‘The Ostrich’ Lou Reed’s novelty song that formed The Velvet Underground
Lou Reed was always destined for a firm role in the history of rock and roll. The singer may have had a stellar solo career but it was his work with John Cale and the Velvet Underground that affirmed his position as the king of the underground.
Despite their sprawling and subversive influence on countless rock musicians, the band actually formed around a novelty song which Lou Reed had written during his time with Pickwick Records.
Yes, before Lou Reed became a songwriting sensation with the royalty of New York’s underbelly with the Velvet Underground, he was just writing songs to pay the bills. Far removed from the VU and even his early doo-wop band The Jades, Reed was writing songs for Pickwick Records.
Reed worked as the in-house musician for Pickwick Records, starting his professional musical career in the early 1960s, churning out ten-a-penny records for supermarkets and convenience stores. During this time, he wrote a joke song called ‘The Ostrich’ as a way of spoofing the well-known pop track, ‘The Twist.’
Originally only a studio side-project, the track about a fake novelty dance grabbed enough interest to put together a band for a few live gigs.
Amazingly enough, that touring version of The Primitives featured John Cale, Tony Conrad, and Walter DeMaria. While sadly the dance has never made it to video, with his band The Primitives, Reed did make a recording of the song.
The track, along with the “ostrich tuning” that the song had spawned, whereby all the strings were tuned to D, did a great job of putting Cale and Reed working alongside each other. Cale had himself been experimenting with a similar style and this connection seemed to form the basis of their friendship. It would go on to help form The Velvet Underground as we know it.
Below listen to The Primitives’ take on Lou Reed’s ‘The Ostrich’.