THE 50 GREATEST LOU REED AND THE VELVET UNDERGROUND SONGS
50 THE VIEW
(from Lulu, 2011)
Metallica’s almighty noise carries Lou’s immortal commands.
“It was so impulsive,” Lars Ulrich said of the 10 days his Metallica and Reed wailed and walloped in northern California, “it’ll take me years to access what happened.” And so it’s gone for many with Lulu, the combo’s wrongly dismissed transformation of a 19th century drama about a licentious, murderous maven into poetic metallurgy. The View is their masterful power play, its threeguitar roar the forged shield upon which Reed inscribes his demands –sex and submission, omnipotence and awe. GHC
49 EDGAR ALLAN POE
(from The Raven, 2003)
A descent into the maelstrom. Reed’s idea to re-imagine Poe’s life and work in an experimental double-LP of songs and poems stemmed from a 2000 theatre production. With commendable perversity, the piece’s signature rocker, Edgar Allan Poe – horn-driven, raunchy and joyously cornball as it describes a litany of “carnage”, “decapitations”, “poisonings” – bears little relation to the spectral flow and angry metal elsewhere on the record. That Poe holds a mirror to Reed’s own interior, a similarly lively cesspit of trickery, vengefulness, fantasy and noir, suddenly seems obvious. “Not exactly the boy next door!” he trills on the chorus. Quite. PG
48 LEGENDARY HEARTS
(from Legendary Hearts, 1983) Troubled times, troubled song, untroubled melody.
Studio squabbling with soon-to-depart guitarist Robert Quine ensured that recording Legendary Hearts was an unhappy experience, but Quine’s insistence that Reed’s production almost erased his work didn’t always ring true, especially on the beautifully layered title track, where his and Reed’s guitars quietly duel. In contrast to the self-lacerating lyric (“I’m good for just a kiss, not legendary love”), the gorgeously lolloping melody was so catchy that perhaps for the only time in his career Reed clapped along with himself in the budget-conscious video. JA
47 METAL MACHINE MUSIC, A-1 – A-4
(from Metal Machine Music, 1975)
Meticulous noise, far from chaos.
Metal Machine Music is the critical and commercial failure whose locked grooves and unrelenting influence on a halfcentury of seekers mean its sculptural screech has never actually stopped. Recorded nocturnally and alone with minimal gear, Metal finds unending beauty within New York’s endless industrial din, feedback sheets and squelching circuits creating harmonies that feel like phantoms, until they refuse to fade. Reed obviously didn’t invent harsh noise or atonal excess; within the context of rock’n’roll, however, he rightly argued it could be enough. GHC
(from Set The Twilight Reeling, 1996) Guitars, guitars and then some more guitars.
By the time of the dense, sprawling Set The Twilight Reeling, Reed was into texture as much as song and nowhere more so than on the album’s lengthy but exhilarating centrepiece, the very essence of his mid-’90s work. The lyric namechecks Van Gogh, but Reed paints a picture of a world out of control. More crucial are the wholly in-control guitars, where Reed cranks out a giant riff over which he deploys Glenn Branca/ Sonic Youth-style layering. Heroic. JA
45 THE OSTRICH
(The Primitives single, 1964) “Everybody get down on your face, man.”
As staff writer at Pickwick Music, Reed was required to milk pop trends. Dance songs – Twist, Madison, Hully Gully – were all the rage. Most, however, weren’t introduced via such a malevolent racket as The Primitives’ lone, ultra-rare 45. After an ersatz live intro, a Then He Kissed Me riff is laid over a stomping beat. Lou barks surreal instructions while his comrades squeal the title by way of a chorus. As deliciously crude as Louie Louie, it’s a wonder it never caught on. JI
44 LEAVE ME ALONE
(from Live: Take No Prisoners, 1978) A hell of an end to a hell of a show. Reed’s Street Hassle songs, already a challenge to delicate sensibilities, are in their element on this live album to end them all. If I Wanna Be Black is the ballsiest move (what with the liberal n-wording), Leave Me Alone is the performance that turns studio lead into spontaneously unhinged scuzz-rock gold. It’s not just faster, nastier, fuzzier, and borderline unintelligible. It’s the closest Reed ever came to reanimating the sheer, libertarian chaos of White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground. DE
43 LIKE A POSSUM
(from Ecstasy, 2000)
Suite for feedback and angry man. The cover of Ecstasy appears to show Reed in the throes of orgasm – which, if nothing else, gave sceptics the opportunity to draw crude masturbatory parallels with the album’s contents. Chief target was Like A Possum, an 18-minute squalor-fest rich with crack, butt, used condoms and “roller-bladers giving head”. Yet the gutter provocations and bludgeoning grind gradually take on a purgative, then meditative, quality – the noise-rock equivalent of a gong bath, from which you might just emerge, as Reed threatens, “Calm as an angel”. JM
42 LAST GREAT AMERICAN WHALE
(from New York, 1989)
A Moby Dick for the Reagan era.
After a quarter-century of charting every human degradation, here was a song to silence those who believed Lou Reed amoral. To a measured strum, the singer introduces our half-mile-long cetacean metaphor, then tells how the beast causes a tidal wave, killing all nearby but a Native American chief incarcerated for shooting a mayor’s racist son (hurrah!), only then to be harpooned by an NRA “yokel” (boo!). Reed’s ensuing summation of America’s mistreatment of its natural wonders and indigenous tribes is swingeing. AP