|Luke Haines' "Lou Reed Lou Reed"|
Considering how many artists have been influenced by Lou Reed over the past five decades, it’s somewhat surprising that there haven’t been a couple of hundred songs written about the guy. Still, quite a few musicians have paid homage to, taken potshots at, or otherwise name-checked Mr. Reed over the years. For my annual Lou Reed’s birthday offering, I’ve compiled a smattering of the most interesting (which doesn’t necessarily mean “best”) songs about Lou.
Luke Haines - “Lou Reed Lou Reed”
A snide shard of New Wave attitude, this cut from veteran British weirdo Haines’s stellar 2014 New York in the ‘70s album actually feels like something Lou would have given his seal of approval. The big hook is Haines chanting “Lou Reed, Lou Reed” over and over while backed by droning synthesizers, a bouncy guitar line, and a drum beat Maureen Tucker would write off as too primitive. It’s fun as hell. (I recommend watching the music video, incidentally. It’s delightfully silly.)
LoveyDove - “Lou Reed (Don’t Leave)”
Gosh, this one’s pretty. L.A. duo LoveyDove pays tribute with a plaintive yet rocked-up dirge for a departed hero, delivered with gutsy indie rock sincerity by singer Azalia Snail and fading out with a driving chorus of “Walk on the Wild Side” doot-de-doots. I especially like that their a-Lou-sions dig for slightly deeper cuts like “Crazy Feeling,” “Coney Island Baby,” and “Rock & Roll Heart.” I mean, sure, I’d be even more impressed if a band was to shout out, say, “Like a Possum” or “What Becomes a Legend Most,” but I’ll take this any day.
The Hot Buttered Elves - “Lou Reed Xmas”
I’m inclined to appreciate a novelty rock band that took their name from a Letterman Top Ten List and traffics exclusively in off-center Christmas songs. Plus, they’re from Philadelphia, so I assume they're friends with The Dead Milkmen. Here they cast Lou Reed as a slightly edgy Santa Claus “handing out gifts and breaking laws.” It’s actually rather a plaintive, lovely song that also sketches portraits of a goth girl who volunteers at the children’s hospital and a homeless guy who still respects a sprig of mistletoe. They’re folks who’d be right at home in a Lou Reed song, and that’s about as fine a tribute as you could ask for.
Animal Electricity - “Lou Reed”
This cool, gothy cut from little-known Denver psych-rock combo Animal Electricity is a damn fine memorial tune, name-checking a handful of Lou’s early songs (“I have a perfect day / I have my own sweet Jane”) on the way to a haunting climax of “They say Lou Reed is dead / October 27 / But we are not certain / We can still hear him sing.” They’re the one band on this list that you’re least likely to have heard before (I sure never heard of them before I started researching this post) and I’d advocate for changing that.
Television Personalities - “You, Me, and Lou Reed”
Perpetually self-destructive British post-punk legends Television Personalities pay tribute, I think, to one of their influences in a way with which Lou could really get on board: by being dicks to a dude who’s earned it. The lyrics mock a wannabe scenester who “ain’t no Roger McGuinn” and claims to have been born during Hendrix’s set at Monterrey. Even as frontman Dan Treacy taunts the poser for telling tall tales about hanging with the Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones, he reassures the guy that “I dig your scene, baby, you know what I mean? You, me and Lou Reed.” It’s a “Dirt”-style scalding takedown that would do Lou proud.
Korea Campfire - “Lou Reed Says”
It’s a mighty clever concept, really. Take Lou Reed’s oft-quoted thesis statement - “Rock and roll is so great, people should start dying for it. You don't understand. The music gave you back your beat so you could dream… The people just have to die for the music. People are dying for everything else, so why not for music? Die for it. Isn't it pretty? Wouldn't you die for something pretty?” - set it to a White Light/White Heat era Velvets-style arrangement, and presto! You’ve got yourself a Mermaid Avenue for the nihilist hipster set. Swedish art-rock collective Korea Campfire really nails something with this grimy yet catchy as hell bit of imitative flattery.
Pixies - “I’ve Been Tired”
In which Frank Black discovers that “I wanna be a singer like Lou Reed” is actually a pretty good pick-up line, and one that may lead directly to a “real left-winger” sticking her tongue in your ear and whispering, “I like Lou Reed.” Of course, given that his intended doesn’t walk out of the joint as soon as he starts making wisecracks about “losing my penis to a whore with disease,” it’s possible that she’s not setting the bar super high.
Violent Femmes - “Death Drugs”
Buried on the Femmes’ barely released, massively undervalued* Rock!!! album, “Death Drugs” is a raging little heroin ditty that finds the narrator in the market for long-sleeved shirts because “I gotta hide the marks where I stick the works.” In a brazen appeal to authority, he cites “Bobby Dylan and Louie Reed / You never see them in short sleeves.” Of course, the fella’s a little off base on a couple of points: Lou spent most of his last three decades on Earth in tank tops, and while he did indeed write the definitive heroin anthem, by most accounts amphetamines were his go-to during his druggie days. *Undervalued to the extent that I can’t find any recording of this song online to share with you. Come by my place some time and I’ll play you the CD.
Eli Braden - “Nobody Bought the Lou Reed/Metallica Album”
Eli Braden is a comedy musician and, I’ll acknowledge, not my cup of tea. His stuff used to turn up on the old Comedy Death Ray podcast from time to time, back when Scott Aukerman still played comedy songs on the show. I’m not inclined to give much credit to this fish-in-a-barrel takedown of the much-maligned Lulu album, but I’ll give the guy props for a lyrical structure that sort of mirrors Lou Reed’s own “Rock and Roll.” I’m still gonna say this is pretty lame, though.
David Bowie - “Queen Bitch”
It seems very Bowie that his purported tribute to Lou Reed sounds suspiciously like an attempt to outdo Lou at his own game - and rather a successful one at that. Whether or not the titular bitch is really a Lou stand-in, Bowie’s vision of New York City’s glamorously sleazy mean streets is full of Reedian imagery that arguably outstrips the originator. “If she says she can do it, she can do it” indeed.
Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - “Andy’s Babies”
English singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole wants us to understand that he’s got no beef with Andy Warhol himself - he’s “fine,” and “a saint.” All the Warhol acolytes and wannabes slouching around the mid-’80s art scene, though - Lloyd’s had about enough of those babies. Noted Warhol protegee Lou Reed enters the scene in the last verse, when Cole gripes that “It’s 8 in the morning / Still you can’t get no sleep / On account of ‘Perfect Day’ / And all this ‘White Light/White Heat’ / Aw, isn’t that sweet?” There’s no accounting for fans, of course, and Lou emerges unscathed from what’s an underrated gem of ‘80s indie pop.
The Dictators - “Two Tub Man”
Well, here’s a swaggering punk tune that opens with old-school pro wrestling taunts and goes on to trace its drunken hero’s unhinged stroll through the city streets. Among his non-sequiturial boasts: “I got Jackie Onassis in my pants,” “I think Joe Franklin’s real flash,” and “I think Lou Reed is a creep.” The fact that this song likely wouldn’t exist without Lou Reed’s influence is probably not lost on the Dictators, even if their DNA leans a little more to the Iggy Pop side.
The Little Willies - “Lou Reed”
Here is a song from Norah Jones’s alt-country side project about a band driving through West Texas at dusk and spotting Lou Reed in a field tipping cows. When they call him out, his very Lou-ish response is, “Go screw.” It’s pretty dumb.