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Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed[1] (born March 2, 1942 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American rock singer-songwriter and guitarist.

Reed first found prominence as the guitarist and principal singer-songwriter of The Velvet Underground (1965 - 1973). The band gained relatively little notice during its life, but is considered by some to be the seed from which much alternative rock music sprang.[2] As the Velvets’ principal songwriter, Reed wrote about subjects such as S&M ("Venus in Furs"), transvestites ("Sister Ray"), and transsexuals undergoing lobotomies ("Lady Godiva's Operation"). As a guitarist, he made use of distortion, volume-driven feedback, and nonstandard tunings.

Reed began a long and eclectic solo career in 1971. He had a hit the following year with "Walk on the Wild Side", though for more than a decade he seemed to willfully evade mainstream commercial success.[3] One of rock's most volatile personalities, Reed's work as a solo artist has frustrated critics wishing for a return of the Velvet Underground. The most notable example is 1975's infamous double LP of recorded feedback loops, Metal Machine Music, upon which Reed later commented, "no one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that and survive." By the late 1980s, however, Reed had won wide recognition as an elder statesman of rock.

Early life

Reed was born into a Jewish family (originally Rabinowitz) in Brooklyn, and grew up in Freeport, New York. He developed an early interest in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and during high school played in a number of bands. His first recording was as a member of a doo wop-style group called The Shades.

Reed may have received shock treatment at an early age, as evidenced here and in his dark 1974 song, "Kill Your Sons".

They put the thing down your throat so you don't swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That's what was recommended in Rockland County to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable. You can't read a book because you get to page seventeen and have to go right back to page one again.[4]

Reed attended Syracuse University and graduated with a degree in English. Delmore Schwartz, then in the last years of his life, taught at Syracuse and befriended Reed. He would later record a song, "My House", as a tribute to his late mentor: "My Dedalus to your Bloom was such a perfect wit." Schwartz's influence on the aspiring writer seems to have been through encouragement, but Reed also credits him for insisting on use of colloquial language in his writing. He said later his goals as a writer were "to bring the sensitivities of the novel to rock music," or, to write the Great American Novel in a record album.[5] While at Syracuse, Reed also developed a taste for free jazz and experimental music.

In 1963, Reed moved to New York City, and began working as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records. In 1964 he scored a minor hit with "The Ostrich", a parody of then-popular dances. His employers had felt the song had hit record potential, and arranged for a band to be assembled around Reed to promote the recording. The ad hoc group, called The Primitives, included John Cale, who had recently come to the city to study music and was playing with the composer La Monte Young. Cale was surprised to find that for the novelty song, Reed tuned each string of his guitar to the same note. This technique created a drone effect similar to that which Cale's avant garde ensemble had been experimenting with. When Cale heard the rest of Reed's early repertoire, which included "Heroin", he sought to join Reed as a collaborator.


The Velvet Underground

Main article: The Velvet Underground

Reed and Cale rented an apartment on the Lower East Side and, adding Reed's college acquaintance Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker to the group, formed The Velvet Underground (The band's original drummer, Angus MacLise, left before their first gig on December 11, 1965 at Summit High School, NJ, due to his view that the band shouldn't get paid for their art, as this was their first paying gig). Though internally unstable (Cale left in 1968; Reed in 1970) and never commercially viable, the band has a long-standing reputation as one of the most influential underground bands in rock history.[6]

The group caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who raised their profile immeasurably, if not their immediate fortunes. Reed fell into a thriving, multifaceted artistic scene, and rarely gives an interview today without paying homage to Warhol as a mentor figure. Still, conflict emerged when Warhol had the idea for the group to take on a "chanteuse," the European former model Nico. Reed and the others registered their objection by titling their debut album The Velvet Underground and Nico. Despite his resistance, Reed wrote several songs for Nico to sing, and the two were briefly lovers. At the time, this album reached #131 on the charts. Today, however, it is considered one of the most influential albums, providing foundations for both punk rock and indie rock. Rolling Stone Magazine has it listed as the 13th best rock album of all time.

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By the time the band recorded White Light/White Heat, Nico had been dropped and Warhol fired. Warhol's replacement as manager, Steve Sesnick, convinced Reed to drive Cale out of the band. Morrison and Tucker were discomfited by Reed's tactics but continued with the group. Cale's replacement was Doug Yule, whom Reed would often facetiously introduce as his younger brother. The group now took on a more pop-oriented sound, and acted more as a vehicle for Reed to develop his songwriting craft. The group released two more albums with this line up: 1969's The Velvet Underground and 1970's Loaded. The latter included two of the group's most popular songs, "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane".

