Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ranking the Albums: The Guest Post Lou Reed Edition

EDITORS NOTE: I didn't write this but since this blog hasn't been active in quite some time and my good friend Mr. Tyler Mills, the biggest Lou Reed fan I know, took the time to recap his solo career I felt compelled to re-post it here. 

Alright, so this is the final bit of commentary I'll post in the wake of Lou Reed's passing. Obviously all four of the Velvet Undergrounds albums are essential listening for any true music fan, but what about his dizzyingly erratic solo career? Well here's my rankings.... From worst to best.... #22 to #1:


Mistrial - 1986

This album is further proof of my theory that every big musical act from the 60’s and 70’s went to hell in the 80’s.  Lou Reed fell for every trap that entailed being relevant in the 80's. Big drums, synthesizers, super slick production, all of it. And this coming from the fella who pioneered white noise, dangerous themes, and non-feel-good music in the 60's! Generic and uninteresting, Mistrial takes the bottom spot for Lou Reed solo albums. But don't let this entry dissuade you from checking out the other write-ups. Remember, this is the worst in a 22 album spanning solo career. It get's better folks! But if you want to see for yourself the awfulness of Mistrial..... here ya go. I mean, good god, it's a middle aged Jewish man rapping. Somehow gave it three stars. don't trust that rating.


The Raven - 2003

The Raven was Lou Reeds tribute to Edgar Allen Poe. I remember being excited to buy a brand new Lou Reed studio album when this came out, and then being severely disappointed when I heard it. Lou Reed was always an "artsy" guy in a certain sense, but in this case, artsy meant boring songs (with totally weird guest vocalists) mixed in with people the likes of Steve Buscemi reciting Poe Poems. Basically Reed was trying too hard to be cultured and artsy, and it's a failure in my opinion. gives it three and a half stars. Don't trust that rating either.


Lulu - 2011

Lou Reed's strange collaboration with Metallica. Sounds cool / interesting right? It's not. Basically what it is, is Metallica playing subdued Metallica riffs with a crazy old man ranting nonsense over the top of it. Don't believe me? Listen to the link below. Honestly, It's possible that this album doesn't deserve a rank this low. I've only listened to it once. But that should say something about it. Again, gave it three stars. Maybe it deserves that meek rating, maybe it doesn't. "I AM THE TABLE!" ....fuck that.


Hudson River Wind Meditations - 2007

It's weird meditation music (like Paul McCartney's "Zen"). Not music that you want to listen to in most circumstances. But I'll give it a higher rank since it's not meant for regular listening. I dunno, I don't meditate. Maybe it's awesome for meditating. Don't worry, the list get's positive in just a few entries.


Metal Machine Music - 1975

Musically, this album should be at the very bottom. Its' not music. It's noise. But the reason for this albums existence is so spectacular that I can't put it below the previously mentioned ones. There’re a few theories regarding why Reed made this monstrosity.  One is that back in the 70s' Lou Reed hated his fans. His previous band the Velvet Underground expanded the soundscape and literary boundaries or rock while still intermixing sweet love songs and pop music. Now, his fans wanted to watch him get wasted and embark on a drugged out death trip. After his commercial offering of "Sally Can't dance", this is what he did to them. ....for an entire album. HAHAHA! Also, he was (admittedly) really high when he made it, so that could have something to do with it as well.  Another is that it was a big middle finger of a contract filler to his current record company.  The last is that he was serious about it, but (as I said earlier) was just really really stoned.  It’s most likely a bit of all three.  In the liner notes he wrote “Anyone that makes it to side four is dumber than I am”.  So obviously he didn’t put it out thinking that ANYONE was going to like it.  Don’t record companies listen to, and have some say in the albums released on their label?  It’s actually kind of amazing that this was even released.


Growing Up In Public  -  1980

The album that broke Lou Reed into the 80’s.  A year earlier he’d released an album (The Bells) that was considered an artistic comeback or sorts (Coney Island Baby and Street Hassle weren‘t artistic?).  And then came Growing Up in Public.  The Bells seemed ultra-serious, where as Growing Up in Public seemed scattered and …. Well, I actually don’t remember it that well.  I remember the title track being fun, but that’s about it.  Anyways, this was Lou Reed’s first album since he quit drinking like a fish and pumping drugs into his arms.  And of course, as is almost always the case, you wish that he’d just get wasted and make an album…. Cause it pretty much sucks.


Songs For Drella - 1990

Lou Reed reunited with John Cale for this minimalistic artsy-fartsy tribute to Andy Warhol. boring. gives it an almost perfect rating (four and a half stars). maybe I'm a simpleton. I give it two and a half. Three at best.


