Saturday, November 9, 2013

Revisiting the complete works of Lou Reed: 50 observations

Grandpa Reed has something to say to the troubled teens at Lollapalooza, 2009.

I love Lou, I really do.

Man, it bummed me out when I heard that Lou Reed died. One of my favorite musicians, the man exuded invincibility: "tough, acerbic, authentic, and uncompromising," I said on this blog after I made the trek to see him perform live in Chicago at Lollapalooza 2009.

Like a lot of Lou Reed fans, I got into the man's music after hearing Walk on the Wild Side - quite possibly the best hit song to beat the censor ("But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head..."). His album, Transformer, remains the easiest way to get into Reed's music: catchy tunes, glossy production, and David Bowie on background vocals - what's not to love?

For a lot of people, Lou Reed begins and ends here. It's too bad, because his life's work holds up to closer scrutiny. I know, because I've been spending the past week playing through his entire catalogue - from his work with the Velvet Underground to the end of his more-challenging solo stuff - and all you can really do is look upon his works, ye mighty, and despair.

Like the Who, Lou Reed is best experienced as an album artist; trying to compile the key tunes into a one-volume greatest-hits package inevitably falls short. For instance: do you include the challenging Coney Island Baby or the poppy Charley's Girl (from the same album)? Do you include the almost 11-minute concerto Street Hassle or the happy-go-lucky Real Good Time Together (also from the same album)?

It's quite possible to create a compilation that positions Lou as a pop artist, rock and roller, gender-rights activist, rapper, hipster, comedian, or drug addict. Instead of doing any of these things, I took notes as I played through the albums, which include these 50 highlights and observations (links open in YouTube):

1. Must-have albums
The Velvet Underground and Nico
Transformer
Berlin
New York
Songs for Drella

2. Avoid these albums at all costs
The Raven
Metal Machine Music
Lulu

3. Rock!
Future Farmers of America

4. Can't get it out of my head
How do You Think it Feels

5. Not as depressing an album as they say
Berlin

6. Best Lou singing vocal
Nobody But You

7. Best 80s new wave
No Money Down

8. Best song from a terrible album
Who am I? (from the Raven)

9. Best New York accent
I want to boogie "witchoo."

10. Best stab at having a hit
Satellite of Love

11. Worst stab at having a hit
The Original Wrapper

12. Best Andy Warhol quote on Songs For Drella (Warhol tribute album)
"I hate Lou, I really do..."

13. Argument for anxiety
Waves of Fear
Paranoia in Key of E

14. Worst Father's Day
My Old Man

15. Guest vocal
Bruce Springsteen's spoken-word monologue on Street Hassle

16. Transformation
Stephanie Says by the Velvet Underground becomes Caroline Says by Lou Reed

17. Funniest song about addiction
The Power of Positive Drinking

18. Scariest song about addiction
Herion

19. Least-convincing song about addiction
Egg Cream

20. Sound-alike alert
Adventurer
Warrior King
Future Farmers of America

21. Pixies rewrite
Hookywooky

22. Worst strategic alliances
The Killers
Metallica

23. S and M's greatest hits
Venus in Furs
The Gift
The Blue Mask

24. Walk on the Wild Side's unofficial sequel
Halloween Parade

25. Current-event songs
Good Evening, Mr. Waldheim
The Day John Kennedy Died
I Believe

26. Corporate rock
Work
Don't Talk to me About Work
Future Farmers of America

27. Lou the gamer
My Red Joystick
Down at the Arcade
Video Violence

28. Don't let Steve sing
Steve Buscemi - Broadway Song

29. Early meth reference
Sally Can't Dance

30. Love songs
I Love You
I'll Be Your Mirror
Satellite of Love

31. Shoulda been a single
I'm So Free

32. Short and sweet
New York Telephone Conversation

33. Happy Lou
I Love You, Suzanne

34. Country life is rubbish
Smalltown

35. Formulaic Lou
I Remember You

36. New York landmark
"The Statue of Bigotry" in Dirty Blvd.

37. Man about town
NYC Man

38. Eulogy album
Magic and Loss

39. Religion
Jesus

40. Let Moe Tucker sing
I'm Sticking With You
After Hours

41. Let Nico sing
Femme Fatale
I'll be Your Mirror
All Tomorrow's Parties

42. Let John Cale sing
Style it Takes

43. Velvet rock
What Goes On
White Light/White Heat
Sweet Jane
Rock and Roll

44. Provocative questions
"How do you think it feels to only make love by proxy?"
"What goes on in your mind?"

45. The Velvet Underground had fun?!
Temptation Inside Your Heart

46. Glockenspiel
Sunday Morning
Stephanie Says

47. Coo-coo or askew?
Andy's Chest versus Andy's Chest

48. Music video
No Money Down

49. Live
Jesus with Blind Boys of Alabama

50. What's your favorite Lou tune or album?
Post it in the comments before or on Twitter @kentonlarsen

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