Thursday Night Music Byte

Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed (born March 2, 1942) is an American rock musician best known as the guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground as well as a successful solo artist whose career has spanned several decades. The Velvet Underground gained little mainstream attention during their career, but became one of the most influential bands of their era. As the Velvet Underground’s main songwriter, Reed wrote about subjects of personal experience that rarely had been examined so openly in rock and roll, including a variety of sexual topics and drug culture. As a guitarist, he was a pioneer of many guitar effects including distortion, high volume feedback, and nonstandard tunings.

Reed began a long and eclectic solo career in 1971. He had a hit the following year with “Walk on the Wild Side”, although for more than a decade he evaded the mainstream commercial success its chart status offered him.Metal Machine Music, upon which Reed later commented: “No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive.” By the late 1980s, however, he had garnered recognition as an elder statesman of rock. Reed’s work as a solo artist has frustrated critics wishing for a return of The Velvet Underground. The most notable example is 1975’s infamous double LP of recorded feedback loops.

On April 12, 2008 Lou Reed married longtime companion Laurie Anderson in a private ceremony in Boulder, Colorado.

In 1963, Reed moved to New York City, and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964, he scored a minor hit with the single “The Ostrich”, a parodic novelty song of popular “dance songs” such as “The Twist” that included lines such as “put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it.” His employers had felt the song had hit potential, and arranged for a band to be assembled around Reed to promote the recording. The ad hoc group, called The Primitives, included Welsh musician John Cale, who had recently moved to New York to study music and was playing viola in composer La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music along with Tony Conrad. Cale and Conrad were both surprised to find that for “The Ostrich” Reed tuned each string of his guitar to the same note. This technique created a drone effect similar to their experimentation in Young’s avant garde ensemble. Disappointed with Reed’s performance, Cale was nevertheless impressed by Reed’s early repertoire (including “Heroin”), and a partnership began to evolve.

Reed and Cale lived together on the Lower East Side, and, adding Reed’s college acquaintances guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker to the group, they formed The Velvet Underground. Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968; Reed in 1970) and never achieving significant commercial success, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential underground bands in rock history.

The group caught the attention of notable artist Andy Warhol, who raised their profile immeasurably, if not improving their immediate fortunes. One of Warhol’s first contributions to the band’s success was securing them a steady spot as the house band at Max’s Kansas City. Warhol’s associates inspired many of Reed’s songs as he fell into a thriving, multifaceted artistic scene. Reed rarely gives an interview without paying homage to Warhol as a mentor figure. Still, conflict emerged when Warhol had the idea for the group to take on as “chanteuse” the European former model Nico. Reed and the others registered their objection by titling their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico. Despite his initial resistance, Reed wrote several songs for Nico to sing, and the two were briefly lovers (as were Nico and Cale later). At the time, this album reached #171 on the charts.

Today, however, it is considered one of the most influential rock albums ever produced, influencing glam rock, punk, post punk, gothic rock, shoegazing and more. Rolling Stone has it listed as the 13th-best album of all time. Brian Eno once famously stated that although few people bought the album, most of those who did were inspired to form their own band.

By the time the band recorded White Light/White Heat, Nico had quit and Warhol was fired, both against Cale’s wishes. Warhol’s replacement as manager, Steve Sesnick, convinced Reed to drive Cale out of the band. Morrison and Tucker were discomfited by Reed’s tactics but continued with the group. Cale’s replacement was Doug Yule, whom Reed would often facetiously introduce as his younger brother. The group now took on a more pop-oriented sound and acted more as a vehicle for Reed to develop his songwriting craft. The group released two more albums with this line up: 1969’s The Velvet Underground and 1970’s Loaded. The latter included two of the group’s most commercially successful songs, “Rock and Roll” and “Sweet Jane”. Reed left the Velvet Underground in August 1970; the band disintegrated as core members Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker departed in August 1971 and early 1972, respectively. Yule continued until early 1973, and the band released one more studio album, Squeeze, under the Velvet Underground name.

After the band’s move to Atlantic Records’ Cotillion label, their new manager pushed Reed to change the subject matter of his songs to lighter topics in hopes of resulting in more accessible and mainstream music. The band’s album Loaded had taken more time to record than the previous three albums together and was written and produced to be “loaded with hits”, but had not broken the band through to a wider audience. Reed briefly retired to his parents’ home on Long Island.

The following video clip is of Lou Reed playing my favorite song of his, “Sweet Jane.”

This next video clip is of the same song but I believe that it is a much better version which appeared on the album, “Rock n Roll Animal.”


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Posted on December 4, 2009, in Songs, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The second is a better version.

    Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed: what a match.

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