A few months ago, WSBU-FM did a throwback issue of its magazine and asked the DJs to review albums we felt had been especially influential. I did mine on Lou Reed’s Transformer album. I’m posting it here in honor of a man who influenced countless musicians and writer. His influence on rock’n’roll will live on.
Reed as the ‘Transformer’ of Rock’n’Roll
It’s not the amount of copies Transformer has sold that makes it one of the most significant recordings in rock’n’roll history. Instead, the 1972 Lou Reed album secured its legacy by impacting the path rock traveled in the four decades after its release.
If not for Transformer’s success, Reed’s old band, the Velvet Underground, would today be considered simply a New York group that had a brief career and a small, but loyal, following. But Transformer’s popularity sparked interest in the Velvets and brought their music to new audiences, influencing many artists who would shape rock’n’roll’s future.
No song did more to send folks scouring record bins for old Velvet albums than “Walk on the Wild Side.” The track captured the essence of the world Reed inhabited. At a time when popular songs were celebrating new attitudes toward sex, love and drugs, Reed was telling the other side of the story. Like his work with the Velvets, “Walk on the Wild Side” was filled with tales about transvestites, male prostitutes and junkies.
The song was based upon people who had been part of Reed’s circle when he fronted the Velvets and worked with Andy Warhol. It provided a bridge between Reed’s work with the band and his career as a solo artist. But the song never would have become a classic if it had not been so perfectly structured and produced. It opens with double bass lines that set the stage for Reed’s monotone-like vocals, which are interspersed with a touch of soul from a female chorus. A saxophone solo ends the recording, but leaves the impression that there is more to the story.
While “Walk on the Wild Side” remains the best known song from the album, there are other reasons to listen to Transformer. “Vicious,” the record’s opening track, puts the listener on immediate notice that this is a different type of album as Reed issues a variety of nasty threats and warnings. “I’m So Free” is an upbeat number in which the singer declares and celebrates his freedom. And “Perfect Day” is a ballad filled with positive lyrics that belie the somber tone of the music.
Transformer also owes its place in rock history to the man who co-produced it – David Bowie. Bowie, who was becoming an international superstar, was a fan of the Velvets and regularly performed their songs in concert. Although Reed’s emergence as a solo artist could have threatened Bowie’s growing fan base, he chose to embrace the American’s work and give it his imprimatur. If not for that unselfish decision, Transformer would not have been the same album, and rock’n’roll history would have been forever altered.
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This article originally appeared in the March 26, 2013, issue of The Buzzworthy.
Click here to read the review of Lou’s 1974 ‘Rock’n’Roll Animal’ LP. The arm in the staged photo accompanying the article is mine.