Pandemic Playlist: Top 5 tracks which celebrate LGBTQ+ icon Lou Reed and his remarkable songwriting skills
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As the world continues to spin and turn in the most bizarre and unexpected ways, we can at least take solace in the fact that great music will always be a constant in our lives. On the occasion of June being Pride Month 2020, we thought we'd pay homage to one of the greatest songwriters of our modern era, Lou Reed. Although Reed was often described as bisexual by those who knew him well (including his biographers), he tended to remain evasive and coy on the topic, preferring to evoke an air of opaque mystery about his sexuality. What is known is that he had to undergo electroconvulsive therapy for his homosexual feelings as a teenager (described in the song 'Kill Your Sons') and that he frequently portrayed an androgynous persona on stage, no doubt buoyed in part by his relationship with his good friend David Bowie, who was another famous queer icon.
Lou Reed also allegedly had a close relationship with a trans woman named Rachel (they were lovers), which further helped cement rumors about his pansexual leanings. In a famous interview with Lester Bangs, Reed stated, "The notion that everybody’s bisexual is a very popular line right now, but I think its validity is limited... You can’t listen to a record and say, 'Oh that really turned me onto gay life, I’m gonna be gay.' A lot of people will have one or two experiences, and that’ll be it. Things may not change one iota... By the time a kid reaches puberty they’ve been determined. Guys walking around in makeup is just fun. Why shouldn’t men be able to put on makeup and have fun like women have?" So in honor of this progressive-thinking songwriter, who helped shaped the identity of LGBTQIA++ culture, here's a list of his Top 5 songs for our daily playlist.
Well known to fans as a treasured favorite from Reed's early days with the singer Nico and the supergroup The Velvet Underground, 'Sunday Morning' was designed to be a hit song when it was first recorded in 1966. It consequently features far more professional production than any of the other songs on the 1967 album 'The Velvet Underground & Nico'. That twinkly charm noticeable on this lush and dreamy number comes courtesy of a celesta, whose usage was first suggested by the iconic musician John Cale. And even though this track might sound like a pleasant breath of fresh air, it seems the lyrics might have been inspired by decidedly darker thoughts. Lou Reed revealed, "Andy [Warhol] said, 'Why don't you just make it a song about paranoia?' I thought that was great so I came up with 'Watch out, the world's behind you, there's always someone watching you,' which I feel is the ultimate paranoid statement in that the world cares enough to watch you."
'Walk On The Wild Side'
One of Reed's most subversive songs from his second solo album 'Transformer' (1972), this vintage storytelling classic was ranked number 223 in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Featuring saxophones and some lascivious subject matter that revolved around Andy Warhol's Factory in New York and the regulars who frequented it, this song was as catchy as it was obscene. As the longtime Reed fan and singer Tom Robinson (best known for his hit 'Glad To Be Gay') surmised, "How a celebration of transsexuality, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex made it past the corporation’s censors was a mystery, but like many queer kids of my generation I was thrilled that it had. 'We’re coming out, out of our closets, out on the streets,' the song went. Which indeed we were."
Destined to go down as one of the greatest songs ever written about drug use and abuse, 'Heroin' was released as part of the 1967 album 'The Velvet Underground & Nico'. One of the stand-out features of the song is the way the languid song's tempo instantly picks up as Reed utters the immortal lines "When I put a spike into my vein / And I'll tell ya, things aren't quite the same / When I'm rushing on my run / And I feel just like Jesus' son." As Reed's biographer Anthony DeCurtis notes, "It's also such a depiction of an addict really and a kind of mindset. It's not necessarily the way an addict would articulate the experience, but it's a distillation of an almost unconscious or unexpressed experience that the drug heroin might have on a user."
'Venus In Furs'
As one of the best songs ever committed to tape about the BDSM subculture, this remarkable and bewitching track from 1967's 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' features glistening, strangely-tuned instrumentation and well-crafted storytelling. The title was directly inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's book 'Venus In Furs', while the song's lyrics unabashedly deal with erotic and sexual themes that include sadomasochism, bondage, and submission. As the music critic Erich Kuersten noted, "There is no intro or buildup to the song; the track starts as if you opened a door to a decadent Marrakesh S&M/opium den, a blast of air-conditioned Middle Eastern menace with a plodding beat that’s the missing link between 'Bolero' and Led Zeppelin’s version of 'When the Levee Breaks'."
As our playlist draws to a close, we decided to tip our hat to one of Reed's most famous and beloved hits in 'Perfect Day'. Originally released on his 1972 album 'Transformer', this evergreen piano-driven song is both heartfelt and glorious, talking about a perfect day spent with that special someone who is also the apple of one's eye. The lyrics of the immortal chorus are gorgeous and uplifting, leading some to believe that it was also a romanticized ode about the drug heroin - "Oh it's such a perfect day / I'm glad I spent it with you / Oh such a perfect day / You just keep me hanging on." The song surged in popularity after it was included in the seminal 1996 film, 'Trainspotting' (during the heroin bliss scene), further cementing its place in popular culture. The BBC even recorded their own version of this classic with a variety of guest stars, including David Bowie, Suzanne Vega, Bono, Laurie Anderson, and Tom Jones, and the result is quite spectacular.
Pandemic Playlist is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained instead of feeling drained while you're isolated at home. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day.