Lou Reed was a man with serious integrity. The musician was always one of the most authentic and genuine songwriters of his generation and never sought commercial success over the artistic pursuit of his creation. In fact, he largely rejected all forms of commercial success and, if you ever needed proof, just pick up his album Metal Machine Music. Given his stance, it made the moment his iconic song ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ was used during a Honda moped advert all the more baffling for his audience.
The singer was in good company and, around the same time, Honda plunged money into the advertising of the scooter with Grace Jones, Sandra Bernhart and DEVO all putting their own spin on separate commercials. Yet somehow, Reed’s move into the world of advertisement felt a touch more sickening thanks, in no small part, to his previous outright refusal to play the game. Sure, it wasn’t the worst ad ever, but it certainly burnt some bridges for his audience.
As the singer and principal songwriter for The Velvet Underground, Reed had forged a career out of the pop landscape by refusing to conform to its ideals of commerciality. Alongside the Velvets, he was a determined artist and, while the band’s contemporaries employed the psychedelic trip of escapism in their work, The Velvet Underground were the sound of the streets and as real and affronting as the dog turd you just stepped in.
It was an intrinsic link that wouldn’t be admonished when Reed broke out on his own, especially on the David Bowie-produced seminal solo album Transformer which, true to its name, turned Reed into a global success. While some of that can be attributed to David Bowie’s relentless marketing of the band and, in particular, his friend Lou, what the audience truly connected with was Reed’s unadulterated vision, wry lyrics and candid sonics.
Such authenticity can be felt throughout the record but the shining moment on the LP comes with Reed’s ode to the underbelly of New York City’s nightlife, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. It’s a song that reflects on the humanity of us all and the underlying core values of love and kindness that we all share and should share more often. The fact it’s wrapped up in a shimmering doo-wop tone, drenched in sunset hues and the very fabric of city living, is just the icing on the cake. That, in truth, is the reason for the extra feeling of betrayal when looking back at Reed’s acceptance to use the song during the advert for some Honda scooters. ‘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. You can see the advert below and perhaps understand why there was an increased uproar.
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.
So while we may get upset about this, or indeed any other seemingly picket-crossing moments from our favourite rock legends, there’s one thing to remember: rock stars have got to eat too. For now, sit back and watch Lou Reed perform a smirking rendition of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ from back in ’86.