Some people like to go out dancing
‘Coz other people like us we gotta work
And, seems there’s some evil mothers
They’ll tell you life is just made out of dirt
Lou Reed had been a member of, and primary songwriter for, the Velvet Underground in the 1960’s and launched his solo career with his eponymous debut album in 1972. I can still remember the advert for it:
The band had been much more influential than mainstream popular. As uber-producer Brian Eno stated, “While the Velvet Underground’s debut album only sold 30,000 copies, every one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” A bit hyperbolic perhaps but you get the idea.
Reed’s solo career didn’t really take off till his second album from 1972, Transformer, which included the great, Bowie-produced, “Walk on the Wild Side.” That song, of course, introduced the radio to such illuminating topics as transsexuality, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex. (Although you had to catch the FM version for the latter.)
But I didn’t come here to tell you about that so much as to talk about Reed’s great live album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. (From my 3rd list of great rock albums.) Recorded in 1973 at the late, lamented Academy of Music in New York, (I saw Humble Pie there) it is, for my money, one of the best fucking live albums of all time. It is definitely on a par, in its own way, with The Who’s Live at Leeds or the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East.
What makes this album so powerful is the combination of great songs, Reed’s monotonic, world-weary voice and the dynamic guitar duo of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner.
Hunter had been playing in a band called Detroit fronted by Mitch Ryder. Detroit had covered Velvet Underground’s song “Rock and Roll” and Reed liked it enough to ask Hunter to join his band. Dick Wagner had been kicking around in a band with Billy Joel and got invited to join Reed’s band by his producer.
“Sweet Jane,” was a Velvet Underground song for which Steve Hunter wrote an instrumental intro. Just listen to the fabulous interplay between the two guitarists and then how it rolls majestically into “Jane.” For my money, this was the best guitar duo since Dickey Betts and Duane Allman:
This album also includes Reed’s tribute to (condemnation of?) heroin. Of it he said, “I was working for a record company as a songwriter, where they’d lock me in a room and they’d say write ten surfing songs, ya know, and I wrote “Heroin” and I said “Hey I got something for ya.” They said, “Never gonna happen, never gonna happen.”
You can listen to that one at your leisure. For this post, I’ll stick with the kick-ass, ferocious stuff. It’s another Velvet Underground song, “White Light/White Heat,” and it moves like a freight train, amps cranked to 11. For sheer rock n’ roll madness, it does NOT get better than this:
The solos on “Intro/Sweet Jane,” just missed my Top Ten Guitar Solos of All Time but are honorable mentions.
A sequel to this album, Lou Reed Live was later released. Between the two of them you get pretty much the whole show. But trust me, this is the one.
Hunter and Wagner went on to join Alice Cooper for several albums in the ’70’s. Steve Hunter is still around doing some recording, but keeping a low profile. Dick Wagner died in 2014 at the age of 71.
Lou Reed died in October, 2013 of liver disease. He is survived by his wife, performance artist Laurie Anderson.
His rock n’ roll lives on.