Lou Reed came to prominence as a member of the Velvet Underground. Having survived that experience he was on his own hook from then on. Reed released over twenty albums and while he has been through the ringer more than once, he has delivered. "Transformer," with "Walk On The Wild Side" (riding Herbie Flowers' hypnotic bass line) stands as his most popular effort. Other '70s recordings "Berlin" and "Street Hassle" also had a major impact. Even though he came up with exceptional albums in the '80s ("The Blue Mask" and "New Sensations") and '90s, he was often dismissed as a creature from a bygone era.
Hailing from Freeport, Long Island, and born with the moniker Louis Firbank, Reed became a founding member of the influential, if not commercially successful, Velvet Underground in '65. The group's patron, trend-loving artist Andy Warhol, did all he could to promote the group. Unfortunately, his efforts were miss-guided and often detrimental.
Reed composed one of the V.U.'s best-known songs "Sweet Jane" that was later covered by Mott The Hoople. "Sweet Jane" and "White Light/White Heat" were the major linchpins in the Velvet Underground's musical legacy. Following the Velvet Underground's last show in August of '70 Reed spent a year-plus hiding out working as a typist in his dad's accounting firm while writing poetry and songs. But in '71 he signed with RCA Records and released his self-titled solo debut with Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe of Yes lending a hand. Two years later "Transformer" hit the streets. "Walk On The Wild Side" charted despite a BBC ban due to lyrical content. Later in '73 Reed issued another classic, "Berlin," this time with Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce contributing.
Reed lent his talents to various social causes including freedom of speech. In '89 he got together with former V.U bandmate John Cale for a tribute to the late Warhol. The following year Reed and Cale released the "Songs For 'Drella" album. And in '93, the Velvet Underground managed to pull itself together for some UK reunion shows. '04 saw the release of Reed's two CD live set "Animal Serenade."
Reed's unique life has resulted in the publication of a couple biographies. He's gone through shock therapy, the Velvet Underground (pretty much the same thing), bad marriages and drugs. Reed also published a book of poetry "Between Thought and Expression." While never a huge commercial favorite (though he has more than a few gold records), Reed's music did find celebrity fans in David Bowie, Johnny Rotten and Bruce Springsteen, who contributed to the "Street Hassle" CD. Reed often got credit for being a godfather of Punk-or at least the New York chapter. Back in '77 he was banned from the London Palladium due to his Punk image.
The great thing about surviving is eventually you become venerated. Reed was the guest of honor at an '07 invitation-only dinner held in conjunction with the Art Basel Miami Beach exhibition. There was a screening of the concert film Lou Reed's Berlin which documented a series of '06 New York shows where Reed performed his '73 "Berlin" album in its entirety.
"Lulu," a collaborative album by Reed and Metallica, was released in '11. The set featured songs that were originally conceived by Reed as part of his plays Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box. They tell the story of an abused young dancer.
"After coming together with the 'Tallica boys for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts in New York in '09, all guilty parties knew they wanted to make more music together," wrote Metallica in a statement. Reed originally composed the 10 song set for a theatrical production inspired by the work of German expressionist writer Frank Wedekind.
While "Lulu" was hardly the ideal swan song, that's what is was. After undergoing a liver transplant the previous April, Reed succumbed to liver disease on October 27th, '13 at age 71.
1972 Lou Reed
1974 Sally Can't Dance
1975 Metal Machine Music
1975 Coney Island Baby
1976 Rock And Roll Heart
1978 Street Hassle
1979 The Bells
1980 Growing Up In Public
1982 The Blue Mask
1983 Legendary Hearts
1984 New Sensations
1989 New York
1990 Songs For Drella (with John Cale)
1992 Magic And Loss
1996 Set The Twilight Reeling
2003 The Raven
2007 Hudson River Wind Meditations
2011 Lulu (with Metallica)
Lou Reed's career moves from experimental ("Metal Music Machine") to mainstream - or at least reasonably close ("Mistrial"). There are hard, blistering Rockers along with somber songs of deep reflection. Though Reed wrote and recorded compelling and often confrontational music into the '90s, his prime period, as you might expect, was the '70s and early '80s. "Transformer," "Berlin," "New Sensations" and "Street Hassle" are Reed's major contributions. For a cost-effective introduction there's "Between Thought and Expression: The Lou Reed Anthology."
Reed produced half-dozen live albums. "Rock and Roll Animal" is easily the best with potent versions of VU's "Sweet Jane" and "White Light/White Heat." There's also the haunting "Heroin" and "Rock 'N' Roll."
The dysfunctional combination of Reed's artistic aspirations and Metallica's power sounded intriguing (or stone crazy) on paper. Too bad "Lulu" fell short. It is neither a Reed nor Metallica but clearly something lesser.