By DYLAN BROWN
of Inland 360
A career spanning five decades is bound to have its pitfalls — see his collaboration with Metallica to produce 2011’s dreadful “Lulu” — but Reed’s cool was never in question.
With the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, he simultaneously epitomized two very different parts of New York City from the 1960s onward. He wrote psychedelic songs for the Velvets about gritty streets filled with kinky sexual encounters, transvestites and drug addiction. At the same time, he drew the attention of the cultural elites, the purveyors of the high-end art scene — namely Andy Warhol, whose influences on the band’s image is plain from the iconic banana album art for their debut album.
He is one of the pillars on the bridge to what would become punk and influenced countless other genres. Right up until his death, he was uncompromising, off-kilter and inextricably walking the cutting edge. In homage to Reed, here are five of the best and most notable contributions Reed made to the history of rock ’n’ roll.
“Venus in Furs”
A first listen to this track from the Velvets’ debut album, “The Velvet Underground and Nico,”immediately reminds one of the screeching electric strings on Moby’s “Extreme Ways” for the “Bourne” movie franchise.
John Cale, Reed’s classically trained, avant-garde right-hand man who provided strings that echo throughout this song about the “shiny, shiny leather” of sadomasochism, was a driving force behind the band’s experimental tendencies that paved the way for countless musicians and genres to follow.
A brutally realistic song that refuses to relent for seven minutes, “Heroin” is about exactly what you think. It follow the pulse of addiction through the blood pounding in Reed’s guitar strings. It races frantically after a hit, then drops suddenly into bleak depression between highs and finally goes off the rails, following the banshee of Cale’s viola into oblivion. Reed, Cale and company let you make up your own mind about the drug.
“I’m Waiting for My Man”
While they pushed rock ’n’ roll into a brave new psychedelic world, Reed and the Velvets could also play straight sock-you-in-the-mouth rock. The themes remain about drugs, sex and other taboos. However, the guitar lines were ready-made for a Chuck Berry-style duck walk, despite the heavy distortion that would make “The Velvet Underground and Nico” a cornerstone for the punks of the 1980s.
“Walk on the Wild Side”
In his famously casual way on his most recognized song, Reed sings, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.” The single from 1972’s solo album “Transformer” was just too alluring for radio stations, who played it despite it being about transvestite prostitution.
Reed, a bisexual, received electroconvulsive therapy as a teen for his curiosities. Years later, he was inspired to write his Top 40 hit by a book of the same name.
Its author said the book asked a question fitting considering Reed’s inevitable fame, “Why lost people sometimes develop into greater human beings than those who have never been lost in their whole lives.”
Brown may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2278. Follow him on Twitter @DylanBrown26.