Lou Reed may well be one of the most artistically courageous and anti-establishment singer-songwriters to have ever walked the earth. A man famed for his inability to invest himself into the industry of making music for profit, Reed has often lambasted every authority he’s ever come into contact with, making him one of punk’s longstanding forefathers and a constant devotee to a DIY ethos. However, as Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten have found it to their detriment, everybody needs a paycheque and Lou Reed was no different.
Iggy Pop famously had a puppet made of him to feature in some British insurance ads while Johnny Rotten professed his love for butter in order to make some extra bread. For Lou Reed, his major foray into commercials was for Honda and their new range of sleek and city-centric scooters. It’s a piece of vintage video that we could watch over and over again. It’s about as eighties as a perm-laden Weird Al Yankovic eating a microwave hot dog while Paula Abdul gently blows dry ice around him—and, naturally, we love it.
There isn’t much Lou Reed can do to upset us any more. The singer and songwriter may well have been one of the founding members of The Velvet Underground and had a slew of solo albums to boot, but he’s never been too keen to play ball with either the media or corporations, choosing instead to be disdainful and wilfully antagonistic. It means that when he did compromise his values for a bit of moolah, it was all the more interesting.
Featuring Reed’s classic song ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, arguably his greatest creation, the advert captures a series of scenes in New York City life, some friendly, others dangerous, all of them eighties-modern and delightfully varied. Interspersed with those images is Reed basking in the glow of some really poor lighting with aviators on and a perm. If that wasn’t enough, he flicks the odd smile before a saxophonist comes in with the song’s finest solo.
“Hey,” says Reed as he takes off his glasses and while sitting atop the new Honda scooter, which in itself is a bastion of eighties ruler-driven design, adding a double dose of cringe to proceedings. Reed’s celebrity endorsement continues as he completes the tagline, “don’t settle for walkin’.” As the camera pans and the credits roll, the vision of 1980s America is firmly completed.
In truth, it was a weird time for Reed. The singer had never really capitalised on his influence and inspirational songs commercially and had been left broken by the previous two decades. As Brian Eno once said: “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who listened started a band.” Reed had delivered the influential goods but had never received his pay-off. As such, Reed was looking for a new course to take and had clearly wised up that, to get some cash in the bank, sometimes you had to play the game.
That didn’t stop people from losing their cool about the advert. ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ is a song that reflects on the humanity of us all and the underlying core values of love and kindness that we all share. The fact it’s wrapped up in a shimmering doo-wop tone and delivered with an underbelly smile is just the icing on the cake. That’s the reason for the extra feeling of betrayal when looking back at Reed’s acceptance to use the song during the advert. ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ was in many ways, our song, Lou just sang it.
We’d, of course, be dead wrong. “This is also known as the Honda Scooter song,” he told the crowd at the Ritz, NYC back in July 1986.
The singer continued, “Some people think that’s a conflict of interest since I’m wearing a Harley shirt, but I keep telling them that was for fucking scooters, for Christ’s sake. And I gotta pay the rent, too, and can’t you take a fucking joke?” That’s the crux of it. Being an alt-pop God doesn’t necessarily pay the bills—especially in 1986.
Watch the bizarre Honda scooter advert featuring Lou Reed, below.