Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top Five -- Lou Reed Songs

I love lists and always enjoy doing the wrestling top five at 411mania when I can, so why not bring that here? Whenever I get in the mood, I'll do a top five list of some kind. No honourable mentions, just the top five. Since I've been in a Lou Reed mood lately, I'll do my top five favourite Lou Reed songs. This includes his stuff with the Velvet Underground, obviously. I'm including links to youtube videos featuring the songs as well so you can hear them in some form or another -- if there's the original (audio with a static picture), I'll use that.

5. "Coney Island Baby" (Coney Island Baby): I love the guitar work in this song, but also the odd shift where it goes from Lou Reed talking about wanting to play football in high school to ideas of love... I've never really figured this song out, but it's just a beautiful song. It builds well from the slow, quiet beginning. There's a lot of passion in it. The guitar playing is by Bob Kulick, I believe, and is really different from standard Lou Reed songs. Very intricate work. I can just listen to this song over and over.

4. "New Age" (Loaded): While I've heard demos or live versions of most of these other songs that have variations, "New Age" is the only one with two radically different sets of lyrics. They both share a chorus (albeit with some slightly altered lines), but the verses are very different. The studio version involves the "fat, blonde actress" and wanting her autograph. It's a song about finding a new life as you reach a certain age -- hitting that point in your life where you're not young anymore and need to change. The other version, which you can hear on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live vol. 1 (and Tori Amos covered on Strange Little Girls) is more about going out to bars and clubs in New York. Something about the lines "I'll come running to ya / Hey, baby, if you want me" strikes me. More than any other song on this list, I can't point to what about it touches me. I just dig it.

3. "Perfect Day" (Transformer): A little cliche to stick this song on the list since it's one of those songs everyone knows, but... it's really fucking good. Sad and self-aware at the same time. The lines that always stick with me are "You made me forget myself / I thought I was someone else / Someone good." A nice little hint at the meaning of love, but in a different context. This also just has one of Reed's better vocal performances. I also really like the demo for the song where he sings about a 'sumer's day' most of the time. I kind of like that version of the lyrics more, because it makes the times when he calls it a perfect day stand out more. It was just a summer's day, but it became a perfect day... something cool about that.

2. "Caroline Says II" (Berlin): The saddest, most heartbreaking song I've ever heard. This song is the culmination of Reed's various "(girl's name) Says" songs, building on "Stephanie Says." This song shares some lyrics with "Stephanie Says," but takes things even further by detailing the abuse Caroline suffers from her boyfriend/husband. It's slow and sad, this song. To make things worse (sort of), on Berlin, this song is followed by "The Kids," which is probably the second saddest song I've ever heard. The opening lyrics to this song are the worst -- just a kick to the gut. My heart sinks every time I hear them.

1. "Rock & Roll" (Loaded): A song about how fantastic music is. How it can change your life, save your life. Life can awful, but if you put on the right music, suddenly, it's all right. I'm always amused at how aware the five-year old girl is in this song, though. What a depressed little kid. If she's already rolling her eyes at her parents' commercialism, I can't imagine she'd make it past the age of twelve without killing herself, rock music or no rock music. Also, this song contains a very important message that everyone of my generation seems to have forgotten: YOU CAN DANCE TO ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC! Still, the core message here isn't about rock music, it's just about the glory of music. How powerful it is and what it can do. The song also has a great little imperfection where after the first line of the lyrics, the sound of the recording gets louder. I love little things like that.

If you haven't before, check out the songs. They're all fantastic.


Jeff said...

"New Age" is definitely an underappreciated gem. Check out his "American Poet" album if you haven't heard it...incredible live radio recording from 1972.

BTW, heads up on some Ryan Adams archival releases...

Chad Nevett said...

I do indeed have American Poet. I don't have everything by Reed, though.

And cool news on the Ryan Adams front. I hope he goes for regular releases on those. I remember both albums being mentioned at some point in the past.