The Song That Changed My Life – Lou Reed, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’

Whilst growing up in the 80s, my childhood had been governed by the twin musical pillars of Madonna and Prince. There may have been many lyrical dysfunctions hiding beneath the surface (which I would later discover), but as a pre-teen they seemed to provide an almost constant sugar rush stream of hit singles.


It was all hugely exciting, perfect pop that pierced my imagination in a number of ways. However, as Madonna got more adult, Prince lost his name and I got older, my mind wandered elsewhere. My sister – whose musical cues I slavishly followed like a typical AYB (annoying young brother) – had long departed the grip of the top 40, in favour of something a bit more alternative. There was Free, Talking Heads, Led Zeppelin and someone called Lou Reed.

Lou Reed? For about two weeks I was convinced I’d misheard and she meant Lou Rawls , the smooth voiced jazz singer who had a had a sideline as an actor in such programmes as Baywatch Nights . Oh how wrong I was.

I remember quietly making my way into her bedroom when she wasn’t there to peruse her newly acquired tape and vinyl collection. After flicking through her diary, I found a cassette copy of ‘Retro’, a cheap and cheerful compilation of Lou Reed’s mainly 70s era “best bits”.

As the strange sounds of ‘Berlin’ and ‘Caroline Says II’ filtered past me, it was the big Bowie production of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ that struck me. Lou Reed’s deadpan delivery was perfectly framed against a booming bass, Ronnie Ross’ cool saxophone solo and of course those dreamy backing vocals.

Lyrically, I didn’t understand who these characters were, but the line up of Warhol Superstars like Candy Darling and Joe D’Allesandro provided a stark contrast to my suburbian life up to that point. These hustlers and underworld types weren’t just trash-pop culture icons of a bygone age, they provided me with a doorway into a different world and era. The 60s were no longer the province of canonized Beatles and The Stones, they were as dark and malevolent as the teenage spirit that was growing inside me. Suddenly I felt connected to rock’s past.


‘Walk On The Wild Side’ was filled with a celebratory, seedy glamour that I would explore by proxy, assimilating a sense of it through the many books and articles about Mr Reed I would read and consume. It provided me with a gateway into a musical world I wouldn’t have otherwise broached.

Firstly there were the obvious links: The Thin White Duke himself, Iggy, Patti Smith, Blondie and of course The Velvet Underground. Then there was the not so obvious ones: Galaxie 500, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies. It was the song that crossed in Rubicon into a certain brand of bruised, arty indie rock. I was forever changed.


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