LOU REED

Reviewed on this page:

As the creative force behind the influential (not to mention subversive) Velvet Underground, the late Lou Reed paved the way for nearly every rock, punk, or alternative artist that has defied the mainstream in the years since the late 1960's. After leaving that legendary band in 1970, Reed embarked on a solo career which at first made him seem like a virtual parody of his former self, but which later became respectable in its own right. Some people think that the notorious talk-singer's music all sounds the same, but in truth, Reed has one of rock's most inconsistent album catalogues. His '70's recordings alone show how erratic Reed could be. But whether a Lou Reed album was good or bad, you could almost always count on him to be offbeat and interesting. Reed died in October of 2013 from complications caused by a liver transplant. At the time each review on this page was written, the corresponding album was out of print in the U.S. Since then, most of them have been reissued on CD and/or mp3.


Reed got his post-VU career off to a promising start with his self-titled solo debut in 1972. Although no less than seven backing musicians are credited (including, believe it or not, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman of Yes), Lou Reed generally sounds like a personal singer-songwriter type of effort. Many of the songs were reworked versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, the original versions of which later turned up on VU and the box set Peel Slowly And See. Another song, "Berlin", would later be redone on Reed's 1973 album of the same name. Although the album is hampered slightly by faulty sound mixing, the songs themselves are very good.

Track Listing:

1. I Can't Stand It
2. Going Down
3. Walk It And Talk It
4. Lisa Says
5. Berlin
6. I Love You
7. Wild Child
8. Love Makes You Feel
9. Ride Into The Sun
10. Ocean



During the next few years, Reed jumped on the glam rock bandwagon, and his music became self-parodying. He often seemed to be imitating David Bowie, who had claimed Reed as a major influence. Worst of all, the once-believable characters and situations in his lyrics had become cartoonish.

Sally Can't Dance was the most successful album from this period. Slickly produced by Reed and Steve Katz, the album presented Reed as a mainstream pop-rock crooner. (The masquerade worked; Sally Can't Dance is the only Reed album ever to crack the Top 10 on the
Billboard album chart). Besides having silly lyrics and r&b pretentions, the title track and "Animal Language" are hurt by noisy additions of horns and female backing vocals into the mix. "Ride Sally Ride" and the appropriately titled "Ennui" don't sound that much different from "Piano Man"-era Billy Joel. But the album does have a few keepers: "Baby Face", the demented "Kill Your Sons" (in which Reed alleges that his parents made him undergo electro-shock therapy as a teenager), and the moving ballad "Billy" (which features ex-Velvet Doug Yule on bass).

Track Listing:

1. Ride Sally Ride
2. Animal Language
3. Baby Face
4. N.Y. Stars
5. Kill Your Sons
6. Ennui
7. Sally Can't Dance
8. Billy



Released in 1975, Lou Reed Live contains six songs culled from the same two performances as 1974's Rock and Roll Animal. Recorded at Howard Stein's Academy of Music in NYC in December 1973 and featuring Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter from the Alice Cooper band, Lou Reed Live presents Reed as a bombastic arena rocker. Where Rock and Roll Animal had mostly contained performances of Velvet Underground songs with just one solo tune thrown in, Lou Reed Live contains just one VU song ("Waiting For The Man") and five songs from Reed's Transformer (1972) and Berlin (1973) albums. It may not be the best setting for Reed's songs, but the heavy metal performing is undeniably thrilling. Although nothing here is as good as the Rock and Roll Animal version of "Sweet Jane", Lou Reed Live is a useful companion piece to that album. Note: this album is currently available under the name Extended Versions, packaged as part of BMG's Encore Collection.

Track Listing:

1. Vicious
2. Satellite Of Love
3. Walk On The Wild Side
4. Waiting For The Man
5. Oh, Jim
6. Sad Song



Reed's next release defies description. The infamous Metal Machine Music is described on the front cover as "an electronic instrumental composition"; what you get on the double-album itself is four sides of non-stop droning feedback noise, overlapped with high-frequency beeps, squeaks, and other meaningless nonsense. Don't feel dumb if you don't understand any of the supposed technical jargon in the liner notes; it's all gibberish made up by Reed. Metal Machine Music stands as one of the worst practical jokes any artist has ever played on his record company, not to mention his fans. The album's utter weirdness has been blunted somewhat over time; in fact, fans of Sonic Youth and other avant-noise artists might find it interesting in small doses. But even the most open-minded listeners aren't likely to find much value in the toneless and mostly unvarying noise that goes on for more than an hour. (The vinyl LP can go on much longer, because the fourth side ends with a lock groove that plays continuously until the needle is manually lifted from the turntable!).

