Lou Reed was somewhat difficult to fully work out as many different sides co-existed to him. On the one hand, he was a poet who pushed boundaries and helped create alternative music out of subverted pop and changed culture as we know it today, but he also had an obsession with the blues.
His record collection was exceptionally eclectic and included everything from Little Richard to Scott Walker. However, Reed was also naturally a contrarian, and his opinion often swayed from the general public’s agreed perspective. An example of this is his dislike for The Beatles. He famously once said: “The Beatles? I never liked The Beatles, I thought they were garbage. I don’t think Lennon did anything until he went solo.”
Considering that was his stance on the most universally adored group of all time, when he was asked to name the “most surprising” record he loves by Rolling Stone in 2003, his answer wasn’t particularly surprising and relatively tame by his standards.
Reed chose to select the blues classic ‘The Fat Man’, which was released by Fats Domino in 1999, and he explained the profound impact this had on him as a teenager. He was miserable about his life on Long Island and dreamt about being anywhere but there, yet, Fats’ music allowed him to escape beyond his surroundings.
He told the publication: “‘The Fat Man,’ by Fats Domino . I was a big fan of Meade’ Lux’ Lewis and Albert Ammons — those great 78s of boogie-woogie piano. Then I heard ‘The Fat Man,’ and I went, ‘Oh, my God!'”
Reed continued: “It was one of the first records I ever bought, out on asshole Long Island, the armpit of the world. That’s what I wanted to be doing. Put a guitar to it, mix it together with ‘Ooby Dooby,’ by Roy Orbison, and ‘Red Hot,’ by Billy Riley — and you’ve got me.”
Additionally, the Velvet Underground also mentioned his love of this track during an interview with Anthony DeCurtis in 2006. Reed proudly boasted how he still listens to it today but admitted he “still couldn’t figure out some of the lyrics”.
Reed went on to say that his love of the song wasn’t down to the lyrics, and if he was after that, he’d listen to Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. He added: “Chuck Berry was fun, but it wasn’t what I was talking about, I wanted to put Burroughs into a song.”
That sentence alone helps explain what made Reed great and highlights the smorgasbord of influences he drew from to make his one-off brand of music. In one moment, he could be listening to Fats Domino, and the next, he’d have his head down in a novel by William S. Burroughs, which somehow he managed to pull together seamlessly.