Legendary Hearts - 1983

FUCK! I forgot about Legendary Hearts. I don't like Legendary Hearts all that much. It was considered Lou Reeds "artistic-comeback part II (being compared to The Blue Mask… apparently Lou Reed had a lot of artistic comebacks)". Meh, you’re not missing anything by skipping it. I enjoyed his drugged out stuff from the 70's a lot more. "The Last Shot" is good though.


Lou Reed  -  1972

Lou Reed’s first solo album.  As exciting as that sounds, it’s about as mediocre as it gets.  Most of the songs are remakes of VU tunes that were never released (the VU versions ended up being released in the 80’s on two “lost tracks” albums, and their lack of polish only helped them).  There’s a few new worthwhile tunes here and Lou still sounds young and fresh (his lifestyle didn’t allow that to be for long).  Goin’ Down is a nice song.  Berlin is good, but was done better on his 3rd album (of the same name).  Wild Child is Reed on Dylan, which is pretty cool.


New Sensations - 1984

New Sensations was Lou Reed being happy go lucky (an interesting turn from his pissed off 70's era). It gets bogged down by a lot of the typical 80's problems, but there's enough feel good upbeat songs here to make it worthwhile. The opening track "I Love You Suzanne" is catchy as hell, and a few of the other songs let go of the turmoil that was Lou Reed's life and let him have a good ol' time with the album.  About half of it translates.


Magic and Loss - 1992

Finally things start to get interesting. I don't love Magic and Loss, but there are some solid tunes on here, and the concept is interesting. The entire album is Reed's medetation on dealing with two friends dying of cancer. with that in mind, it's not nearly as depressing as you'd think it'd be. Even a few of the album's lesser tracks have some interesting concepts about them lyrically. This is a fun track from his "my friends are dying of cancer" album! (What's good? Not much at all...)


The Blue Mask - 1982

 Lou Reed's "Artistic Comeback"! It's a solid album with interesting song writing and good guitar work. It's tones range from the blistering title track, to the haunting "The Gun", to the rocking yet introspective "Underneath the Bottle". "Heavenly Arms" is probably one of the most romantic things this old crumudgen ever put to paper. There's some filler, but it dodges the typical 80's pitfalls, so that's good.


Rock and Roll Heart - 1976

Considered by to be Lou Reed Lite (compared to his earlier 70's work), Reed was getting away from his typical 70's themes but still had his 70's instrumental flourishes. There's plenty of saxophone and keyboards on the album, but they don't tend to be cheesy. Rock and Roll Heart is underrated. Musically there's a late-night feel abound, and lots of clever wordplay to match (both claims exemplified certainly in the tounge-in-cheek "A Sheltered LIfe"). And then the album throws a bone to Reed's past by ending on the minimalistic and dark "Temporary Thing".  Part of the reason this gets a higher rank than Blue Mask is because on Blue Mask Reed is trying to write deep and meaningful poetry.  Again, that’s all well and good.  On Rock n’ Roll Heart however, he just sounds like a cool guy.  And let’s face it, that’s a big part to Lou Reed.  He’s supposed to be an ultra hip New Yorker.  And this album portrays that.  Yeah!  That’s right bitches!  I put Rock and Roll Heart over The Blue Mask!  C’mon n’ say something’ bout it!  P.S.  …he’s never taken dope and he’s never taken drugs……… (Uh Huh…. Sure Lou).


Set the Twilight Reeling - 1996

Here's the thing about STTR. It's a fun and pleasant listen. There's really not a bad song in the bunch. In fact, there's a bunch of good songs in the bunch. With that being said, unfortunately people expect something out of Lou Reed (if they studied the VU albums, they wouldn't) and what that is, is they expect him to shock them. There's nothing really shocking here (except for one particular track which isn't so much shocking as it is purposefully profane). It kicks off strong with Reed's memories of hanging out at soda fountains, and moves to a beautiful and poetic tune about NYC (with a lovely horn backing). The rest of the album deals with mature emotions and concepts of adult relationships, and its' all very nice.  Old man Reed’s last album of the 90‘s. There’s a couple of duds, but for the most part this is catchy and mature songwriting.  That being said, is "very nice" what you want from a Lou Reed Album? Hmmmm.....  Should you expect something else from a man nearing his 60’s?


