Lou Reed passed away this past weekend due to a liver-related illness. He was generally identified by his taciturn expression, deadpan vocals, and a reputation for maintaining his strict artistic integrity. A true rock visionary, he helmed one of the most influential bands of all time, the Velvet Underground, and in the process laid the foundation for every band you've enjoyed since. David Bowie was an early admirer, and he made no secret of the impression Reed made on his own sound.
It would be nearly impossible to accurately sum up all the great musical moments that are essential to Reed's legacy, but here are a few of the most memorable highlights from Reed's 45-year career.
10. The Velvet Underground & Nico
Known for the peelable banana sticker that graced its front cover -- courtesy of the band's mentor and part-time manager, Andy Warhol -- this self-titled debut created the template for the sparse, foreboding sound that the Velvets would purvey throughout their existence. It's an ominous intro, but in the prepunk world of the late '60s, it established a style that was neither attractive nor accessible but, instead, a reflection of life's ugly realities cast in musical mayhem.
The most controversial track off that much-admired first album, "Heroin" captured in graphic detail the rush and wreckage that comes with a junkie's ultimate indulgence. A real-life tale of excess and agony, it's both revolting and intriguing, as shocking now as it was when first released. Clearly, one of rock's most transcendental offerings.
8. Metal Machine Music
Perhaps the most hated album in history, this double disc of noise and clatter was Reed's way of revolting against record company restrictions. Although it's almost entirely unlistenable, it represents a new freedom of expression that innumerable artists took as both a call to arms and an invitation to improvise and indulge their most brazen and bizarre inclinations. It also further affirmed Reed's reputation for refusing to compromise or to adjust his intents for the sake of easy accessibility.
7. "Sweet Jane"
One of the most popular rock anthems of all time, its unmistakable riff and relentless refrain also makes it Reed's most obviously accessible song. Culled from the Velvet's acclaimed album Loaded, it's since been reprised on every live Velvets and Reed album since. Cover versions by Mott the Hoople, Lone Justice, and the Cowboy Junkies helped affirm the song's continuing popularity. Your favorite local cover band likely takes a whack at it too.
Although often overlooked, this early offering from Reed's solo catalog was cinematic in scope, a dark, disturbing, and stark portrait of postwar Berlin in all its decadent glory. In true Reed fashion, it exploited a familiar theme: the tale of two addicts consumed by love and their own self-destruction. A fascinating work, it proved to be one of Reed's most fully realized efforts ever, thanks to its rich arrangements and an all-star list of topnotch musical contributors -- producer Bob Ezrin, Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce, Steve Hunter, Tony Levin, and the Brecker Brothers among them.
5. "Walk on the Wild Side"
The undeniable apex of Reed's commercial success, even a hit song failed to hush the outcry of some who thought the "colored girls" reference in the chorus was offensive and degrading. Each of the verses name-drops a real life character from the Velvet's tenure in Warhol's Factory scene, Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn, and the "Sugar Plum Fairy" among them. The jazzy arrangements and cool groove make the song irresistible and, for most people, ensure it remains Reed's signature song.
4. The first Farm Aid concert
Those who had an impression of Reed as aloof and detached were no doubt surprised to find him among the caring contributors of the first fundraiser for America's farmers. Reed performed four songs at the September 22, 1985, concert, and later returned to play bass behind Roy Orbison.
3. Songs for Drella
Following a 22-year estrangement, Reed reunited with former Velvets collaborator John Cale for a recorded memoriam to their late friend and adviser Andy Warhol following Warhol's death after routine surgery in 1987. ("Drella" was a nickname the band had given Warhol, a play on "Dracula" and "Cinderella.") Deeply moving and unapologetically sentimental, it also contained a searing indictment of the doctors who were unable to resuscitate Warhol and save his life.
2. The Velvet Underground: reformed
Following Reed and Cale's reconciliation, the Velvets briefly reunited in 1990 for a fundraiser in France. Three years later, the band reconvened for a European tour, although plans to extend the jaunt to the U.S. never materialized due to another falling-out between Reed and Cale. In 1996, the Velvets were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Patti Smith, and Reed, Cale, and drummer Maureen Tucker performed "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend," a song written in tribute to their former bandmate Sterling Morrison, who had passed away the previous year. (Reed himself was nominated to the Hall of Fame twice as a solo artist but has yet to be tapped for the honor.)
Lulu is perhaps the most unexpected offering of Reed's entire canon, with the exception of Metal Machine Music. A collaboration with metal champs Metallica, Lulu was inspired by Reed's fascination with German expressionist Frank Wedekind. Reed had originally intended to turn the works into a theatrical production, but after performing with Metallica at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2009, the two created Lulu.
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