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What Is Lou Reed’s Legacy To Rock Music?

(Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for John Varvatos)

With the passing of Lou Reed (on October 27, 2013 – due to complications from liver disease), a lot of folks in the rock world are wondering what to make of his legacy.   There are some who might ask:  Who was Lou Reed?  This question is probably valid – especially to someone who is younger than 40 or someone who hasn’t studied rock and roll history;  Lou wasn’t a commercial-success in the sense of an Eric Clapton or even a Ronnie Wood.  But to write off Lou Reed’s importance to rock music would be unrestricted.  In many ways, Lou’s importance was that of the classic “behind-the-scenes” artist who created the path that others rode more easily down.

Lou was a self-taught guitarist, learning how to play the instrument from the songs that he heard on the radio.  With the early sounds of rock and roll blanketing the airwaves, Lou developed a love for the novel genre, blending his own brand of rhythm and blues in.

After college, Lou became a house songwriter for Pickwick Records.  One of the songs that he wrote – “The Ostrich” was deemed to have potential, and the company arranged to have a group of musicians form around Reed to record the song. The group’s name was The Primitives.   One of those people that was hired to play alongside Lou Reed on the song was JJ Cale – who would eventually go on to have his own successful solo career.

By 1964, Reed and Cale went on to form the influential group The Velvet Underground.  The Velvet Underground went on to become one of the most influential rock and roll bands of all time – even as their initial success and was limited.  Andy Worhol was an early fan – designing the cover for their first album “The Velvet Underground And Nico”, which was released in 1967.

As is often the case, The Velvet Underground splintered under a mired of problems.  Reed went on to record solo, releasing critically-acclaimed albums that never seemed to reach the mainstream.

So what is the legacy of Lou Reed?  Brian Eno – himself an experimental-based musician – perhaps put it best when he said in a 1982 interview that the first Velvet Underground album may have only sold 30,000 copies, but “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.

With an avant-garde edge to his music, Lou Reed will always be remembered for plowing the trail that led to the expansion of rock and roll in the late 1960’s and beyond.  Most people are probably familiar with Reed’s song “Walk On The Wild Side”, but there are so many other accessible songs that were integral to the rock format.  One of those that I recommend as a starting point is Lou Reed’s version of “Sweet Jane” from 1974;  He wrote the song originally as part of the Velvet Underground;  However, the live solo version from 1974 became the “hit” on rock radio and perhaps sums up the Lou Reed experience the best!

[Some source material courtesy of Wikipedia]



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