Sally Can't Dance - 1974

Alright, here we go.... Sally can't Dance, according to, was pandered to the "lowest common denominator". Know what? That is absolutely true. Know what else? It's super fun to listen to. Most of us AREN'T the lowest common denominator, so this album acts as a nice little dangerous glimpse into that kind of lifestyle. There's funky horns blaring all around, and all sorts of stories that we'll never live. And despite the fact that Lou didn't really put any of the ensembles together himself (he basically showed up and wrote the lyrics… he was more than a bit strung out at the time, in fact, he even stated once that he barely remembers the sessions for this album) the tunes are catchy. This album is considered among critics to be one of Reed's worst. I strongly disagree.  They pan him on this one because he wasn’t “artistic”.  I say, artistic is great, but so is fun. And despite all the awkward rhymes, you can't deny the touching song "Billy", a tune about a lost friendship due to war. Yes, the rhymes are awful, but the combination of acoustic guitar (by Reed) and saxophone is timeless.


Ecstasy  -  2000

Reed’s first album of the 2000’s was an impressive… and long one (1:17:15).  Yes, this one is ARTISTIC! (unlike #8).  It kicks off on a stones-style rocker to boot!  Ecstasy explores a variety of topics, from city life to mature relationships (again), jealousy, lust, regret, lost love,and how sometimes he feels like a possum (this is 18 minutes of the album, B.T.W.)!  It’s a great mix of songs, with a few up beat rockers like Paranoia Key of E and Mystic Child, a lot of mid tempo introspective songs like the shattering Tatters, as well as Turning Time Around and Baton Rouge, as well as eerie and ominous tracks like Rock Minuet and the title track.  Yes, there’s some skippable tracks (Future Farmers of America…. Ish.  And if you can’t take 18 minutes of filth and feeling like a possum, that one too), but even if you skip a number of tracks, there’s still plenty of worthwhile stuff here.


The Bells  -  1979

In all honesty, I probably listen to #7 more often than I do The Bells.  But this albums was very different than anything that Reed had released up to the time, and a good way to send off the 70’s.  (though it’s almost not fair since this album has 9 songs while Ecstasy has 14).  He hired jazz artist Don Cherry to fill in on most of the tracks, and it was the beginning of him writing songs about a life that is at least somewhat relateable to the masses (I.E.  not about taking drugs and messing around with transvestites). 


Transformer  -  1972

Transformer made Lou Reed a hot commodity, mainly due to the fascinating lyrics and undeniable bass hook of “Walk on the Wild Side” (p.s. that song should’ve never made it on the radio!  It’s all about drug dealers and transvestites, and somehow a lyric about “givin’ head” slipped past the censors!).   Aside from Walk on the Wild Side, there’re bunch of tunes on here that you should have on your ipod.  Hangin’ Round, Wagon Wheel, and I’m so Free should be glam rock staples, and Satellite of Love and Perfect Day are lovely ballads.  Goodnight Ladies plods along with humorous lyrics backed by a trumpet and bass, and closes the album like a  loser stumbling out of the bar at 2:00 a.m.  Of course I’ll link Walk on the Wild here…..


Berlin  -  1973

Berlin….. Lou Reed’s moody concept masterpiece.  This was my favorite album ever back when I was a college boy.  It spins a rough, unhappy, and at times shocking tale of two doomed lovers, and it uses about every instrument known to mankind.  There is virtually nothing happy about Berlin (the one feel-good moment I can think of, the ending of Caroline Says, which is admittedly very beautiful, is crushed within a minute of the next track).  To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a list of subjects that this album covers:  unfaithfulness, drug abuse (a shocker, I know), spousal abuse, kids being taken away, and last but not least, suicide.  Not exactly a finger-snappin’ toe-tappin’ listen, but it’s very effective.  By the time track 10 rolls around, you feel a sense of relief that it’s all over.  There’s no other album that I know of that’s had that effect on me.  Apparently though, Reed and producer Bob Ezrin just didn’t feel this album was quite dark enough.  So to remedy that, Ezrin set up a tape recorder in his home and told his kids that their mom was dead and taped their cries (or at least that’s the rumor) and then played the recording in the middle of the song “The Kids“.   ……Jesus Christ…………………………….  Maybe Reeds, most emotionally effective album, but if you’re not in the mood for completely horribly depressing songs, then this isn’t the one to listen to.


