Perfect Sound Forever


by G.E. Light
(December 2013)

I come not to praise the Velvet Underground but to bury them. Sure I bought the yellow banana The Velvet Underground and Nico when I was 13 in 1977 (kinda my weird punk homage living in the hinterlands Tallahassee Florida and then that summer Freiburg im Brisgau, West Germany). And no, I didn't form a band. In fact, I have bought or owned half a dozen other versions of that album: memorably one from a British vinyl box set VUBOX 1 Polydor 829 904 1 that I bought in London 1986 at the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore, a CD version bought at Tower Records in Mountain View, CA in 1988, and an original issue pink banana version (rarish though in very used condition and thus not "valuable") bequeathed to me by a former Mississippi State colleague (not sure I'll ever listen to all the Doors albums that were in that same pile). Said colleague also lived through Harvard beating Yale and BD and CH 29-29 in the flesh. But that's a different story for another day. Myself, I was 8 when I first heard Lou Reed, as "Walk on the Wild Side" was all over the radio in late 1972 and early 1973.

Through it all, Lou Reed was a great pop songwriter.

So my own personal eulogy is gonna focus on a small piece of vinyl (7 inches to be precise) from 1984. Most of the singles I bought in college were of the 12" variety: Chaka Kahn with Rufus "Ain't Nobody," The Tom Tom Club "Genius of Love," and my all-time favorite Echo and the Bunnymen "The Killing Moon" (All Night Version) b/w "Do It Clean" (Live at the Royal Albert Hall), wherein Ian McCulloch channels his Merseyside spirit to the core--if this were a different kind of piece I'd work some joke about numbers and holes here but it isn't. Then there was the weird 10" EP on green vinyl by one Klark Kent AKA Stewart Copeland with the should have been a hit single, "Don't Care." However reliving my youthful fetishization of our American Graffitti/Happy Days vinyl popular culture, I occasionally still bought some 45s, usually from the Coop and sometime Newbury Comics in downtown Boston. My absolute favorite features a cover with a seated black leather swathed yet still infantilized Lou enchanted by a self-reflexive narcissistic image of his adult self on a TV screen all the while fondling some kind of red phallic video game joystick. New sensations, indeed! Yup, I'm talking about "I Love You Suzanne." b/w "Vicious" (RCA 417).

Still, Lou Reed was a great pop songwriter.

To this day it's one of the catchiest tunes I know. Fellow KZSU Stanford jazz compatriot Andrew Shields, now a poet and professor of note in Basel, famously wrote about Lou Reed on Facebook: "if you write songs instead of poems, you get to say "doo-doo-doo" or "sha-la-la-la-la" or other things like that!" That sounds silly but it's actually quite profound. As Roy Edroso noted in his brilliant obit "Growing Up In Public," before the Velvets, Lou Reed had been a song-plugger, those music store performers whose job it was to move sheet music. "I Love You Suzanne" comes straight out of this tradition as well as that of street corner doo wop from Reed's youth; it's no real surprise that Dion DiMucci once made a cameo on Lou's song "Dirty Boulevard" on New York. Intriguingly in preparing to write this "obit," I realized this record is also the first time I heard the trumpet of Jon Faddis as well as the tenor sax of Michael Brecker, which in itself would be thanks enough for a job well done. But there's more. It begins with a simple yet insistent Fred Maher drumbeat and a spoken Lou lyric and then the seemingly simplistic instrumentation of 3:20 of pure pop sensations. As Robert Christgau wrote back in the day, it's "simple and inevitable."

For Lou Reed was a great pop songwriter.

Ultimately, this eulogy is performing a kind of double duty. Because had the late lamented not folded shop on Halloween 2007, I surely would have eventually written a Seconds: Perfect Moments in Pop column about Loud Reed's "I Love You Suzanne." Thanks for that joyous opportunity Todd Burns! Now instead I memorialize both a former music magazine and more importantly Mr. Lou Reed for lives well "lived" and music well loved.

And in the end Lou Reed was a great pop songwriter.

See the rest of our Lou Reed tribute

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