Lou Reed died earlier today at 71. He’ll be missed for many things, but perhaps his lyrics most of all.
Reed first came to prominence as a founding member of the short-lived but influential Velvet Underground, a band with Andy Warhol as its mentor and producer. The band’s 1970 album “Loaded” featured two enduring singles, “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Sweet Jane”. What can you say about Reed’s way of capturing the meaning of rock and roll to a generation:
“Jenny said, when she was just five years old
You know there’s nothin’ happening at all …
One fine mornin’, she puts on a New York station
And she couldn’t believe what she heard at all …
Oh, her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll”
Here’s “Sweet Jane” form Reed’s live album “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal” released in 1974. This well-loved version has an extended guitar intro, and gets into the iconic riff at about 3:20. “Anyone who ever had a heart, wouldn’t turn around and break it.”
Reed’s top-charting U.S. single, “Walk on the Wild Side”, was from his early solo album “Transformer”. Racier lines from the album version of the song were edited for the U.S. single release, but it still made quite an impression on the radio.
In later years Reed’s lyrics continued to provide a mixture of humor, self-reflection, social observation and commentary. The title track of “New Sensations” has a wonderful passage starting at the 3:00 mark about a ride on a motorcycle.
One of his biggest selling solo albums was 1989’s “New York”, and it contains a treasure trove of amazing lyrics. “Sick of You” is a rant of fake news stories that will have you recalling bits of history you wish you’d forgotten. And who but Reed could have written:
“The ozone layer ain’t got no ozone anymore,
and you’re gonna leave me for the guy next door?
I’m sick of you.”