During the time that Lou Reed, and with the original group called The Velvet Underground made records, their music was (and still is) unlike anything anyone has ever heard. According to Wikipedia, the Velvet Underground were a “commercial failure” in the late 60s, but due to their dedicated cult-status and following, their albums are regarded as some of the most significant in modern rock music history.This enduring underground following continues to this day with the collaborative efforts in 2011 and 2012 between Lou Reed and the heavy metal group Metallica. Lou Reed was the Velvet Underground’s principal songwriter in the 1960s (until the band disbanded in 1970) and as a songwriter Reed incorporated subjects of “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll” –a well-known mantra to heavy metal fans today, but was strictly taboo in that formative era (the 1960s). Rolling Stone magazine wrote, “Lou Reed helped invent punk rock music while writing about femme fatales, black angels, and heroin.”
Lou Reed was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn and grew up in Long Island. (For this and the following info, see Wikipedia.) Reed reportedly learned to play guitar by listening to the radio, and played in different bands in high school. His first recording was with a Doo Wop group called The Jades. In 1956, Reed received ECT (electro-convulsive therapy or “shock treatments”) as a teenager to try to “cure” his bisexuality. Reed wrote about the experience in his 1974 song, “Kill Your Sons.” Lou Reed began attending Syracuse University in 1960, studying journalism, film directing, and creative writing. In 1961, he hosted a late night radio program on WAE, featuring doo wop, rhythm and blues and jazz.
In 1964, Reed moved to New York City and began working as an inhouse songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964, Reed scored a minor hit with “The Ostrich”;
Pickwick assembled a band for Reed around this song, hoping to have a hit, called The Primitives, which included Welsh musician John Cale. (Wikipedia) Reed and Cale lived together on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and after inviting Reed’s college acquaintances guitarist Sterling Morris and drummer Maureen Tucker to join the group, The Velvet Underground was formed. Rolling Stone described The Velvet Underground’s sound as “dissonant, poignant art songs”. The group caught the attention of avant garde photographer, pop art visual artist Andy Warhol, who decided to became their benefactor and general manager, introducing them to high-art concepts and his Bohemian lifestyle. Lou Reed told Rolling Stone, ” Warhol was one of the greatest people I’ve met in my life,” Reed remarked. “It’s hard to conceive where we would be without him. If he had a gallery opening he took us with him. He fed us.”
Lou Reed’s songs began to take on more of the reflection of Warhol’s artistic lifestyle to great success, but there was conflict in the group when Warhol stated the Underground should have a chanteuse (female singer), suggesting European model and singer Nico. Not all of the band members agreed with this, and their debut album was entitled The Velvet Underground and Nico, to note that Nico was not actually part of the group. Although the album did not initially do well, Rolling Stone has said it is one of the most influential albums of all time. Between 1966 and 1970, the Velvet Underground recorded four “classic, highly influential albums.” (Rolling Stone)
Rolling Stone magazine wrote that Lou Reed’s departure from the Velvet Underground was “bitter” (http://www.rollingstone.com) in August 1970. Reed briefly took a job as a typist at his father’s tax accounting firm (see Wikipedia) but a year later, however, he signed a recording contract with RCA, which included top session musicians from the rock group Yes. In 1972, Reed released Transformer, which David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced. It yielded Lou Reed’s only top 20 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” (1973), an ode to some of the flamboyant Bohemian artists surrounding Andy Warhol. With Bowie’s aid, Reed transformed into Glitter Rock, his signature camp style including bleach-blond hair and black fingernail polish. “Glam Rock was the rage and Lou Reed was a central figure,” according to Rolling Stone. Another single from the album was “A Perfect Day”. There was a falling-out between Reed and Bowie, but their friendship was reconciled in 1997 with a Madison Square Garden appearance by both, and Bowie’s collaboration on Lou Reed’s album Raven (2003).In the1970s, Lou Reed’s best-known albums were Berlin(1973), Sally Can’t Dance (1974), and Rock N Roll Animal (1975).Rock N Roll Animal became Reed’s biggest-selling record to date (Wikipedia).
Lou Reed’s music recording, performance, and artistic career is extremely prolific. Please visit Wikipedia, RollingStone.com, or LouReed.com for more extensive history. Currently, Lou Reed and Metallica have a musical collaboration called “LULU”; the website http://www.loureedmetallica.com describes it as “inspired by German expressionist writer Frank Wiedekind’s plays”.