Few artists define their time and place with the purity of Lou Reed. Born and raised in New York City, the late rock icon matched timeless pop sensibility with the lyrical mastery of a fine poet which, at the forefront of the counter-culture era in one of the world’s most vivid cities, makes for a back catalogue that doubles as an historical artifact. More than capturing the moment, Lou Reed gets to its soul with a wit and authority that has you coming back to his songs time and time again, and hearing something new.
Lou Reed's solo work could be as fascinating and frustrating as the man himself so famously was – here, we’ve just a few of our favourites from his solo works with a deep dive into The Velvet Underground years below!
1. 'Dirty Blvd'
When it came to story-telling, Lou Reed was almost incomparable. Thanks to his pop sensibilities, you can easily find yourself distracted by his catchy choruses and melodic hooks that, at first listen, mask the brilliance of his cleverly crafted monologues, propelling the song with a hypnotic quality. Dig a little deeper and you’ll likely find a warped and fantastic tale, full of grit and philosophy, like Dirty Blvd that arrived on 1989’s New York LP and could have been penned by a wordsmith like William S. Burroughs.
2. 'Coney Island Baby'
On the topic of storytelling, Coney Island Baby, the title-track from Reed’s sixth studio album released in 1975, might be the the most autobiographical in Reed’s cannon. You hear him wrestle with his younger self in this easy listen that offers a rare prequel into his maverick mind.
3. 'Satellite of Love'
From his 1972 solo opus Transformer, Lou Reed perhaps described the specialness of Satellite of Love best himself when introducing the track live at Capitol Theatre in 1984, saying, “This always was one of my true favourites, I thought it was like, this great romantic songs. And I, being one of the worlds great unrecognized romantics, it’s always a turn for me to get to sing one of my great romantic songs in public.”
With Bowie chiming in with backing vocals for the aptly space-themed song, there’s a lightness and pure pop simplicity, fascinating for it’s innocence when compared to his often brooding ruminations.
4. 'Walk on the Wild Side'
Perhaps the track where we see Reed from all angles, the poet, philosopher, the romantic, the renegade, the rockstar, the historian, all wrapped up in a shimmering doo-wop. From 1972’s Transformer, Walk on the Wild Side may be one of his most recognisable numbers, both for the simplicity of the undeniably catchy chorus, as for the complexity of the calmly delivered story of a transsexual actress hitchhiking to New York that rules the verses. It’s an anthemic ode the humanity between outliers, weighted core values of love and acceptance that ensures society moves forward not back, and a genuinelty honest and absorbing account of how some of Andy Warhol’s most famous film stars – ie. the “Sugarplum Fairy” – made their way to his famous Factory studio in NYC.
5. 'Perfect Day'
As with any Lou Reed track, there is much more to this track than the gentle lullaby that has you hooked on first listen. Whether it’s about drugs or love or, as it claims, a simply perfect day at the fair doesn’t really matter. By the end as it comes clear that Reed’s reflections keep bringing us back to the emotion of perfection, of feeling whole. A feeling beyond words – unless you’re Lou Reed.
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