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.
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, has 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. “People should die for it. People are dying for everything else, so why not the music?” 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, sourced 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.