Flavorwire Staffers’ Favorite Lou Reed Songs


Lou Reed died yesterday. We will be tempted to mourn his death the same way we mourn the deaths of others, but let us not forget that Reed was a different kind of guy. He doesn’t exactly lend himself to sappy, faux-spiritual farewells. With that in mind, we asked Flavorwire staffers to forgo the condolences in favor of the chords; below, they recall their favorite Velvet Underground and Lou Reed songs.

“Walk on the Wild Side”

I’m sure most people will respond with “Walk on the Wild Side,” but that truly was a lullaby for me. Both my parents would sing it to me, and as I got older, I’d chime in for the “do do dos.” The song was so out of context — I really did think of it as a children’s song for years — that when I finally listened to the words and understood them I was SHOCKED. In the best way possible. – -Leah Taylor

“Perfect Day”

The first song I heard by Lou Reed was “Perfect Day.” There are certain songs that resonate completely at a certain point in your life, and that song found me at a time when life perpetually disappointed me. I was lonely and, more than likely, hopelessly falling for a girl I’d never go out with, and the song’s juxtaposition of a horribly sad voice with a “Perfect Day” brought out strong emotions I clung to in my youth. The song brought a lot of comfort on cloudy days and is still one I bring out on special occasions. — Matt Dorville

“Sister Ray”

I’ve never been so transfixed by an album upon first listen as I was at 16, listening to White Light/White Heat. A thousand spins later, I’m convinced that it really is the closest thing to a concept album by a band like the Velvets, and the concept is pretty simple: do a lot of speed, record an album. That might not actually have been the idea or what happened, but it sure sounds like that, and “Sister Ray” is the band getting out the last of the drug jitters, then crashing really hard in your headphones. To this day it is hypnotizing to hear Tucker banging the life out of those drums, Cale wailing on that organ, and Reed singing about people being busy sucking on ding-dongs, and it remains one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard in my life. — Jason Diamond

“Beginning to See the Light”

My favorite Velvet Underground song, perhaps cliché, is “Beginning to See the Light.” It was played for me in college at a time of many personal transitions and hit me like a tons of bricks. I knew I didn’t have the all the answers to tackle all the ish that I was going on in that period of living, but it gave me inspiration that if I tackled the situation head-first, the best I could do was come out on top and the worst that would happen is that I’d learn even more about what I was capable of. I also really dig the last lines of the song: “How does it feel to be loved?” I knew I had support in my decisions because I was surrounded by people that loved me no matter what happened. The instrumentation of the song was also a departure from what I was listening to at the time and opened my ears up to a new musical world; I grew up on hip-hop and stadium-jam rock ‘n’ roll. — Kathryn Dahlke

“Coney Island Baby”

My senior year of high school, amid the stress of college applications and AP exams, “Coney Island Baby” was one of the five or six CDs I kept in my car at all times, looping endlessly back from finish to start. I’d recommend this method to any overly emotional teenager worrying about their place in the world; there’s great catharsis to be found in singing desperately along about the princess on the hill, and an odd piece of comfort in being told again and again that the glory of love might see you through. Thanks, Lou. We’ll miss you. — Anna Kovatcheva

“Street Hassle”

I wrote earlier today about how darkness and light combined to powerful effect in Lou Reed’s music, and if there’s one song that demonstrates this better than any other, it’s “Street Hassle.” It’s quite possibly the most epic song Reed ever wrote, a three-part prose poem set to a backing of dramatic cello and bass. Its three parts are a neat summation of many aspects of Reed’s career — the first narrates a tawdry but surprisingly tender encounter between a gigolo and a female client, the second takes the voice of a junkie tying to convince someone whose girlfriend has just overdosed to take her and dump her on the street, and the third is a meditation on love and loss that is perhaps the most profoundly moving two minutes of music that Reed ever wrote. He once described the song as “a great monologue set to rock… something that could have been written by William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, John Rechy, Tennessee Williams, Nelson Algren, maybe a little Raymond Chandler.” Any of those authors would have been proud of it. — Tom Hawking

“Sunday Morning”

I came around to some things late. It wasn’t until junior year of college that I consciously listened to The Velvet Underground. I was studying in Buenos Aires and the unwritten American-student-abroad manifesto that dictates a strict adherence to fairly constant debauchery had worn me down. The exuberance of Saturday nights, where the South American warmth wasn’t only climatic but a product of wine and beer so cheap you never really got used to it matched unevenly with the next mornings in the largely commercial neighborhood where I lived and where everything except McDonald’s was closed on Sunday. I found my anthem for those days in “Sunday Morning.” — Kevin Pires

“Stephanie Says”

I’m fairly sure that the best Velvet Underground song is “Heroin,” but the one that’s meant the most to me over the years is “Stephanie Says,” a rarity that was eventually transformed into “Caroline Says (II)” for Reed’s solo album Berlin. Sung as softly as a lullaby, it’s actually a stark character study, and the sketch it creates of a person characterized by simultaneous physical connection and emotional distance — suggesting a sort of stoic, psychological isolation — has always resonated with me. — Judy Berman