Track Listing:

1. METAL MACHINE MUSIC, Part 1 (16:00)
2. METAL MACHINE MUSIC, Part 2 (15:40)
3. METAL MACHINE MUSIC, Part 3 (16:04)
4. METAL MACHINE MUSIC, Part 4 (13:40)



Having apparently gotten those self-indulgent urges out of his system, Reed got back down to serious singer-songwriter business with 1976's Coney Island Baby. On this album, Reed sounds like he's picking up where his 1972 solo debut left off, as if the intervening albums never happened. Finally allowing himself to develop, Reed showed a new and surprising sensitivity on the title track, "Crazy Feeling", and "A Gift". For those who prefer Reed's darker side, "Kicks" is a deliberately ugly song written from the viewpoint of a psycho who kills for thrills. "She's My Best Friend" was an expanded version of a then-unreleased Velvet Underground song whose original version later turned up on VU; oddly enough, Reed sounds like he's singing it to the tune of "Lisa Says". Coney Island Baby is certainly one of the high points of Reed's '70's output. (Note: the album was reissued on CD in September 2006 with six worthwhile bonus tracks, four of which featured Doug Yule on guitar and bass).

Track Listing:

1. Crazy Feeling
2. Charley's Girl
3. She's My Best Friend
4. Kicks
5. A Gift
6. ooohhh Baby
7. Nobody's Business
8. Coney Island Baby



Sadly, the promise of that album was negated later that same year by the release of Rock and Roll Heart, a pallid set of woefully uninspired songs. Most of the tracks sound like half-written throwaways; Reed's attempts to display his sensitive side ("Ladies Pay"?) sound phony this time around. The good-time title track and the short instrumental "Chooser and the Chosen One" provide nice little respites from the silly posturing on other songs.

Track Listing:

1. I Believe In Love
2. Banging On My Drum
3. Follow The Leader
4. You Wear It So Well
5. Ladies Pay
6. Rock and Roll Heart
7. Chooser and the Chosen One
8. Senselessly Cruel
9. Claim To Fame
10. Vicious Circle
11. A Sheltered Life
12. Temporary Thing



For the 1978 album Street Hassle, Reed was reunited with producer Richard Robinson, who screwed up the sound mixing on his solo debut. This time, the two experimented with binaural recording. Also, they recorded some tracks live and some in the studio, and awkwardly placed them side by side. The results aren't always easy on the ears, but creatively, Street Hassle is one of the better albums Reed made in the '70's. It showed examples of him at his goofiest (the self-parody "Gimmie Some Good Times") and at his most biting (the controversial "I Wanna Be Black"); at his artiest (the title track is a brilliant three-part magnum opus, featuring a spoken-word cameo by Bruce Springsteen) and his rawest ("Leave Me Alone" and "Dirt" are full of heartfelt hostility). For those keeping track, "Real Good Time Together" was yet another "lost" VU track which later turned up on Another View.

Track Listing:

1. Gimmie Some Good Times
2. Dirt
3. Street Hassle
--a. Waltzing Matilda
--b. Street Hassle
--c. Slipaway
4. I Wanna Be Black
5. Real Good Time Together
6. Shooting Star
7. Leave Me Alone
8. Wait



As if the world needed another self-parodying album from Reed, the 1978 double album Live: Take No Prisoners captures him during an evening of improvisation. Recorded at the Bottom Line in New York City in May of that year, it consists of extremely long and obnoxious performances of songs from Reed's solo albums and the VU. Reed clearly did not intend to play the songs straightforwardly. He constantly ad-libs while his backing band jams endlessly behind him. Aside from a semi-intriguing rethinking of "I'm Waiting For The Man" (which incorporates "Temporary Thing" into its 13-minute-plus framework), Live: Take No Prisoners is a musical morass. A few songs ("Berlin", "Coney Island Baby", "Street Hassle") manage to survive their treatment, but Reed's 16-minute dissection of his hit "Walk On The Wild Side" sounds too bitter to be funny. I guess you had to be there.

Track Listing:

1. Sweet Jane (8:18)
2. I Wanna Be Black (6:21)
3. Satellite Of Love (6:54)
4. Pale Blue Eyes (6:23)
5. Berlin (5:46)
6. I'm Waiting For The Man (13:50)
7. Coney Island Baby (8:21)
8. Street Hassle (11:58)
9. Walk On The Wild Side (16:53)
10. Leave Me Alone (7:18)



The binaural experimentation continued on Reed's next studio album. The Bells had crisper sound but weaker material than Street Hassle. It's a mixed bag of songs which Reed co-wrote with others (including Nils Lofgren and Don Cherry) instead of writing by himself. The first few tracks strain one's patience: "Stupid Man" and "With You" are annoying stabs at new wave, and the repetitive "Disco Mystic" almost singlehandedly dates the album. The album's better moments come later: "City Lights" is a charming ode to Charlie Chaplin, and "Families" is fairly touching. The lengthy title track suggests that Reed was listening to Bowie and Eno's work from that period. The Bells is a middling album that does not represent Reed at his best or worst.

