27 October marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of one of music’s greatest legends, Lou Reed. He led an interesting life, staying true to his art and what he believed and has inspired generations of other musicians. In memory of his life and work I have dedicated this edition of Off the Record to Lou Reed.
The Velvet Underground & Nico | The Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967
I remember hearing the news of Reed’s death last year and feeling totally heart-broken. I’d woken up early and I had a text message from my brother saying Lou Reed had died. My eyes filled with tears and my heart began to ache. I put The Velvet Underground & Nico on and cried into my pillow.
Produced by Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground & Nico is the debut release from the group and German actress Nico. Warhol had insisted on Nico collaborating with the band on the LP and had Reed write some songs for her to sing (I’ll Be Your Mirror, Femme Fatale, All Tomorrow’s Parties, etc.). The Velvet Underground was performing with Nico as part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable through 1966 – 67 and they recorded the album in this time.
At the time of it’s release The Velvet Underground & Nico was seen as controversial and too experimental, indulgent almost, and wasn’t well received by the public. Certain record stores and radio stations refused to stock it or play it and the album never sold well. The album cover, famously designed by Andy Warhol, features a white cover with a yellow banana print. Early releases of this album invited the owner to ‘peel slowly and see’ and, upon doing this, would reveal a flesh coloured banana underneath.
Lou Reeds’ time with The Velvet Underground saw some of the most influential music in rock history made and The Velvet Underground & Nico continues to withstand the test of time. This is absolute essential Lou Reed listening.
Transformer | Lou Reed, 1972
After recording The Velvet Underground’s final studio album in 1970, Loaded, Reed left the band. Guitarist John Cale had already left the band so bassist Doug Yule moved to vocals and guitar.
In 1972 Lou Reed released his debut and sophomore solo albums, the latter being Transformer. Compared to Reed’s years with The Velvet Underground, Transformer displays a lot more structure, musically and this is the direction we see Reed develop into his own sound.
It’s no secret that David Bowie is a Lou Reed fan and was influenced massively by The Velvet Underground. On his first ever visit to New York City, Bowie spotted a poster for a Velvet Underground show and went along. When the opportunity arose in 1972 to produce Transformer, Bowie naturally jumped at the chance.
Transformer features some of Reed’s highest charting tracks, including Walk on the Wild Side, Vicious and Perfect Day. Transformer is Reed’s first well-rounded solo album and really helped to set the path for his future career.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal | Lou Reed, 1974
It was really hard choosing which live Lou Reed album to include in this list; it was between The Velvet Underground: Live at Max’s Kansas City, Take No Prisoners or this. I went with Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal because it was amongst the first lot of records given to me by my dad.
The album kicks off with an electrifying number, Intro/Sweet Jane. My Dad actually got up and sang Sweet Jane at his 50th birthday party, a sight I will never forget. And continues through to one of the most memorable odes to a drug I have ever heard. The lingering guitar dancing around Reeds vocals in the verses in Heroin, before the bass comes in as that driving force gets me every time.
Also on the album are two tracks Reed wrote with The Velvet Underground; White Light/White Heat and, closing the album, is an extended version of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Lou Reed has been a major influence on the rock music world today and I am so darn grateful he had a long career before he passed away because his music has meant so much to so many people. You will live on forever in your music, Mr Reed and I thank you for it.