Unfortunately there are many great artists I am yet to fully listen to and appreciate. Lou Reed is one of them. Sadly he passed away on Sunday morning (it had to be*) and even though I have never really given his music much time, I know most the bands I listen to today, would certainly not sound the way they do, without his decades of influence seeping into their work.
The Velvet Underground was where it all began for multi-instrumentalist Lou Reed after meeting fellow musician John Cale and recruiting in Sterling Morrison on guitar and Maureen Tucker on drums. At the time their sound was unique; mixing avant-garde and experimental aspects to the traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound. This eccentricity caught the attention of artist Andy Warhol, who soon became the bands manager.
‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’, their almost-eponymous debut album, which featured German pop singer Nico, (a decision made by Warhol against the preference of Reed) was their most successful album; only charting in the US, with a peak position of 171. At the time The Velvet Underground where just that; confined to the musical underground. Due to a combination of poor promotion, banning due to drug and sex references, a negative association with Warhol and a musical vision that grated so prominently against the norm, The Velvet Underground never really entered the mainstream.
The reason their influence is so wide spread today, is credited, albeit dubiously, to a famous Brian Eno quote (the merit of which is questionable) which claimed that “The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”
Despite their failure to receive the media attention they deserved, they continued (without Warhol or Nico), producing another four records; John Cale leaving after their second effort ‘White Light/White Heat’ and Loud Reed leaving between completing and releasing their fourth album ‘Loaded’. An almost entirely new lineup went on to release a fifth effort, entitled ‘Squeeze’, before disbanding.
Lou Reed then re-emerged with his solo act two years later in 1972. His solo career also didn’t bring immediate results; the highly-anticipated eponymous debut album disappointed, but he went on nevertheless to have a catalog spanning nearly forty years, producing twenty solo albums, half as many live albums and several collaborations.
With this blog post I didn’t just want to write his obituary or biography, but I wanted to use it as an introduction to his work. One of the reasons this blog is a day late, is because I have spent a long time listening to as much of his music as possible, so I could present to you five of my new found favourite Lou Reed tracks.
‘Venus In Furs’ from ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’: Starting at the beginning, this track comes from The Velvet Underground’s debut album and features a hypnotising motif onto which Lou Reed’s monotonous voice attaches to. As the song mutates, it produces strange sounds, some harsh, some beautiful, all of which keep you interested throughout.
‘Candy Says’ from ‘The Velvet Underground’: ‘Candy Says’ is a polar opposite to the song above. It is melodic, sombre and quiet, driven by a light drum beat and a delicate guitar passage.
‘Berlin’ from ‘Berlin’: The album itself is a sprawling rock opera, which makes use of orchestration, about a couple falling apart through themes of drugs, suicide and violence to name a few. As an overall album, it is severely depressing, but one of the best rock opera’s ever recorded. The track serves as a melancholic introduction to the concept, played solely on piano and is a taster of what’s to come.
‘Walk On The Wild Side’ from ‘Transformer’: A Lou Reed list wouldn’t be complete without a song from his classic second solo album ‘Transformer’. My personal favourite from the album, which spawned the songs ‘Perfect Day’, ‘Vicious’ and ‘Satellite Of Love’ is the simple, bass-driven ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. It’s a classic and deservedly so.
‘Heroin’ from ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’: The Velvet Underground’s debut album is probably my favourite work that I’ve heard from Lou Reed. ‘Heroin’ is a musical and lyrical journey, utilising elements of drone and noise, and coming to a close with a cacophony of harsh screeches.
R.I.P Lou Reed.
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*’Sunday Morning’ is the opening track on The Velvet Undergound’s debut album.