Lou Reed Photographs
(Credit: Faber & Faber)

From John Lennon to Bob Dylan: Lou Reed’s 100 favourite songs of all time

“The most important part of my religion is to play guitar.”—Lou Reed.

While the guitar was instrumental to Lou Reed’s life in music, his eclectic taste in the art of songwriting has always stretched beyond that one singular instrument. “Rock and roll is so great, people should start dying for it,” the Velvet Underground founder once said. “You don’t understand. The music gave you back your beat so you could dream…The people just have to die for the music. People are dying for everything else, so why not for music? Die for it,” he added in what is the clearest reflection of his unrelenting passion.

Reed, the focal point of The Velvet Underground and the endless champion of alternative American pop, had an irresistible appetite for music. The now-iconic musician, who recorded and released no fewer than 22 solo albums after The Velvet Underground came to an end, always enjoyed the concept of melding specific genres like the best in the business. Make no mistake about it, Reed devoured music in volume and considered songwriting as one of the higher forms of art.

“The music is all,” Reed once said. Using his love of the literary minds that swarmed his native New York City at the time, such as Ginsberg, Selby and Burroughs, Reed took to his guitar to write poetic pop songs, not only for Velvet Underground but as Pickwick Records’ principal songwriter. He later told SPIN magazine: “To be able to achieve what they did, in such little space, using such simple words. I thought if you could do what those writers did and put it to drums and guitar, you’d have the greatest thing on earth.”

Reed, much like many of the who came before him, collected his inspiration from an endless source of creatives. While channelling his literary influences lyrically, sonically Reed drew on from another pool of influences such as classic soul, doo-wop, rhythm and blues, folk, jazz, and early rock and roll. Using all of these valuable materials in the crucible of Reed’s brain always smelted into the finest golden pop songs.

Not long before he passed away, Reed sat down with the Helsinki Music Club in an attempt to collect 100 of the songs he would consider the greatest of all time. That list of artists, rescued by Acclaimed Music, includes a typically adventurous mix of musicians which range from the likes of John Lennon and Bob Dylan to Outcast and Moe Tucker.

“I always go out and get the latest Dylan album,” Reed once said of his contemporary. “Bob Dylan can turn a phrase, man. Like his last album [Down in the Groove], his choice of songs. ‘Going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street’ — I’d give anything if I could have written that. Or that other one, ‘Rank Strangers to Me.’ The key word there is rank.”

Reed added: “Dylan continuously knocks me out… the kind of phrasing that knocks me out is Dylan’s. For language, Dylan kills me to this day.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Dylan appears three times in Reed’s top ten with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, ‘It’s Alright Ma’ and ‘Foot of Pride’ all appearing.

See the full list, below.

