember ”I Love You, Suzanne” from 1984′s New Sensation or “No Money Down” from 1986′s Mistrial or one of my all time favorite lost Reed tracks ”What’s Good” from 1992′s Magic and Loss? Life’s like mayonnaise soda y’all! Old timers will point to “Perfect Day” or “Satellite of Love” or “Sweet Jane” or “Vicious” or “Rock & Roll” and who can blame them? These are not just great Classic Rock hit songs, they are legendary still sound good to this very minute songs. The ones I referred to are mere “B” cut fodder as good as they are. Comparatively speaking they are throwaway tracks next to these monster tracks. Lou’s been around a good long while and though he’s made some interesting choices for his catalogue, it’s really never been boring. Just tremendous.
Born in Brooklyn, Lou Reed spent the majority of his childhood living on Long Island before moving to New York City in 1963. A graduate of Syracuse University (class of ’64), he garnered a job as a staff songwriter at Pickwick Records. It was there that he wrote a novelty song called “The Ostrich” that his employers thought might be worth recording. A group was hastily assembled called The Primitives and it included another young musician from Wales named John Cale. Something of a partnership was formed as a result. They began to room together and began hanging around with college acquaintances named Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker. They called themselves The Velvet Underground. Avant-garde artist Andy Warhol stumbled on the band and turned them into the house band at his studio referred to as the Factory. Some of your may have seen the 2006 film Factory Girl starring starring the lovely Sienna Miller a while back. It is loosely based on the story of Edie Sedgwick. I love stuff like this so I soaked it up. I don’t know if anyone else liked it, but I did. The Velvet Underground might have been massively influential and broke all kinds ground with songs about drugs and sex, but they never sold that many records. John Cale left in 1968 and even their principal songwriter, Mr Lou Reed, checked out in 1970. I went looking for a photo of European model Nico and found the photo above. She was basically thrust upon the band at the behest of Andy Warhol, but you can see why both Reed and Cale allegedly had dalliances with her. The Velvet Underground & Nico still remains a critic’s wet dream after all these years. It yielded world famous tracks like “There She Goes Again, Waiting For The Man, Femme Fatale, Heroin and All Tomorrow’s Parties.” Each song has been covered countless times.
After working at this father’s tax firm for a stretch, Lou recorded his first solo album in 1970 with the help of Yes’ Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe. I didn’t know that. Thanks Wikipedia. It was critically acclaimed when listened to, but largely ignored, probably because it was mostly re-worked or “B” Velvet Underground material. All that changed when David Bowie and Mick Ronson got a hold of him in 1972. That December he released Transformer and his solo career took off like the proverbial bat out of hell. “Walk On The Wild Side” was an international hit, but let’s not forget the sublime “Vicious” and “Andy’s Chest” and “Perfect Day” and “Satellite of Love.” He already had plenty of street cred, but now he was an established solo artist. The sky was the limit. Of course, right off the bat he released 1973′s challenging Berlin; the story of two junkies in love. Some folks really like this record, but the rest of us who have never done Heroin potentially struggled with this LP after Transformer. In 1974 Reed released both Sally Can’t Dance and Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal, with it’s awesome re-working of “Sweet Jane.” It was recorded live at New York’s Howard Stein Academy of Music in late 1973 and it was a must own for any serious collector. A couple of future members of Alice Cooper’s band and an ex-Detroit Wheel played on the massively famous record and it still rocks. I just listened to it yet again as I sit here typing. I’m not sure what it is exactly, live albums come and go, but that intro to “Sweet Jane” and the jamming…it’s sounds so…big. Great stuff, the louder the better.
By now Lou Reed already had a fervent following, but he continued to release eclectic and challenging records all through the 70′s and into the 80′s. None of his records sold particularly well, in fact it is said that record executive Clive Davis apparently saved Reed from bankruptcy around the time of 1976′s Rock and Roll Heart. His 80′s output was a lot more digestible for the most part, at least as far as the radio goes, but after New York he went right back into more obscure material. From my pint of view, 2000′s Ecstasy is a real sleeper if you are looking for a latter day record in his catalogue that at least tries to rock. 1990′s Songs For Drella and 1992′s Magic and Loss have a few too many ballads for my taste. Sometimes it takes a “Busload of Faith” to get by when he doesn’t feel like rocking in my world. I like the Lou Reed that gets excited, not so much the reflective story teller. That doesn’t mean I won’t buy his records, lord knows I have all of them, but I love reaching for The Velvet Underground, Transformer, Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal, New York and Ecstasy more than most of them. I’m sure all you Lou Reed fans will have your own favorites and that is what makes Lou great to be honest. Happy belated 69th Birthday Lou from The Giant Panther.
Buy or Download NYC Man: The Lou Reed Colletion From Amazon Here.