Lou Reed’s legacy will live on.
Punk and rock ’n’ roll pioneer and icon Lou Reed is gone. And while he passed away Sunday, Oct. 27, at the age of 71, Reed has left a legacy of influential music that will no doubt continue to inspire generations of artists for years to come.
From his years in The Velvet Underground through his solo work and literary contributions, the often cantankerous, ever-intriguing Reed embodied the anti-establishment punk ethos, transcended whatever imagined boundaries rock ’n’ roll was thought to have, and challenged listeners with avant-garde sounds and lyrical themes that, while often dark and bleak, were always utterly human.
Though making a definitive Top 10 list of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground songs might feel a bit daunting (because where to begin??), we did manage to compile starter 10 tracks that give a solid entry into the powerful world of The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.
1.) “Walk On The Wild Side,” Transformer (1972): Reed’s highest charting solo song (No. 16 on the Billboard 100 singles chart in 1973) was not just a refreshing surprise coming from an artist whose material was typically far from radio-friendly. That it became a radio staple when it addressed nonmainstream (at the time) subjects like cross-dressing and fellatio, while simultaneously remaining catchy and even charming, was astounding.
2.) “Sunday Morning,” The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967): Who hasn’t launched a Sunday morning with this gem? (If you haven’t yet, try it.) At its heart, “Sunday Morning” is a dream-pop song, but it also nods to the restless, bittersweet vibe that befalls the languid feeling of a day that can’t last. That Reed passed on a Sunday morning makes it all the more poignant.
3.) “Sweet Jane,” Loaded (1970): God. This song. Reed’s talk-sung strut that commingles with the jaunty riffs epitomizes cool. The protagonist/observer’s in a rock ’n’ roll band, while the other characters go to work and “save their monies.” If you hadn’t thought about which person you dreamed of being by the end of the song, it’s time to go and listen to it again.
4.) “Heroin,” The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967): While Reed’s (and his cohorts) drug addiction was no secret, “Heroin” doesn’t glorify doing drugs — the macabre lyrics of “nullifying my life,” “heroin, the death of me,” and “dead bodies” imagery imply doing heroin is akin to death (BTW, don’t do drugs). What the song does do brilliantly is mirror the push-and-pull of addiction, the literal ride as the music crescendos and ebbs.
Check out more Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground songs every music fan must know after the jump.
The Velvet Underground pose next to a vinyl copy of “White Light White Heat” in 1969.
5.) “Femme Fatale,” The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967): This iconic song remains indelible with Nico’s wispy coos that seduce just as the titular character herself does, while the band keeps a gentle, swaying song structure to keep Nico in the fore. Written about Edie Sedgwick at the behest of Andy Warhol, it’s ironic that both Nico and Sedgwick would battle drug addiction, then later succumb to it in 1971.
6.) “Sad Song,” Berlin (1973): Hailing from Reed’s ambitious solo concept album, “Sad Song” is aptly named. Reed reaches new depressive heights on Berlin, and by the time this final song’s last restrains echo through the brain, it’s just as soul-crushing as it was intended to be.
7.) “Satellite Of Love,” Transformer (1972): David Bowie and Mick Ronson pitched in with production on Reed’s Transformer, and you can hear their melodic space jam influence on this particular tune (and you can also hear Bowie’s lilting background vocals).
8.) “Pale Blue Eyes,” The Velvet Underground (1969): As vicious, vehement, and assertive Reed and his guitar assaults had been with much of his acclaimed material, his dichotomous, transformative, and enigmatic nature also produced a sweet, romantic side, such as on this ballad.
9.) “Rock & Roll,” Loaded (1970): The song title says it all. The tune’s protagonist Jenny’s life was “saved by Rock & Roll” and “it was all right.” Here the debauchery and hedonistic aspects of the genre are eschewed for the mere celebration of getting down to the sound.
10.) “Sister Ray” — White Light/White Heat (1968): A song that’s longer than some bands’ EPs, the epic 17:30-minute “Sister Ray” traverses a confounding drug-addled tale where characters have guns, do drugs and things with “ding-dongs,” while squalling guitars and organs careen and caterwaul. The cacophony builds and the drums drive the song constantly forward until it culminates in “am-ph-ph-ph-ph-phetamines” and a fuzzed-out scuzzy outro — simply because the song can.
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