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Music

Exploring Lou Reed's love/hate relationship with The Beatles

@SamWKemp

Lou Reed was not the most reliable narrator. As is often the case in music, the Velvet Underground member weaved a veil of mystery around himself, emphasising and occasionally inventing certain facets of his personality. Of course, he wasn’t alone in this. Anyone who was anyone in the avant-garde scene in New York in the 1960s had made a concerted effort to escape the reality they were born into, pursuing their craft in an attempt to invent a new and supposedly more authentic existence.

For Reed and countless others, music was the most reliable indicator of authenticity. Perhaps this explains why his attitude towards The Beatles changed so much over the years. Shortly after the quartet broke up, Reed was asked for his opinion on some of the most prominent countercultural figures of the day, including Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Beatles.

Reed had nothing but praise for the Fab Four, stating: “They just make the songs up, bing, bing bing,” he began, seeming to regard John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as a sort of pop-song factory with a near 100% success rate. “They just have to be the most incredible songwriters ever – just amazingly talented,” Reed continued. “I don’t think people realise how sad it is that The Beatles broke up.”

By 1987, however, Reed’s view of The Beatles was far less sympathetic. Indeed, the passing of the punk age must have left the musician with a case of musical amnesia because, in one interview, he could barely fathom the idea of liking the music of The Beatles. Comparing the Liverpool group’s output to that of The Velvets, Reed said: “From my point of view, the other stuff couldn’t come up to our ankles, not up to my kneecap, not up to my ankles, the level we were on, compared to everyone else. I mean they were just painfully stupid and pretentious, and when they did try to get, in quotes, ‘arty,’ it was worse than stupid rock ‘n’ roll.”

In a later interview, Reed maintained his position, rejecting his previous claim that The Beatles were “the most incredible songwriters ever.”

Speaking to Joe Smith, he barely contained his bemusement, adding: “The Beatles? I never liked The Beatles, I thought they were garbage. I don’t think Lennon did anything until he went solo. But then too, he was like trying to play catch up. He was getting involved in choruses and everything. I don’t want to come off as being snide, because I’m not being snide, what I’m doing is giving you a really frank answer, I have no respect for those people at all. I don’t listen to it at all, it’s absolute shit.”

Harsh words indeed. Still, at least Reed was able to find something nice to say about Lennon. When it came to Dylan, he wasn’t so open-minded: “Dylan gets on my nerves,” Reed said, “If you were at a party with him I think you’d tell him to shut up.”

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