Lou Reed’s 1972 album Transformer saw him transform into the star he always believed himself to be. It was the moment his talent finally gained the recognition that it duly deserved. The album is quite rightly a record that every true muso needs to own, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ epitomises that album’s brilliance in one song, and this isolated vocal version shines a brand new light on the track.
David Bowie famously produced the record, which helped it become a searing success and Reed become a desirable name in Europe. Much of the album’s success came through this track, which embraced being different and became the ultimate outsider anthem. This mantle is one that Reed continued to live up to for the rest of his career, as he carved out a historic career outside of the mainstream’s realms, with the help of a Starman.
The pair met in 1971 as Bowie—not a massive star at this point by any stretch of the imagination—was introduced to Reed by Tony Zanetta, a character who would later become Bowie’s manager on the infamous ‘Diamond Dogs Tour’. Zanetta had caught Bowie’s eye when depicting Andy Warhol in the film Pork, and he would also introduce Bowie to Warhol and Iggy Pop during this same week. Bowie then produced Transformer and, in 1972, they were both two of the most sought-after stars on the planet, but unfortunately, the chances they’d get to work together were few and far between.
“We’re still friends after all these years,” Reed told Rolling Stone in 2004. “We go to the occasional art show and museum together, and I always like working with him. I really love what David does, so I’m happy he’s still doing it and that he’s still interested. I saw him play here in New York on his last tour, and it was one of the greatest rock shows I’ve ever seen. At least as far as white people go. Seriously.”
Following Reed’s death in 2013, Bowie simply said: “He was a master”. The respect that the Thin White Duke had for Reed burned bright for 50-years from the first moment they met right until the end. Whilst the Velvet Underground singer helped him immensely in an artistic sense, Bowie beautifully reciprocated that with the helping hand he played in making Reed a star in his own right on Transformer.
‘Walk On The Wild Side’ tells an inside story of what life was like at The Factory. It celebrated the proudly weird cast of unlikely superheroes that Andy Warhol had brought together under his stewardship. Warhol championed originality and encouraged people not to be scared of themselves, which was a message that stayed with Reed and injected into ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.
The character, Holly, is based on Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who sadly passed away in 2015; she grew up in Miami Beach, Florida as a child. However, in 1962, after being relentlessly bullied by homophobes, the fifteen-year-old ran away from home in search of acceptance. As the lyrics state, she learned how to pluck her eyebrows while hitchhiking to New York, and once she arrived in the city that never sleeps, Woodlawn never looked back.
In 2008, she told The Guardian: “One day a friend called me and said, ‘Turn on the radio!’ They were playing ‘Walk On The Wild Side.’ The funny thing is that, while I knew the Velvet Underground’s music, I’d never met Lou Reed. I called him up and said, ‘How do you know this stuff about me?’ He said, ‘Holly, you have the biggest mouth in town.’ We met, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
The song’s storytelling aspect comes alive in the isolated vocal version of ‘Walk On The Wild Side‘ and makes the track more intimate than you’ve ever heard it before. Take yourself on a voyage to The Factory and let Reed be your host showing you round a walk on the wild side.