Lou Reed: Happy Birthday To A Rock n Roll Legend
Today we celebrate the birthday of Rockins hero Lou Reed. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1942. Lou Reed was a singer/songwriter and guitarist and found his fame as the co-founder of rock band Velvet Underground, who were managed by infamous artist Andy Warhol. Raised in Long Island, Reed showed his interest in music early on, playing guitar for several different bands during his time at high school.
Reed attended Syracuse University where he studied writing and film, following his graduation he moved to New York and began working for Pickwick Records as a songwriter. Whilst working for this label in 1964, Reed achieving a vague hit on the charts with a parody single titled ‘The Ostrich’; the band hired by the label for the recording of the song included John Cale. Reed and Cale formed a fast friendship and went on the become roommates, collaborators and band mates with Velvet Underground.
Together, Reed and Cale enlisted old college-mates of Reed to join their band Velvet Underground: guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. It wasn’t long after the band first got together that they caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who immediately indoctrinated them into his social circuit on the NYC art scene, making them regulars at his notorious parties.
Ironically, shortly after meeting Warhol, annoyed at the prospect of having to work on Christmas day at the Café Bizarre in Greenwhich Village, where they had a residency, they deliberately played a song the owner had banned them from playing in a bid to get fired. Needless to say, their plan worked and following this Warhol took over management of the band, encouraging them to take on a European model named Nico as the front man. In spite of the bands reservations, Nico joined and the resultant album The Velvet Underground & Nico is to this day, considered one of the most significant rock n roll records of all time.
Despite their success, the volatile mixture of personalities within the group meant that any semblance of harmony amongst the group would be temporary. By the Velvet Undergrounds second album White Light/ White Heat, neither Warhol or Nico were affiliated. Reed continued to quarrel with Cale and eventually he left the band and Reed went on to release a further 2 albums with Velvet Underground before leaving himself.
Following his departure from the band, Reed briefly moved back in with his parents in Long Island and for a year, he worked at his fathers tax company as a typist earning around $40 a week. Reed then returned to music after signing as a solo artist to RCA records, his self-titled first album was inclusive of several unreleased Velvet Underground songs, re-recorded and did not sell well. Reed went on to release a second album Transformer in 1972, co-produced by David Bowie. From this album came the hit single ‘
From this album came the hit single ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, which paid homage to the eccentric characters Reed encountered at Warhol’s legendary parties held at ‘The Factory’. The song described regulars such as Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, “Little Joe” Dallesandro, “Sugar Plum Fairy” Joe Campbell and Jackie Curtis. Some of the more explicit lyrics: “But she never lost her head / Even when she was giving head” made it past BBC sensors because they didn’t comprehend their meaning. The track ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ is widely considered as the apex of his solo success, despite the fact Reed went on to release over 16 albums.
The track ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ is widely considered as the apex of his solo success, despite the fact Reed went on to release over 16 albums. Reed’s catalogue covers a broad range of eclectic styles, indicative of his erratic spirit as an artist. In 1987, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Reed said of his work ‘all through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter. They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.’
Reed passed away in October of 2013 and the music world have mourned his loss. Following his death The Recording Academy released a statement describing Reed as an ‘exceptionally gifted singer, songwriter and musician who has had a profound impact on rock music and our culture,” adding that the music industry has “lost a true visionary and creative leader, and his groundbreaking work will forever hold its rightful place in music history.’