Lou Reed, who died yesterday
, will be remembered for one reason. As Brian Eno said of the Velvet Underground's debut album: It only sold about four hundred copies, but everybody who bought it started a band.
Please excuse the split infinitive because that was the quote as I heard it verbatim from I know not who nor where - a radio programme, I think - The Friday Rock Show
? I've seen other versions of it, but whatever Eno actually said, that is the sentiment.
I grew up during the 1960s but just missed the Swinging Sixties; since I bought my first album in 1973 and indeed before that, I have listened to an enormous amount of contemporary music: heavy metal, melodic rock
, singer-songwriters, folk, folk-rock, historical folk-rock
, progressive, middle of the road, and so on.
Last night I listened to The Velvet Underground & Nico
all the way through for the first time. I had heard most of its tracks before, but not all of them. Reed wrote 8 of the 11 himself and co-wrote the rest.
The album with its bland title was released in March 1967. There are some memorable but no great songs on it. Indeed, it is arguable that throughout his long career Reed wrote only one truly great song: Perfect Day
. But, and an enormous but it is, as Brian Eno inferred, there had been nothing like it - ie him - before, anywhere, ever. Like Les Paul
before him and dare I say? the Sex Pistols
after, Reed started something, big time.
Without the Sex Pistols there would have been no punk; without Lou Reed there would have been no Sex Pistols, and a lot both since and in between.
Experimentation is nothing new in music, of course, including classical music, but Reed was no avant-garde
. His music has been called experimental, but that was just the way he was, totally unforced and uncontrived, deep lyrics, weird guitar tunings and all.
Not one to rest on his laurels, as a solo artist he produced a fair amount of music throughout the 70s and 80s, and indeed his last studio album was released only 2 years ago, a collaboration, unusually with thrash metal band Metallica. Unusually for some, but not for Reed. He was one of a kind, and will be remembered as such.