Lou Reed’s 100 favourite songs of all time

  1. Lonely Woman – ‘Ornette Coleman’
  2. Outcast – ‘Eddie And Ernie’
  3. Rahsaan Roland Kirk – ‘Old Rugged Cross’
  4. Ray Charles – ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’
  5. Little Richard – ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’
  6. The Excellents – ‘Coney Island Baby’
  7. Lorraine Ellison – ‘Stay With Me’
  8. Elvis Presley – ‘Mystery Train’
  9. Carl Perkins – ‘Honey Don’t’
  10. Chuck Berry – ‘Little Queenie’
  11. Billy Lee Riley – ‘Red Hot’
  12. Wanda Jackson – ‘Let’s Have A Party’
  13. Nolan Strong & The Diablos – ‘The Wind’
  14. Roy Orbison – ‘Crying’
  15. Roy Orbison – ‘Ooby Dooby’
  16. Elvis Presley – ‘That’s Alright Mama’
  17. Fats Domino – ‘The Fat Man’
  18. Dion & The Belmonts – ‘I Wonder Why’
  19. Hank Williams – ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’
  20. Bo Diddley – ‘Bring It To Jerome’
  21. Bo Diddley – ‘Bo Diddley’
  22. Chris Connor – ‘When Sunny Gets Blue’
  23. Chet Baker – ‘My Funny Valentine’
  24. Jimmy Scott – ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’
  25. Lillian Leach and the Mellows – ‘Smoke From Your Cigarette’
  26. Little Richard – ‘Lucille’
  27. Otis Redding – ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’
  28. Jimi Hendrix – ‘Are You Experienced?’
  29. Ike and Tina Turner – ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’
  30. Ike and Tina Turner – ‘River Deep, Mountain High’
  31. Sam Cooke – ‘Mean Old World’
  32. Otis Redding – ‘Try A Little Tenderness’
  33. Jerry Lee Lewis – ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’
  34. J.J. Cale – ‘Crazy Mama’
  35. Ry Cooder – ‘Little Sister’
  36. Question Mark & The Mysterians – ’96 Tears’
  37. Cannibal and the Headhunters – ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’
  38. Huey Piano Smith & The Clowns – ‘Don’t You Just Know It’
  39. Bobby Charles – ‘See You Later, Alligator’
  40. Clarence Frogman Henry – ‘Ain’t got No Home’
  41. Jimmy Reed – ‘Big Boss Man’
  42. Jimmy Reed – ‘Hush Hush’
  43. John Lee Hooker – ‘Boogie Chillun’
  44. Albert King – ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’
  45. Booker T. & the MGs – ‘Green Onions’
  46. Wilson Pickett – ‘Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)’
  47. Sam & Dave – ‘Soul Man’
  48. The Youngbloods – ‘Sunlight’
  49. The Left Banke – ‘Walk Away Renee’
  50. The Left Banke – ‘Pretty Ballerina’
  51. The Students – ‘So Young’
  52. Jackie and the Starlites – ‘Valerie’
  53. The Easybeats – ‘Falling Off the Edge of the World’
  54. The Cadillacs – ‘Gloria’
  55. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters – ‘Work With Me Annie’
  56. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters – ‘Annie Had A Baby’
  57. Little Richard – ‘Tutti Frutti’
  58. B. B. King – ‘Rock Me Baby’
  59. Al Green – ‘Belle’
  60. Al Green – ‘Georgia Boy’
  61. Ricky Nelson – ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’
  62. Ricky Nelson – ‘Hello Mary Lou’
  63. James Brown – ‘There Was A Time’
  64. Laurie Anderson – ‘Superman’
  65. Kate Bush – ‘Wuthering Heights’
  66. The Beach Boys – ‘God Only Knows’
  67. Link Wray – ‘Rumble’
  68. Ann Peebles – ‘Can’t Stand the Rain’
  69. Skeeter Davis – ‘The End of the World’
  70. Bob Dylan – ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
  71. Bob Dylan – ‘It’s Alright Ma’
  72. Bob Dylan – ‘Foot of Pride’
  73. Peter Gabriel – ‘Solsbury Hill’
  74. The Carpenters – ‘Superstar’
  75. Charlie Dore – ‘Pilot of the Airwaves’
  76. The Rolling Stones – ‘Start Me Up’
  77. Bobby Bland – ‘Turn On Your Love Light’
  78. Solomon Burke – ‘Keep A Light In the Window’
  79. James Brown – ‘Think’
  80. Sly & The Family Stone – ‘Everyday People’
  81. Sly & The Family Stone – ‘Everybody’s A Star’
  82. Etta James – ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’
  83. Carla Thomas – ‘Gee Whiz’
  84. Clarence Carter – ‘Making Love (At the Dark End of the Street)’
  85. Aretha Franklin – ‘I Never Loved A Man’
  86. Johnny Taylor – ‘Who’s Making Love’
  87. James & Bobby Purify – ‘I’m Your Puppet’
  88. Aaron Neville – ‘Tell It Like It Is’
  89. Lee Dorsey – ‘Get Out My Life Woman’
  90. Fats Domino – ‘Ain’t That A Shame’
  91. James & Bobby Purify – ‘Shake A Tail Feather’
  92. Detroit – ‘Rock & Roll’
  93. U2 – ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out’
  94. John Lennon – ‘Mother’
  95. John Lennon – ‘Jealous Guy’
  96. Moe Tucker – ‘Spam Again’
  97. Stevie Wonder – ‘Livin’ For The City’
  98. Marvin Gaye – ‘What’s Going On’
  99. The Commodores – ‘Night Shift’
  100. The Chiffons – ‘He’s So Fine’
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