Reed left the Velvet Underground in 1970, but the group continued for another three years without him and released one more studio album: 1973's Squeeze .

After the band's move to Atlantic Records, their new manager pushed Reed to change the subject matter of his songs to more lighter topics in hopes of resulting in more accessible and mainstream music. The band's album Loaded had taken more time to record than the previous three albums together, and was written and produced to be "loaded with hits," but had not broken the band through to a wider audience. Reed briefly retired to his parents' home on Long Island.

Solo career


After quitting the Velvet Underground in August 1970, Reed took a job at his father's tax accounting firm as a typist, by his own account earning a $40 a week. A year later, however, he signed a recording contract with RCA and recorded his first solo album in England, with musicians on loan from Yes and Elton John, such as Rick Wakeman. The album, simply titled Lou Reed, contained smoothly produced, re-recorded versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, some which were originally recorded by the Velvets for Loaded but shelved (see the Peel Slowly and See box set). This first solo album was overlooked by music critics and did not sell any significant units. In 1972, now a solo artist, Reed released Transformer, which attached him to the glam rock movement. David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced the album and introduced Reed to a wider popular audience. The hit single "Walk on the Wild Side" was both a salute and swipe at the misfits, hustlers, and transvestites in Andy Warhol's Factory. The song's hiply transgressive lyrics evaded radio censorship. Though musically somewhat atypical for Reed, it eventually became his signature song. The song came about as a result of his commission to compose a soundtrack to a theatrical adaptation of Nelson Algren's novel of the same name, though the play failed to materialize. Ronson's arrangements brought out new aspects of Reed's songs; "Perfect Day", for example, features delicate strings and soaring dynamics. It was rediscovered in the 1990s and allowed Reed to drop "Walk on the Wild Side" from his concerts. Though Transformer would prove to be Reed's commercial and critical pinnacle, there was no small amount of resentment in Reed devoted to the shadow the record cast over the rest of his career, and an offer by David Bowie to collaborate on another pop-minded record sent Reed into a rage. Bowie received a black eye for his troubles, and the two would not formally collaborate again until 2003's The Raven.

Reed followed Transformer with the darker Berlin, which tells the story of two junkies in love in the city of the same name. The songs variously concern domestic abuse ("Caroline Says I", "Caroline Says II"), drug addiction ("How Do You Think It Feels"), adultery and prostitution ("The Kids"), and suicide ("The Bed").

In this period, Reed cultivated a shocking persona and image. He preferred black leather clothes and spiked collars, and he cropped his hair, cutting fascist symbols in it and dyeing it blonde. For many years Reed maintained a deliberately "camp" manner and image. It was this version of Reed that greeted the public on the cover of Rock n Roll Animal, a successful live album that consolidated the commercial gains he had made with "Walk on the Wild Side."

Also at this time, Reed publicized his hostile interpersonal style — already known to his former bandmates — with his intense interviews with rock journalists, in particular Lester Bangs. Reed rapidly became known as one of the most difficult rock personalities, a reputation he has maintained even drug-free. His "sick" persona was not entirely put on: heavy drug use plagued the recording of the album Sally Can't Dance, an R&B-styled collection that hit the U.S. Top Ten, the highest chart performance of Reed's career. Reed's 1960s work held him up as an authentic member of the new "freak scene" in mainstream rock, alongside other protopunk figures as Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper.

As he had done then with Berlin after Transformer, in 1975 Reed responded to his glam rock success with a commercial failure, a double album of electronically generated audio feedback, Metal Machine Music. Critics interpreted it as a gesture of contempt, an attempt to break his contract with RCA or to alienate his less sophisticated fans. But Reed claimed that the album was a genuine artistic effort, even suggesting that quotations of classical music could be found buried in the feedback. Bangs declared it "genius", though also as psychologically disturbing. The album was reportedly returned to stores by the thousands after a few weeks. {Lou Reed in interview with Anthony DeCurtis at 92Y, New York on Sept 18, 2006} Though later admitting that the liner notes' list of instruments is fictitious and intended as parody, Reed maintains that MMM was and is a serious album. In the 2000s it was adapted for orchestral performance by the German ensemble Zeitkratzer.

