Lou Reed, R.I.P.: Hear His Legacy in 15 Tracks
The classics, the deep cuts, and the tracks he influenced
FIVE SONGS THAT COULDN’T EXIST WITHOUT HIM
1. David Bowie, “Queen Bitch” (Hunky Dory, 1971)
Bowie’s explicit homage to the Velvet Underground basically established the format for his Ziggy Stardust glam evolution. Mick Ronson’s choppy, tangled, but eventually strutting guitar accompanies Bowie’s “bipperty bopperty” prose and nudges his theatrical urgency: “And I’m phoning a cab / ‘Cause my stomach feels small / There’s a taste in my mouth / And it’s no taste at all / It could’ve been me….” It was a turning point in the career of the Velvets fanboy who would go on to produce Reed’s Transformer album the next year.
2. Roxy Music, “In Every Dream Home a Heartache” (For Your Pleasure, 1973)
Bryan Ferry’s creepily intoned love letter to a blow-up sex doll (“Your skin is like vinyl / The perfect companion”), backed with an arty drone steered by bedazzled Velvet Underground quotemeister general Brian Eno. Eventually, the simmering tension erupts into a squalling roar of Eno knob-jockeying as Ferry bellows, “Dream Home Heartache!” An argument could be made that this is the moment when the Velvets’ aesthetic truly became initial-caps Pop Art. “Open-plan living” never sounded so tawdry.
3. The Modern Lovers, “Roadrunner” (The Modern Lovers, 1976)
Directly based on “Sister Ray,” with producer John Cale wailing on organ and the passionately corny Richman testifying to the glories of driving fast with the radio on, “Roadrunner” giddily celebrated what Richman saw as the awesome grandeur of suburban Massachusetts’ “modern world.” It was an All-American if counterintuitive image, at least for anybody who had experience of the Massachusetts suburbs, but it pulsed with the fiery energy of “Sister Ray”‘s orgiastic meltdown, and even challenged “Rock & Roll” for the most heart-stopping tribute to radio-fueled liberation. Later, the Sex Pistols covered it with much less positive energy.
4. Pavement, “Summer Babe” (Winter Version) (Slanted and Enchanted, 1992)
While Lou Reed was dramatically reporting on New York’s grimy splendor, Stephen “S.M.” Malkmus and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg were musing idly, if fantastically, from a Central Valley, California, garage studio run by burnout drummer Gary Young. Blatantly adopting Reed’s voice and pose as the detached-cool-observer, Malkmus instead chronicled plastic-tipped cigars and shiny robes and protein delta strips and abandoned houseboats, oddly mythic props in his lost-in-the-dust, trickster-ish stage play. Buried in a distorted, lo-fi haze, the “babe” in question remained even more enigmatic than the shape-shifting characters of Reed’s demimonde.
5. The Strokes, “The Modern Age” (The Modern Age EP, 2001)
From the first song on the first recording by the Strokes, it was clear. Later, frontman Julian Casablancas admitted that he was listening to the Velvet Underground’s Loaded for months while writing the band’s earliest songs. Backed by Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr.’s guitars, which blossom fully formed from the tone and style of “Rock & Roll” and other Velvets nuggets, Casablancas takes Reed’s narrative deadpan and swizzles it around in his throat like Dean Martin garglin’ a “Flame of Love” at Chasen’s in Beverly Hills. His jaded, I-need-a-hug-from-a-supermodel croon sounded like the yawp of an infant who was left to curl up and sleep on the couch while a hipster, Warholian bacchanal raged on.