Track Listing:

1. Stupid Man -- (Lou Reed, Nils Lofgren)
2. Disco Mystic -- (Lou Reed, Michael Suchorsky, Marty Fogel, Michael Fonfara, Ellard Boles)
3. I Want To Boogie With You -- (Reed, Fonfara)
4. With You -- (Reed, Lofgren)
5. Looking For Love -- (Reed)
6. City Lights -- (Reed, Lofgren)
7. All Through The Night -- (Lou Reed, Don Cherry)
8. Families -- (Reed, Boles)
9. The Bells -- (Reed, Fogel)



Reed next made Growing Up In Public with most of the same backing band as The Bells. All of the songs were co-written and co-produced by Reed and Michael Fonfara, who played guitars and keyboards. Growing Up In Public has an unexpectedly mainstream rock sound, but it works just fine. Reed once again began to portray himself as a sensitive singer-songwriter type, and this time he sounded convincing. Growing Up In Public was clearly a transitional album in which Reed was looking at mature middle age. Still, it's odd to hear him sing (jokingly or not) about "The Power Of Positive Drinking", considering that he became clean and sober soon after this album's release. In any case, Growing Up In Public paved the way for the strong albums Reed would record in the '80's.

Track Listing:

1. How Do You Speak To An Angel
2. My Old Man
3. Keep Away
4. Growing Up In Public
5. Standing On Ceremony
6. So Alone
7. Love Is Here To Stay
8. The Power Of Positive Drinking
9. Smiles
10. Think It Over
11. Teach The Gifted Children



Over the next few years, Reed finally freed himself from his well-documented drug abuse, and found new acclaim when his music became more focused than ever. In addition, he enlisted a backing band (consisting of guitarist Robert Quine, bassist Fernando Saunders, and drummer Doane Perry) that was evidently Velvet Underground-influenced, and who apparently understood Reed and his music better than his previous backing musicians.

The Blue Mask was a major creative turning point for Reed. It set the standard for most of the Reed albums that have since followed, surrounding his incisive lyrics with uniquely beautiful guitar sounds. Not since his VU days had Reed been as raw, riveting and powerful as he is here. Shedding all of the self-mocking tendencies of his ‘70’s albums (except maybe on “Average Guy”, where they serve a purpose), Reed provides sober – and sobering – meditations on alcoholism (“Underneath The Bottle”), gun violence (“The Gun”), paranoia (“Waves Of Fear”), and political disillusionment (“The Day John Kennedy Died”). Most harrowing of all is the title track, in which Reed unleashes a merciless torrent of violent imagery. Those dark songs are bookended by softer tracks that pay gentle homage to Reed’s literary hero Delmore Schwartz (“My House”), Reed’s then-wife (“Heavenly Arms”), and the entire opposite sex (“Women”). The Blue Mask is truly one of Reed’s essential recordings. (Note: the CD was reissued in 2009).


Track Listing:

1. My House
2. Women
3. Underneath The Bottle
4. The Gun
5. The Blue Mask
6. Average Guy
7. The Heroine
8. Waves Of Fear
9. The Day John Kennedy Died
10. Heavenly Arms



Legendary Hearts was almost as impressive, showing further evidence that Reed had turned a creative corner. Employing two-thirds of the same band that played on The Blue Mask (with Fred Maher replacing Doane Perry on drums), Reed continued to deliver grade-A material, with less tension and more professionalism than the previous album had. Reed still wrote disturbing tales about such grim subjects as domestic violence (“Martial Law”, “Betrayed”) and self-destruction (“The Last Shot”, “Bottoming Out”), but he approached them with greater maturity and fortitude. More lighthearted songs such as “Pow Wow”, “Turn Out The Light”, and “Rooftop Garden” suggested that Reed was beginning to find some joy in his newfound sobriety. (Note: Legendary Hearts was reissued by the Iconoclassics label in October 2009).

