The famous quote that appeared in all the Lou Reed obituaries when he passed away last month involved the purchasing of Velvet Underground albums: "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band." With the even more recent news of Morrissey releasing a live cover of "Satellite of Love" on December 3, it is also probable that each of these record-purchasers also covered a Lou Reed song.
It is easy to understand why. Lou Reed's colorful lyrics always made whoever sung them sound cool. His voice was an easy one to imitate, not changing its tone very often. There's also the fact that Reed has explained his philosophy on structuring a song by way of saying: "One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."
Over the years, Neil Young, R.E.M., and Nirvana have all covered his tunes. And if it wasn't for one famous interpreter of his songs, you probably never would have heard of Lou Reed.
See also: Lou Reed: We Remember the Legend
After leaving Velvet Underground in 1970, Reed gave up on the music game. He served two years as a typist at his father's accounting firm when David Bowie at the height of his powers made "White Light/White Heat" a staple of his live show and wrote "Queen Bitch" as a tribute. Bowie's appreciation for Reed led to him producing Lou's seminal album Transformer, which did in fact transform(er) Reed into a household name.
The Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane" was featured prominently in the movie Natural Born Killers, serving as gateway drug for many into the world of Lou. Sultry and sad where the original was rocking and hopeful, it showed his songs were open to as diverse a rendition as you could imagine and their melodies and words would still hold up. There was also A Tribe Called Quest's "Can I Kick It," which opened with a sample of "Walk on the Wild Side."
My introduction into Reed's music was much more embarrassing. I learned about Lou from Mark "Dirk Diggler" Wahlberg. Back when we knew him as Marky Mark and he was still cool with the Funky Bunch, he released a song called "Wildside." "Wildside" was on constant rotation on MTV, so even if you hated it, you heard it as you looked for the remote and learned to appreciate that saxophone and that doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
By the time I heard the original "Walk on the Wild Side," it was already familiar. It also didn't hurt that the opening line was about someone from Miami F-L-A (just like me).
Whereas Marky Mark's version warned about the dangers of drugs and life on the street, Lou was celebrating those things, daring you in that nasally voice that was somewhere between singing and speaking to take that walk. That danger, that freedom are why after he's dead and probably long after we're dead, there's still going to be new bands covering and sampling Lou Reed's songs.