By contrast, 1976's Coney Island Baby was mainly a warm and mellow album, though for its characters Reed still drew on the underworld of city life. At this time his lover was a transvestite, Rachel, mentioned in the dedication of "Coney Island Baby" and appearing in the photos on the cover of Reed's 1977 "best of" album, Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. While Rock and Roll Heart, his 1976 debut for his new record label Arista, fell short of expectations, Street Hassle (1978) was a return to form in the midst of the punk revolution he had helped to inspire. The Bells (1979) featured jazz great Don Cherry, followed by Growing Up in Public the following year. Around this period he also appeared as a sleazy record producer in Paul Simon's film One Trick Pony.


In 1980 Reed married Sylvia Morales, though they divorced more than a decade later. While together, Morales inspired some of Reed's strongest love songs, particularly on 1982's The Blue Mask. After Legendary Hearts (1983) and New Sensations (1984) fared adequately on the charts, Reed was sufficiently rehabilitated as a public figure to become spokesman for Honda scooters. In 1986 he joined the Amnesty International A Conspiracy of Hope Tour, he was outspoken on his New York's political issues and personalities on the 1989 album New York, commenting on crime, AIDS, Jesse Jackson, Kurt Waldheim, and even Pope John Paul II.

Reed also took movie roles that echoed aspects of his personality — or at least his reputation. He played "metaphysical folk singer" Auden (a satire of Bob Dylan) in the 1983 Allan Arkush film Get Crazy, for which he wrote and performed the song "Little Sister." Reed also provided the singing voice for the character Mok in the 1983 film Rock & Rule, and wrote the songs "My Name Is Mok" and "Triumph" for the film's soundtrack.

Following Warhol's death during routine surgery in 1987, Reed again collaborated with John Cale on 1990's Songs for Drella (Drella - Warhol's nickname - is a portmanteau from the words "Dracula" and "Cinderella"). The album marked an end to a 22-year estrangement. The album took the shape of a Warhol biography; on the album, Reed sings of his love for his late friend, but also criticizes both the doctors who were unable to save Warhol's life and Warhol's would-be assassin, Valerie Solanas.

1990s to present

In 1990, following a 20-year hiatus, the Velvet Underground reformed for a Cartier benefit in France. In 1993, the band again reunited and toured throughout Europe, though plans for a North American tour were cancelled following another falling out between Reed and Cale. Cale has since been quoted as saying that he could not understand how Reed could write such "tender and heartfelt" songs, and yet "could be the complete opposite as a human being."[citation needed]

In 1996, the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the induction ceremony, Reed performed a song entitled "Last Night I Said Goodbye to My Friend" alongside former bandmates John Cale and Maureen Tucker, in dedication to VU guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had died the previous August. Reed has since been nominated for the Rock Hall as a solo artist twice, in 2000 and 2001, but has not been inducted.[7]

Reed continued on those dark notes with Magic and Loss, an album about mortality, inspired by the death of two close friends from cancer. In 1997, over 30 artists covered "Perfect Day" for the BBC's "Children in Need" appeal. 1996's Set the Twilight Reeling received a lukewarm reception, but 2000's Ecstasy drew praise from most critics, including Robert Christgau.

Since the late 1990s, the musician, multi-media and performance artist Laurie Anderson has been romantically linked with Reed, and the two have collaborated on a number of recordings together. Anderson contributed to "Call On Me" from Reed's project, The Raven, and on the tracks "Rouge" and "Rock Minuet" from Reed's Ecstasy, and "Hang On To Your Emotions" from Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling; Reed contributed to "In Our Sleep" from Anderson's Bright Red and on "One Beautiful Evening" from Anderson's Life on a String.

In 2001, Reed made a cameo appearance in the movie adaptation of Prozac Nation.

In 2003, he released a 2-CD set, The Raven, based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In 2004, a Groovefinder remix of his song, "Satellite of Love" (called "Satellite of Love '04") was released. It reached #10 in the UK singles chart.

Incorrect reports of Reed's death were broadcast by numerous US radio stations in 2001, caused by a hoax email (purporting to be from Reuters) which said he had died of an overdose.

After Hours: a Tribute to the Music of Lou Reed was released by Wampus Multimedia in 2003.

At the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, Reed performed "White Light/White Heat" with The Raconteurs. Later in the night, while co-presenting the award for Best Rock Video with Pink, he exclaimed, apparently unscripted, that "MTV should be playing more rock n' roll".

A new album was expected for 2007, after Reed had signed a new record deal with Sanctuary Records. However, in a 2006 interview given during a tour of Spain,[8] Reed said that he plans to independently release one or more albums of meditation music. During the summer of 2007, Lou Reed will also be performing Berlin in its entirety live in Europe. The tour will take him and the 30+ live-band, the string and horn section, and the children's choir to venues in Italy,Belgium, England, and of course to Germany where he will perform in the capitol Berlin.