Track Listing:

1. Legendary Hearts
2. Don't Talk To Me About Work
3. Make Up Mind
4. Martial Law
5. The Last Shot
6. Turn Out The Light
7. Pow Wow
8. Betrayed
9. Bottoming Out
10. Home Of The Brave
11. Rooftop Garden


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Reed wisely took that band out on the road. Live In Italy was recorded during two dates in Verona and Rome in September 1983. This double-album was never released in the U.S., which is unfortunate for Reed's American fans, because Live In Italy is the best of Reed's many live albums. Reed and the Legendary Hearts lineup perform the Velvet Underground classics possibly as well as the original VU would; several selections from Reed's solo albums ("Kill Your Sons", "Waves Of Fear", "Martial Law") also receive top-notch treatment. Live In Italy is worth searching out for Reed fans. In some countries, it has been retitled Live In Concert.

Track Listing:

1. Sweet Jane
2. I'm Waiting For The Man
3. Martial Law
4. Satellite Of Love
5. Kill Your Sons
6. Betrayed
7. Sally Can't Dance
8. Waves Of Fear
9. Average Guy
10. White Light/White Heat
11. Some Kinda Love/Sister Ray
12. Walk On The Wild Side
13. Heroin
14. Rock And Roll



Reed continued his winning streak with 1984's New Sensations, which is lighter than The Blue Mask and Legendary Hearts but no less impressive. Saunders and Maher returned for this album, but Reed played guitar himself this time. A lively set of tunes that are both exciting and intelligent, this album has more kinetic energy than almost any other Reed album. From the snappy lead-off track "I Love You, Suzanne" on down, New Sensations is a model for other middle-aged songwriters to follow. (Note: New Sensations was reissued by the Iconoclassics label in October 2009).

Track Listing:

1. I Love You, Suzanne
2. Endlessly Jealous
3. My Red Joystick
4. Turn To Me
5. New Sensations
6. Doin' The Things That We Want To
7. What Becomes A Legend Most
8. Fly Into The Sun
9. My Friend George
10. High In The City
11. Down At The Arcade



Mistrial is the least valuable and durable of Reed's '80's albums. Saunders played bass once again, and on some tracks, the only musicians were Reed, Saunders, and a drum machine. Mistrial opens promisingly with the title track, which has an almost VU-like resonance, and the snappy "No Money Down", but the rest of the album is hit or miss. Mistrial is either too arty or too slick: most of the energy that made New Sensations accessible is gone here, in favor of simpler arrangements that were apparently meant to draw more attention to the social commentary in the songs; but at the same time, the production (by Reed and Saunders) gives the material a typical mid-'80's style whitewash. On the whole, Mistrial is less than the sum of its parts, but it does offer some expectedly insightful lyrics about social ills ("Video Violence", "Outside") and relationships ("Mama's Got A Lover", "Tell It To Your Heart"). And Reed even tries his hand at contemporary street-rhyming on "The Original Wrapper" (get it?). Mistrial is a good, not great, Reed album.

Track Listing:

1. Mistrial
2. No Money Down
3. Outside
4. Don't Hurt A Woman
5. Video Violence
6. Spit It Out
7. The Original Wrapper
8. Mama's Got A Lover
9. I Remember You
10. Tell It To Your Heart



The 1996 release Set The Twilight Reeling finds Reed in an uncommonly good mood. Although the arrangements are just as spare as they are on most albums from Reed’s later years, the lyrics are more lighthearted than usual. This is not the death-obsessed Lou Reed who recorded New York and Magic And Loss; this is the slightly goofy Lou Reed who once gave us Sally Can’t Dance and Growing Up In Public, although that Lou Reed had also been changed by age and sobriety. He seemed to be having as much fun as he ever did on “Egg Cream” and “HookyWooky”. “NYC Man”, “Trade In”, and the title track suggested that his rough edges had greatly mellowed with age. Even on the distortion-drenched “Riptide”, Reed sounds fairly sympathetic toward the troubled woman whom he is criticizing. On the other hand, lest you think Reed had lost his ability to offend, there is one truly tasteless track (read the title of #6 below) in which he uses the most obscene imagery imaginable to slur his political foes.

Track Listing:

1. Egg Cream
2. NYC Man
3. Finish Line
4. Trade In
5. Hang On To Your Emotions
6. Sex With Your Parents (Mother******) Part II (Recorded Live July 4th, 1995)
7. HookyWooky
8. The Proposition
9. Adventurer
10. Riptide
11. Set The Twilight Reeling



Perfect Night: Live In London was recorded at London’s Royal Festival Hall in July 1997. Getting one VU classic out of the way early, Reed proceeds to offer intimate, stripped-down versions of songs spanning the previous quarter-century of his solo career. Some of the wildest (“Vicious”) and angriest (“Busload Of Faith”) song selections get laid-back treatments in this set, showing further evidence of how much Reed has mellowed with age. Still, songs like “The Kids” and “Kicks” don’t lose a bit of their potency in this setting. Halfway through “Talking Book”, Reed and company do kick the show into higher gear, but this album still represents Reed at his most understated. One delightful exception is the fast-paced rendition of “Original Wrapper”, which greatly improves on the studio version. Calling it “perfect” may be a stretch; for example, “New Sensations” could have been done better with a bit less juice, and “Sex With Your Parents” would have been better off not being done at all. (I wonder what the English audience thought of that number). But Perfect Night definitely catches Reed on a very good night.

