Published on November 11, 2013 | by Adam Biagini

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Remembering Lou Reed

Lou Reed

Lou Reed performing at the Hop Farm Music Festival [flickr: Phil King ]

Lou Reed’s death marked the end of the era for rock n’ roll.

The solo artist and front man of The Velvet Underground lived what he spoke, chronicling his drug addictions, mental health issues and sexuality through the lyrics of his songs.

Asked about his drug taking, he replied that he’d “tried to give up drugs by drinking”.

Seen as one of the forefathers of punk rock, his music and lyrics revolutionised popular culture in a way unmatched by many, and importantly challenged the taboos surrounding things such as LGBTQ issues and drug taking when very few people were.

Here the ALN pay tribute to some of his finest, most controversial and just downright weird musical moments.

Lou Reed’s Finest Moments

The Velvet Underground and Nico

The album that started it all, this was the debut for this Lower East Side band who had formed two years previously and were joined here by German model and singer Nico. With an iconic Andy Warhol sleeve, the album was groundbreaking not only because of Reed’s lyrics, which dealt with sadomasochism and Reed’s heroin addiction, but for their use of drone, distortion and minimal guitar. Reed once famously said: “one chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords you’re into jazz.” The complete antithesis to the flower-power hippy happy 60s of the time, it paved the way for the anger and cynicism of punk.

White Light/ White Heat 

The follow up to The Velvet Underground and Nico, the album added a rawer element to the bands sound, particularly in the speeding garage punk of the title track. John Cale described it as “a very rabid record” and of course the lyrics didn’t exactly play it safe either, particularly Lady Godiva’s Operation which dealt with the botched lobotomy of a transsexual woman.

Transformer

Of the countless classic songs on this 1972 album, it is perhaps Walk On The Wild Side which is remembered the most. The soundtrack to generations of teenage rebellions, it was based on several of Andy Warhol’s ‘Superstars’ – the wild characters who frequented his Factory and featured in much of his work. Disguised under a bittersweet melody, the themes of transsexuality, oral sex and male prostitution covered in the lyrics were almost unheard of in a rock ‘n’ roll song at the time. The album was co-produced by David Bowie.

 Metal Machine Music

Not one of his finest moments, this is included purely for its sheer outrageousness and for the stir it caused. Consisting almost entirely of guitar feedback, with no breaks for over an hour and a half. Fans and critics alike had no idea what to think upon its release. Despite this, however, it has since been re-released and is seen as a precursor to industrial and noise music. The legendary music writer Lester Bangs, who was more sympathetic to the album than most, said: “As a statement it’s great, as a giant FUCK YOU it shows integrity – a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity, but integrity nevertheless.”

Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal 

Consisting mainly of The Velvet Underground songs brought up to date, the album was recorded live at Howard Stein’s Academy of Music in New York. The songs, like so many of Reed’s, captured the essence, the grit and the grime of his hometown in a way few did before or have since. A lifelong resident of New York, for many, Lou Reed was one of the city’s most iconic sons. Asked if he would ever leave, he replied with trademark cynicism: “I get scared like in Sweden. You know it’s kinda empty, they’re all drunk, everything works… You go to the medicine cabinet and open it up and there’ll be a little poster saying in case of suicide call… You turn on the TV and there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York? No.”

 

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