Lou Reed is a character like no other. His unfettered vision for pop music would be a mantle most of the rock world took up. His time with The Velvet Underground may well be his most notable moments in the music industry, but he enjoyed a rich and varied solo career, starting in earnest with his iconic album, Transformer. Produced with the help of Mick Ronson and David Bowie, the album would launch Reed’s solo career into the stratosphere.
Up until his death in 2013, nobody would dare question the authority of Lou Reed when it came to rock and roll, fearing the evisceration of their very soul with just one of the singer’s famous icy glances. While some of that fear was garnered through interviews, his short sharp wit allowed him to reduce a whole genre to a puddle of goop within a few words, most of his authority came with his effortless, empathetic and enthusiastic songwriting.
That’s because, unlike many rock stars, if you peeled away the eyeliner, the tight leather and the over-produced menace, beating Reed’s blood around his body was the heart of a poet. It means that, across his career, he has produced some of the most impressive and immersive pop sounds in memory. There is perhaps no better distillation of this talent than when Reed ditched rock and roll and headed to the church choir for an anthemic moment that will go down in history.
Inexplicably passed up for consideration as a single from Transformer, the song ‘Perfect Day’ has gone on to be recognised as one of Reed’s greatest. The cult classic quickly gathered fans for its not-so-subtle references to drugs, as Reed placed heroin as the song’s main heroine amid a choral crescendo of street life symbolism.
Mick Ronson works his magic on the piano, transforming what might have been a droning ode to a pile of brown into something more beautiful and more achingly heartening than one could ever have imagined. If it is about heroin, and the jury is still largely out, then the song reflects Reed’s ability to transcend style and provide pop poetry for the ages. The track’s universal appeal means it was ripe for a cover or two.
Taken on by a BBC promotional film, the song gained huge acclaim in the UK and hit the number one spot, with Reed providing his own gruesome take amid work from Heather Small and Boyzone. While the track may not have ended as he had envisioned, the song remains one of his greatest. However, there is another cover which Reed actually liked. Considering his rare constitution for kaiboshing anything he didn’t immediately agree with, it would seem strange that Reed’s favourite cover of the song came from Duran Duran.
Duran Duran were descending from their pop heights when, in 1995, they asked Reed if they could cover the track. Clearly aware of his distaste for mainstream culture, Simon Le Bon and co. were nervous about the Velvet Underground man’s opinion on the song. But, if they were expecting a harsh reception, they would have been ecstatic that not only did Reed like the cover, but he rated it more highly than his own.
Reed told Q at the time: “They’d been very cooperative with me. They sent me the tape, and I thought it was great. I don’t dislike pop stuff; I love pop stuff; I just don’t particularly do it. So when I said it’s better than mine, it’s better than mine as pop. Mine isn’t; I guess what you would call pop. But I thought they are really trying to do a nice thing with it from their point of view.”
Considering the artist in question, that is some high praise. So, without further ado, why not listen to Duran Duran’s version of Lou Reed’s classic ‘Perfect Day.’