Track Listing:

1. I’ll Be Your Mirror
2. Perfect Day
3. The Kids
4. Vicious
5. Busload Of Faith
6. Kicks
7. Talking Book
8. Into The Divine
9. Coney Island Baby
10. New Sensations
11. Why Do You Talk
12. Riptide
13. Original Wrapper
14. Sex With Your Parents
15. Dirty Blvd.



Reed was nearing the age of 60 when he made the 2000 album Ecstasy. Contrary to the album's title, there isn't much joy or elation to be found in Reed's anguished songs about love and sex. Two of the first three songs take on the topic of infidelity ("Paranoia Key of E", "Mad"); the title track and "Tatters" examine relationships that are falling apart; "Baton Rouge" laments a long-lost love and what it could have become. In the ugly lyrics of "White Prism" and "Rock Minuet", Reed looks askance at the type of sexual deviancy he once sang about with swaggering pride. On that same note, the bizarre "Like A Possum" is an 18-minute orgy of depravity and distortion, but it's a long way from "Sister Ray". Whatever flaws may mar Ecstasy, it is certainly a potent mixture of passion and style. It's helped greatly by the reliable support of Mike Rathke (guitar), Fernando Saunders (bass), and Tony "Thunder" Smith (drums).

Track Listing:

1. Paranoia Key of E
2. Mystic Child
3. Mad
4. Ecstasy
5. Modern Dance
6. Tatters
7. Future Farmers of America
8. Turning Time Around
9. White Prism
10. Rock Minuet
11. Baton Rouge
12. Like a Possum
13. Rouge
14. Big Sky



American Poet is an official release of a much-bootlegged concert from December 1972, recorded in Hempstead, NY for a radio program. Backed by a band called the Tots, Reed played songs from the Velvet Underground and from his first two solo albums. Logically enough, the sound is a middle ground between the mellow 1969 VU live album and the arena bombast of Rock And Roll Animal. It's a riveting and engaging set, and a revealing glimpse at Reed just as his solo career was beginning to take off. Reed even seemed to be enjoying himself on this occasion. One song that stands out is "I'm Waiting For The Man", which receives a strangely gentle treatment that virtually (intentionally?) changes the meaning of the song. The spontaneous playing makes the solo album selections preferable to their studio versions. Halfway through the CD, Reed is interviewed by a DJ in an amusing exchange. At one point, the DJ asks Reed, "Where is Doug Yule?", to which Reed replies, "Dead, I hope". Ouch!

Note: the same concert was utilized for the 2009 German CD Live in New York 1972, and for the 2011 CD Walk On The Wild Side: Recorded Live! New York 1972, which both omit "Rock and Roll" and the interview track.

Track Listing:

1. White Light White Heat
2. Vicious
3. I'm Waiting For My Man
4. Walk It Talk It
5. Sweet Jane
6. Interview
7. Heroin
8. Satellite Of Love
9. Walk On The Wild Side
10. I'm So Free
11. Berlin
12. Rock 'n' Roll

Hudson River Wind Meditations is an instrumental album containing four tracks which add up to a total running time of over one hour. For that reason, this CD invites comparison to the dreaded Metal Machine Music; in fact, the lengthy track “Find Your Note” resembles a lower-volume variation on that work, and runs as long as two of its sides. This CD, however, is intended to be soothing rather than antagonistic. Reed described Hudson River Wind Meditations as meditative music “to play in the background of life”. The Eno-like soundscapes are certainly less abrasive than Metal Machine Music, but no less esoteric and only slightly more varied – meaning that it’s usually possible to tell the tracks apart. I’ll leave it up to students of Tai Chi to determine if this CD succeeds in its stated goal of helping to “explore inner spaces”. But to most listeners, Hudson River Wind Meditations will sound like more Metal Machine nonsense.

Track Listing:

1. Move Your Heart (28:54)
2. Find Your Note (31:35)
3. Hudson River Wind (Blend the Ambience) (1:50)
4. Wind Coda (5:23)



See also Velvet Underground , Primitives

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