Childhood & Early Life
Lou Reed was born as Lewis Allan Reed, to Toby and Sidney Joseph Reed in New York. He is of Jewish descent and spent most of his childhood in Long Island, and became fond of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and blues music from a young age.
He joined Syracuse University in 1960, where he studied creative writing, film direction and journalism. After he graduated, he moved to New York City and worked for a brief period as a songwriter for Pickwick Records.
In 1964, he came up with a parody single, titled, ‘The Ostrich’. He composed and sang the song along with future ‘Velvet Underground’ mate, John Cale. The song caught on as a popular number with the masses and his talent as a songwriter and a singer, captured the attention of critics.
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He lived with John Cale and soon, they began inviting college friends over to collaborate on a couple of pieces that they had worked on. Thus, the group began increasing in number with the addition of Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison and they named their group, ‘The Velvet Underground’, in 1964.
Andy Warhol, a leading artist and illustrator of the pop arts movement, was smitten by the kind of work the group was presenting and eventually became their mentor. He accompanied them to parties and introduced them to the New York music and art scene, where the group’s popularity started growing in numbers.
Since Warhol claimed part ownership of the band, he suggested the inclusion of another member, Nico, a European musician, in their debut music album.
After some resistance from the ‘Velvet Underground’ and Reed himself, the group agreed to include Nico as a part of the band and changed its name to ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’. The group received its first commercial success in the late 60s. Songs like ‘Heroin’, written by Reed, became extremely popular.
The clashes between the members of the group led to both, Nico and Warhol, quitting from the group. Cale and Reed were also at loggerheads, which eventually drove Cale from the group after the release of two albums.
In August 1970, Reed himself quit the band and went back to Long Island to live with his parents.
Before signing a solo record deal with RCA Records, he worked for a brief period of time in his father’s tax accounting firm. His debut solo album, entitled, ‘Lou Reed’, contained a couple of unreleased songs from the days of ‘The Velvet Underground’, which failed to earn much critical or commercial success.
In 1972, he released his most successful solo album yet, ‘Transformer’, which comprised of the hit singles, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ and ‘Perfect Day’. Following the rave success of the album, he went on to experiment with a couple of more albums, differing in style and character with each other.
Through 1973, he toured with another band he hired, called the ‘Tots’, promoting this band and recording with different musicians.
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In 1973, he tasted success yet again with his next solo album, ‘Berlin’, which was a concept album.
The success followed with the release of two more albums through 1974 titled, ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal’, both of which were popular in their own right.
He released ‘Metal Machine Music’ in 1975, which was criticized for being just ‘noise’, with unusually structured compositions and lack of rhythm. He followed this disaster with a mellow, mediocre-success album, ‘Coney Island Baby’, which drew on Reed’s personal experiences in the city and with those close to him.
Several other albums followed through the 70s including ‘Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed’, ‘Rock and Roll Heart’, ‘Street Hassle and ‘The Bells’.
In 1980, his marriage with Sylvia Morales inspired a plethora of songs in many of his albums such as ‘Think it Over’ and ‘Heavenly Arms’.
In 1985 and 1986, he performed for a Farm Aid Concert in Illinois and also joined the ‘A Conspiracy of Hope Tour’ by Amnesty International.
In 1987, he joined hands with John Cale once again for a concept album, ‘Songs for Drella’ in remembrance of his late friend, Andy Warhol.
He released his sixteenth solo album, ‘Magic and Loss’ in 1992, which was dedicated to a close friend who died from cancer. Around this time, ‘The Velvet Underground’ got together for a brief period, but Cale and Reed fell out again, which marked the end of the band’s career.
Through the 90s and the new millennium he released a couple of more albums including, ‘Set the Twilight Reeling’, ‘The Raven’ and ‘NYC Man’.
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He also made a brief appearance in the movie adaption of ‘Prozac Nation’ in 2001.
In 2007, he recorded a duet with Brandon Flowers, ‘Tranquilize’ for the album, ‘Sawdust’.
In 2009, he became a member of the Jazz Foundation of America and the following year, he lent his vocals for a ‘Gorillaz’ album, ‘Plastic Beach’. He continued to tour with the Metal Machine band and got back to writing songs for the heavy metal genre.
In 2012, he lent his vocals for ‘The Wanderlust’ in the album ‘Synthetica’.
‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ is the debut album recorded by Lou Reed and his group on March 12, 1967. The album became a critical and commercial hit much later due to its underlying themes of masochism, sex, prostitution and drugs. It has been inducted into the Rolling Stone’s list of ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ and is also added in the ‘National Recording Registry’.
‘Transformer’ is Reed’s second solo album, released in November 1972. The single, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ became a widespread commercial success and became one of his signature songs. The album was placed at number 29 on the Billboard 200 and number 13 on the UK Albums Chart.
‘Berlin’, released in 1973 is another one of his major successes and was ranked 344 in the Rolling Stone’s list of ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’. It was also included in the top 10 UK Albums Chart and one of the singles, ‘Caroline Says II’ has the most number of cover versions by numerous musicians since its release.