Lou Reed, the focal point of The Velvet Underground and the endless champion of alternative American pop, had an insatiable appetite for music. He devoured it in volume and considered songwriting as one of the higher forms of art.
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.”
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.
“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.”
Those various influences are naturally seen in Reed’s favourite albums an interesting mix of retro classic and the vintage avant-garde from the soul of the American pop landscape. On a rather scruffy piece of paper, Reed noted his “best albums of all time,” which he submitted for a 1999 magazine interview.
Loud Reed’s top 10 favourite albums:
- Change of the Century, Ornette Coleman
- Tilt by Scott Walker / Belle by Al Green / Anything by Jimmy Scott
- Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
- Little Richard’s Specialty Series
- Hank Williams’ Singles
- Harry Smith Anthology
- Does Your House Have Lions, Roland Kirk
- Stay with Me Baby, Lorraine Ellison
- Mother, John Lennon
- Oh Superman, Laurie Anderson & United States
Reed would go on to not only use the influence of those before him but of those after him, always desperate to find a new way to deliver his message, he experimented with is music until the very end. Pushing the envelope wherever he went Reed still found his sweet spot in the sour-candied eye of the American Dream.
Take a listen to the playlist below to hear some of the songs that created a legend.