So I think we knew it was coming, maybe not this soon but it was on the horizon. Lou Reed has passed away.
This is a strange feeling for me, because, although I love a lot of Reed’s music, I’m just not that devastated. I’d never wish ill on anybody and I’m sad that he’s died, especially as he was only 71, but I’m not gonna gush and hide the fact that I thought he was a bit of an arse. Like a lot of people, I like Lou for the records he made between 1967-1972, and I think he knew that a lot of people felt the same way. That must be hard for a musician still making records, especially for someone not widely recognised at the time. But people still go on about The Beatles to Macca, it’s just too hard to ignore it.
I first heard of Lou Reed through Trainspotting and I wonder how much Sick Boy’s theory of talent influenced my own perceptions:.
Sick Boy: It’s certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life.
Renton: What do you mean?
Sick Boy: Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever. All walks of life: George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed…
Renton: Some of his solo stuff’s not bad.
Sick Boy: No, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. And in your heart you kind of know that although it sounds all right, it’s actually just shite.
I’m not the biggest fan of Lou’s solo career, mainly because after devouring the lushly arranged Transformer, I just couldn’t get into the likes of the gritty Berlin or the underwhelming self titled debut. Not long after I bought Berlin, a friend played me a snippet of the unintelligible mess that is Metal Machine Music and that was that, the end of my flutter with Lou on his own. The Velvet Underground on the other hand I just couldn’t get enough of.
I first heard of the Velvets around the time that Strokes started to hype. Like most people I started with the Nico/Andy Warhol debut and it didn’t take long for me to get hooked. Songs like Venus in Furs, Heroin & Sunday Morning were a far cry from the Travis’s, Starsailor et al who were in trouble of pervading my stereo. The Strokes were the fire, but The Velvet Underground were the catalyst that helped my 18 year old self actually feel cool for once. It didn’t take long after buying the debut VU album before I snapped up their others. It soon became apparent how much they’d influenced other artists that I liked; R.E.M., Belle and Sebastian, Joy Division, obviously The Strokes. Bands that can’t be compared to each other, yet can all be traced back to Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. I had a few Bowie records too but I hadn’t read up on him by that time and hadn’t picked up on the connection.
Listening to the Velvets also opened doors to other artists that I had yet to give the time of day too, like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Iggy & the Stooges and Patti Smith. There can’t be many other bands who can boast that so many great artists have tried to imitate them on at least one song like The Velvet Underground can. They nailed so many styles, and it wasn’t just Lou’s storytelling that inspired, but their guitar playing too.
I’m a fan of Lou as a collaborator. I like him having a sparing partner, be it John Cale on the first two Velvet Underground albums, Doug Yule on the last two, or David Bowie on the super polished Transformer. I like the way his guitar playing compliments Doug Yule and Sterling Morrison on songs like Some Kinda Love or Here She Comes Now. Or the way he was encouraged to go all out batshit by John Cale on the likes of Sister Ray. The piano playing on Transformer, like the string and horn arrangements, and the amazing backing vocals just couldn’t have made it on to a Lou Reed record without the aid of David Bowie and Mick Ronson. That isn’t to say that his talent was without merit. The bloke could write a song. And his delivery is unequivocally his.
Below is a pick of ten songs I love of Lou’s that aren’t Perfect Day, Walk on the Wild Side or the more recognisable songs from The Velvet Underground & Nico album. After all, the best way to remember any musician is to listen to their music.
Rest in peace, Lou.
There She Goes Again
What Goes On
Here She Comes Now
Rock and Roll
Satellite of Love
I Found a Reason
I’m Set Free