New York  -  1989

Lou Reed’s artistic comeback!  (the man has had more comebacks than a boomerang).  The instrumentation is catchy, the wordplay is some of Reed’s best, and there’s a concept that ties everything together (the goings-on in Reagan-Era New York).  Every song is a winner, and there’s something here for you regardless of what kind of mood you’re in.  Reed often times is pissed off, and then later free-wheeling.  Cryptic, and then funny.  Poetic, and yet very much down to earth.  …and it’s all rockin’ baby!  It’s a smooth mix of poetic, and straight up goddamn coooool.  Lou practically talks his way through the album, but it’s fine because the lyrics are smart, his messages and feelings on his subjects are crystal clear, and the guitars are great.  So basically what I’m saying is, that hack that you voted for on American Idol can suck it, cause though he / she can sing pretty, they don’t have an original idea in their head, and cause Lou can convey an emotion without getting melodramatic about it.  So there.  “Stick a fork in their ass and turn ‘em over, …they’re done”  -  L. Reed.


Street Hassle

This album is tough as nails.  It starts out with Reed talking to himself while imitating a black dude and basically mocking himself (he calls himself a “fuckin’ faggot junkie” within 15 seconds of pressing play).  Yikes!  The overall sound is murky, which some critics apparently thought was bad.  In my opinion it’s fitting with the tone of the album.  You could not have had Street Hassle and had it be nice and shiny.  It would’ve been stupid.  Most people agree this album is Reed looking inward and being disgusted with himself.  Track 2 is called Dirt, and he seems to be singing autobiographically about himself….. And calling himself dirt (cheap uptown dirt to be exact).  Track 3 is an 11 minute track cut into 3 parts, describing a tragedy, how the low-lives cover it, and possibly redemption (?).  Not one for the kids…. Lots’ of bad words and adult situations.  The following track is racial stereotype comedy that you probably couldn’t get away with in this day and age.  And Leave Me Alone is a tough sax backed rocker about, you guessed it, how he wants the low-lives and leaches to leave him alone.  And then in typical Reed fashion it ends in a throw-away track called Wait!  As if he were taking back everything he’d just told us.  This album could possibly be #1 depending on how I’m feeling on that particular day, but track 1, aside from the intro, isn’t that good and the VU remake of Real Good Time Together was WAY better in it’s original form.  That being said, if you feel like getting down and dirty, Street Hassle is the album for you.  This is a good example of what you’re in store for.  Even the album cover is bad ass!


Coney Island Baby  -  1976

It’s hard for me to pick a definite number 1 Lou Reed album.  Mostly it depends on the kind of mood I’m in.  That being said, choosing Coney Island Baby for the top spot was a tough decision.  There’s not a bad song on the album.  It’s probably Reeds most accessible and consistent album.  The melodies are mostly catchy pop songs (it‘s kind of the solo career equal of the VU‘s Loaded).  Lou still sings the vocals, (albeit in his cool stoney drawl) and sounds healthy.  Charlie’s Girl is a toe-tapper that you can’t help but sing along to, and Crazy Feeling seems like Lou’s take on a Buddy Holly song.  The most lovely track on the album, the beautifully romantic doo-wop inspired title track was absolutely hated by his record company (one executive called it the worst thing he’d ever heard).

And that’s all part of it.  The album is great accessible cool rock music, and the story of it’s creation adds to it’s success.  Reed was at the height of his drug abuse when this came out, yet he managed to string together enough healthy days to give it a good clean sound.  In the biography “Transformer” it was noted that during this time, Reed and his gang,  (who regularly slept on the floor at his apartment in NY) would boil pills and inject the byproduct to get high.  When they’d come down, they’d reboil the pills, and inject to get high, but would also get kind of sick.  Then when they came down again, they’d re-re-boil the bills, inject the byproduct,  …..and just get sick.  At one point Reed’s producer found him during the sessions collapsed in the bathroom crying. 

If you get the special edition version of C.I.B. this becomes very apparent via the demo tracks that are included.  Reed’s voice sounds hoarse and sick.  The 34 year old Reed sounded like he was a 50 year old throat cancer patient.  But alas, he was able to overcome his turbulent life, defy the record executives, and release (in my opinion… sometimes) his finest album.  The extended tracks on the special edition also offer you one of Reed’s most fiery rockers (that is available nowhere else) Nowhere At All, the dark and seedy roots of a song that would appear on his next album Downtown Dirt (renamed simply Dirt), and a rough, off the collar take of the title track. 

To summarize:  Coney Island Baby takes the top spot for it’s catchy freewheeling uptempo melodies, accessibility, and backstory.  ….And if you don’t like this (below), then there’s just something wrong with you.  Seek help.

…and don’t forget, this is the song that the record company wanted to keep off the album……

So that’s it!  Do you disagree with me on one or more of the rankings?!?  Too bad.  I know more about this dead son of a bitch than you do, so what I say goes…..