Lou Reed is the quintessential New Yorker; loud, headstrong, and often in a hurry to be somewhere else. He grew up on Long Island, NY and went to college upstate at Syracuse College of Arts and Sciences, graduating in 1964. He moved to NYC in 1963 and his acquaintances in the art community introduced him to life in the underbelly of the city. His music and his life would be dominated by those influences for many years.
He and John Cale formed a band in 1964; it would later become the Velvet Underground. It brought him notoriety as an avant-garde artist, but the band was never commercially successful while it existed. He left in 1970 and went to work for his father in the tax-preparation business. Within a year, he decided that he'd rather be a solo performer.
Despite almost 40 years on his own, his reputation rests primarily on the seven years he spent guiding the Velevet Underground. His solo career has been hampered by the fact that any new work is compared to the Velvets. Judging by the mellow songs on several of his early albums, he initially was interested in being a successful Top 40 singer-songwriter, but the dark side kept calling him back. His devotion to the seedy clubs in Soho and their decadent patrons exposed him to the burgeoning Glam Rock movement. He hooked up with David Bowie, who went on to be the producer on Lou's 1972 break-out album, 'Transformer'. It featured his signature song, 'Walk On The Wild Side'. Success was short-lived however; consumers were unsure what to expect from him. If one album showed an attempt at commercial pop, the next was just as likely to revolve around the lives of drug addicts and transvestites.
It was a struggle for him to find his place as music evolved in the Eighties. Though many punk rockers cited him as an influence, he thought the majority of them were dull-witted and that he was too worldly to be a part of their scene. During the early '80s he assembled his best band, centered around guitarist Robert Quine and bassist Fernando Saunders. Though they only lasted two or three years together, it allowed Reed to become focused on the mechanics of making music again. It was also at this point that the cult around the Velvet Underground really began to grow. He was able to draw self-respect from his accomplishments with that band rather than feel he was constantly being measured against them. Maturity began to mellow many of his worst traits. Nearly all of Lou Reed's best works have come since 1982; at 68 years of age however, I'd guess that he has reached his peak.
I decided not to include any of his later works because, at the exception of some albums that are only spoken words or ambient music, the two really musical are Set The Twilight Reeling and Ecstasy, but weren't really worthy to be part of this.
Burns' Lou Reed Top3 :
1. Transformer (1972)
1. New York (1989)
1. New Sensastions (1984)
Burns' Lou Reed Bottom3 :
1. Metal Machine Music (1975)
2. Take No Prisonners (1978)
3. Growing Up In Public (1980)