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Lou Reed

The career of Lou Reed defied capsule summarization. Like David Bowie (whom Reed directly inspired in many ways), he made over his imagemanytimes, mutating from theatrical glam rocker to strung-out junkie to avant-garde noise man to straight rock & roller to your average guy.Few woulddeny Reed's immense importance and considerable achievements. As has often been written, he expanded the vocabulary of rock &roll lyrics into thepreviously forbidden territory of kinky sex, drug use (and abuse), decadence, transvestites, homosexuality, and suicidaldepression. As has beenpointed out less often, more

The career of Lou Reed defied capsule summarization. Like David Bowie (whom Reed directly inspired in many ways), he made over his imagemanytimes, mutating from theatrical glam rocker to strung-out junkie to avant-garde noise man to straight rock & roller to your average guy.Few woulddeny Reed's immense importance and considerable achievements. As has often been written, he expanded the vocabulary of rock &roll lyrics into thepreviously forbidden territory of kinky sex, drug use (and abuse), decadence, transvestites, homosexuality, and suicidaldepression. As has beenpointed out less often, he remained committed to using rock & roll as a forum for literary, mature expression throughout his artistic life, withoutgrowing lyrically soft or musically complacent. By and large, he took on these challenging duties with uncompromisinghonesty and a high degree ofrealism. For these reasons, he was often cited as punk's most important ancestor. It's often overlooked, though,that he was equally skilled atcelebrating romantic joy, and rock & roll itself, as he was at depicting harrowing urban realities. With the exceptionof Neil Young, no other star whorose to fame in the '60s continued to push himself so diligently into creating work that was, and remains,meaningful and contemporary.

Although Reed achieved his greatest success as a solo artist, his most enduring accomplishments were as the leader of the Velvet Undergroundin the'60s. If Reed had never made any solo records, his work as the principal lead singer and songwriter for the Velvets would have stillensured his statureas one of the greatest rock visionaries of all time. The Velvet Underground are discussed at great length in many othersources, but it's sufficient tonote that the four studio albums they recorded with Reed at the helm are essential listening, as is much of their liveand extraneous material. "Heroin,""Sister Ray," "Sweet Jane," "Rock and Roll," "Venus in Furs," "All Tomorrow's Parties," "What Goes On," and"Lisa Says" are just the most famousclassics that Reed wrote and sang for the group. As innovative as the Velvets were at breaking lyrical andinstrumental taboos with their crunchingexperimental rock, they were unappreciated in their lifetime. Five years of little commercial success was undoubtedly a factor in Reed leaving thegroup he had founded in August 1970, just before the release of Loaded. their most accessibleeffort. Although Reed's songs and streetwise, sing-speak vocals dominated the Velvets, he was perhaps more reliant upon his talentedcollaborators than he realized, or was even willing to admit in hislatter years. The most talented of these associates was John Cale, who wasapparently fired by Reed in 1968 after the Velvets' second album (althoughthe pair subsequently worked together on various other projects).

Reed had a reputation of being a difficult man to work with for an extended period, and that made it difficult for his extensive solo oeuvre tocompetewith the standards of brilliance set by the Velvets. Nowhere was this more apparent than on his self-titled solo debut from 1971,recorded after he'dtaken an extended hiatus from music, moving back to his parents' suburban Long Island home at one point. Lou Reedmostly consisted of flaccidversions of songs dating back to the Velvet days, and he could have really used the group to punch them up, asproved by the many outtake versionsof these tunes that he actually recorded with the Velvet Underground (some of which didn't surface untilabout 25 years later). Reed got a shot in thearm (no distasteful pun intended) when David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced Transformer,his second album. A more energetic set thatbetrayed the influence of glam rock, it also included his sole Top 20 hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," andother good songs like "Vicious" and "Satellite ofLove." It also made him a star in Britain, which was quick to appreciate the influence Reed hadexerted on Bowie and other glam rockers. Reed wentinto more serious territory on Berlin (1973), its sweet orchestral production coatinglyrical messages of despair and suicide. In some ways Reed'smost ambitious and impressive solo effort, it was accorded a vituperative reception by critics in no mood for a nonstop bummer (however elegantlyexecuted). Unbelievably, in retrospect, it made the Top Ten in Britain, though itflopped stateside.

Having been given a cold shoulder for some of his most serious (if chilling) work, Reed apparently decided he was going to give the public whatitwanted. He had guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner give his music more of a pop-metal, radio-friendly sheen. More disturbingly, he decidedtoplay up to the cartoon junkie role that some in his audience seemed eager to assign to him. Onstage, that meant shocking bleached hair,paintedfingernails, and simulated drug injections. On record, it led to some of his most careless performances. One of these, the 1974 albumSally Can'tDance, was also his most commercially successful, reaching the Top Ten, thus confirming both Reed's and the audience's worstinstincts. As if toprove he could still be as uncompromising as anyone, he unleashed the double album Metal Machine Music, a nonstopassault of electronic noise.Opinions remain divided as to whether it was an artistic statement, a contract quota-filler, ora slap in the face to thepublic.