  • Since the 1980s Reed has been an avid martial artist, and most recently he has become a student of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan; even having his teacher Ren Guang Yi perform tai chi forms onstage during his concerts.
  • Reed was portrayed by Brian Bell of Weezer and The Relationship in the 2006 film Factory Girl starring Sienna Miller and Guy Pearce


With The Velvet Underground

For full discography, please see the Velvet Underground article.

  • The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967)
  • White Light/White Heat (1968)
  • The Velvet Underground (1969)
  • Loaded (1970)
  • Live at Max's Kansas City (1972, recorded 1970)
  • 1969: The Velvet Underground Live (1974, recorded 1969)
  • VU (1985, recorded 1968-1969)
  • Another View (1986, recorded 1967-1969)
  • Live MCMXCIII (1993)
  • Peel Slowly and See (1995 box set, recorded 1965-1970)
  • Fully Loaded (1997, double disc set, recorded 1969-1970, remastered version of album Loaded released in 1970)
  • Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes (2001, recorded live 1969)
  • The Very Best of the Velvet Underground (2003, recorded 1966-1970)
  • Gold (2005, recorded 1966-1970)


Studio albums

  • Lou Reed (1972)
  • Transformer (1972)
  • Berlin (1973)
  • Sally Can't Dance (1974)
  • Metal Machine Music (1975)
  • Coney Island Baby (1976)
  • Rock and Roll Heart (1976)
  • Street Hassle (1978)
  • The Bells (1979)
  • Growing Up in Public (1980)
  • The Blue Mask (1982)
  • Legendary Hearts (1983)
  • New Sensations (1984)
  • Mistrial (1986)
  • New York (1989)
  • Magic and Loss (1992)
  • Set the Twilight Reeling (1996)
  • Ecstasy (2000)
  • The Raven (2003)
  • Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007)

Live albums

  • Rock n Roll Animal (1974)
  • Lou Reed Live (1975)
  • Live: Take No Prisoners (1978)
  • Live in Italy (1984)
  • Beauty And Rust (Live in Leysin) (1992)
  • Live in Concert (A re-issue of the album Live in Italy ) (1996)
  • Perfect Night: Live in London (1998)
  • American Poet (2001)
  • Animal Serenade (2004)


  • Songs for Drella with John Cale (1990)
  • Le Bataclan '72 with John Cale & Nico (2004)


  • Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams (1993)
  • The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, Bob Dylan (1993)
  • U2 Zoo TV Live From Sydney (1993)
  • Bright Red, Laurie Anderson (1994)
  • Till The Night Is Gone: A Tribute To Doc Pomus (1995)
  • September Songs (The Music Of Kurt Weill) (1997)
  • Lost Highway Original Soundtrack (1997)
  • Closure (Nine Inch Nails tour documentary) (1997) (Uncredited)
  • Rockin' on Broadway (The Time/Brent/Shad Story) (2000, includes first recordings with The Jades (1958) and solo (1962))
  • I Am a Bird Now, Antony and the Johnsons (2005)
  • Black Building, Kashmir (2005)
  • 2006 MTV Video Music Awards (2006)
  • Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys (2006)

Best-of and previously unreleased tracks compilation

  • Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed (1977)
  • Rock and Roll Diary: 1967-1980 (1980)
  • City Lights (1985)
  • Walk on the Wild Side & Other Hits (1992)
  • Between Thought and Expression: The Lou Reed Anthology [BOX SET] (1992)
  • Different Times: Lou Reed in the '70s (1996)
  • Retro (1998)
  • A Retrospective (1998)
  • The Definitive Collection (1999)
  • Perfect Day (1999)
  • Very Best of Lou Reed (2000)
  • Legendary Lou Reed (2002)
  • NYC Man (The Ultimate Collection 1967-2003) (2003)


  1. Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side: The Stories Behind the Songs, Chris Roberts & Lou Reed, 2004, Hal Leonard, ISBN 0634080326
  2. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2000). The Velvet Underground. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  3. Richie Unterberger & Greg Prato (2005). Lou Reed Biography. Retrieved on 2006-09-15.
  4. Please Kill Me: The Uncensord Oral History of Punk (1996)
  5. Interview in Rolling Stone Magazine Nov/Dec 1987: Twentieth Anniversary Issue
  6. Black, Johnny. Time Machine: Velvet Underground (1997), Mojo Magazine

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