Later, Reed never behaved as outrageously (in public and in the studio) as he did in the mid-'70s, although there was plenty of excitement inthedecades that followed. When he decided to play it relatively straight, sincere, and hard-nosed, he could produce affecting work in the spirit ofhisbest vintage material (parts of Coney Island Baby and Street Hassle). At other points, he seemed not to be putting too much effortintoany aspect of his songs ("Rock and Roll Heart"). With 1978's Take No Prisoners, he delivered one of the weirdest concert albums of alltime, moreof a comedy monologue (which not too many people laughed hard at) than a musical document. Reed had always been an enigma,but no onequestioned the serious intent of his work with the Velvet Underground. As a soloist, it was getting impossible to tell when he wasserious, or whetherhe even wished to be taken seriously anymore.

At the end of the '70s, The Bells set the tone for most of his future work. Reed would settle down; he would play it straight; he wouldaddressserious, adult concerns, including heterosexual romance, with sincerity. Not a bad idea, but though the albums that followed were muchmoreconsistent in tone, they remained erratic in quality and, worse, could occasionally be quite boring. The recruitment of Robert Quine as leadguitaristhelped, and The Blue Mask (1982) and New Sensations (1984) were fairly successful, although in retrospect they didn'tdeserve the ravesthey received from some critics at the time. Quine, however, would also find Reed too difficult to work with for an extendedperiod. New York(1989) heralded both a commercial and critical renaissance for Reed, and in truth it was his best work in quite some time,although it didn't break anymajor stylistic ground. Reed worked best when faced with a challenge, which arrived when he collaborated withformer partner John Cale in 1990 on asong cycle for the recently deceased Andy Warhol. In both its recorded and stage incarnations, this wasthe most experimental work that Reed haddevised in quite some time.

Magic and Loss (1992) returned him to the more familiar straight rock territory of New York, again to critical raves. The re-formation of theVelvetUnderground for a 1993 European live tour could not be considered an unqualified success, however. European audiences were thrilled tosee thelegends in person, but critical reaction to the shows was mixed, and critical reaction to the live record was tepid. More distressingly, oldconflicts rearedtheir head within the band once again, and the reunion ended before it had a chance to get to America. Cale and Reed at thispoint seem determinednever to work with each other again (the death of Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison in 1995 seemed topermanently ice prospects of moreVU projects). In 1996, the surviving Velvet Underground members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hallof Fame, performing a newly penned songfor their fallen comrade, Morrison. Reed closed the '90s with an album that saw him explorerelationships, 1996's Set the Twilight Reeling (manyspeculated that the album was biographical and focused on his union with performanceartist Laurie Anderson), which didn't turn out to be one ofReed's more critically acclaimed releases. He also found time to compose music for the Robert Wilson opera Timerocker, and in 1998, releasedthe "unplugged" album Perfect Night: Live in London. The same year, Reed was the subject of a superb installment of the PBS AmericanMasters series that chronicled his entire career (eventually released as a DVD,titled Rock and Roll Heart).

The year 2000 saw Reed's first release for Reprise Records, Ecstasy, a glorious return to raw and straightforward rock, a tour de force thatmanyagreed was his finest work since New York. Another collaboration with Robert Wilson, POE-try, followed in 2001 and continuedits worldwidestage run through the year. Including new music by Reed and words adapted from the macabre texts of Edgar Allan Poe,POE-try led to Reed'shighly ambitious next album, The Raven. Animal Serenade, a double-disc set recorded at the WilternTheater in Los Angeles during his 2003world tour, was issued in spring 2004. The live effort was Reed's tribute of sorts to his celebrated RockN Roll Animal concert album, which wasreleased 30 years before. In 2007, Reed released Hudson River Wind Meditations, a four-songexperimental sound collage that celebrated boththe best and worst aspects of Metal Machine Music. In 2011, he joined forces with heavymetal legends Metallica to create Lulu, an album offresh studio material. Written by Reed, with James Hetfield et al. providing input onarrangements and dynamics, Lulu blended Lou Reed'strademark monotone vocals with the power and ferocity of Metallica's musicianship.However, Reed underwent a liver transplant at the Cleveland Clinicin April 2013, and although he subsequently proclaimed his strength andintention to return to performing and songwriting, he died of end-stage liverdisease at his home on Long Island in late October of that year.

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Similar Bands: Lou Reed and Metallica, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed and John Cale, Tom Waits, John Cale

Hudson River Wind Meditations

15 Votes
The Raven

35 Votes

59 Votes
Set the Twilight Reeling

42 Votes
Magic and Loss

59 Votes
New York

136 Votes

41 Votes
New Sensations

36 Votes
Legendary Hearts

36 Votes
The Blue Mask

119 Votes
Growing Up in Public

36 Votes
The Bells

48 Votes
Street Hassle

87 Votes
Rock and Roll Heart

45 Votes
Coney Island Baby

112 Votes
Metal Machine Music

309 Votes
Sally Can't Dance

69 Votes

301 Votes

646 Votes
Lou Reed

68 Votes
Live Albums
The Creation of the Universe

Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse

3 Votes
Animal Serenade

6 Votes
American Poet

14 Votes
Perfect Night: Live In London

8 Votes
Live in Concert

2 Votes
Live in Italy

11 Votes
Live: Take No Prisoners

7 Votes

5 Votes
Rock 'n' Roll Animal

91 Votes
The Essential Lou Red

Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed

7 Votes

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