Though he boasted few chart hits, Reed’s career-long compulsion to test rock’s musical and formal boundaries opened up vast new avenues for later exploration by his many aspiring heirs. Reed is seen here on stage in 1970.
Equally influenced by Chuck Berry and Arthur Rimbaud, Reed’s spiky, provocative lyrics tackled the experiences of drug addicts, transvestites, street hustlers and depressives with a directness and empathy heretofore unheard in American popular music. Reed is seen performing on stage in this image in 1973.
His catalog includes some of the most canonical and oft-covered songs in rock history – “Sweet Jane,” “Satellite of Love” and “Walk on the Wild Side” among them.
In this image Lou Reed performs at the Civic Center in Atlanta, GA in 1978
Amidst various interpersonal squabbles, the Velvets were recruited by Atlantic Records imprint Cotillion, and tasked with recording an LP “loaded with hits,” which lead the band to disdainfully title the subsequent record “Loaded.”
By the mid-‘70s, British acts like Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople had distilled the raggedly melodic aesthetic of the Velvet Underground into glam, while U.S. punk progenitors Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Tom Verlaine drew heavy inspiration from Reed’s streetwise switchblade-poet persona.
1973’s pitch-black concept album “Berlin” and 1974’s flaccid “Sally Can’t Dance” followed, with the latter reaching No. 10. The latter would be the chart peak of Reed’s career, yet he was hardly shy about his dislike of the record, saying at the time: “This is fantastic. The worse I am, the more I sell. If I wasn’t on the record at all next time around, it would probably go to No. 1.”
His songs have been covered by everyone from Bowie to U2, Duran Duran, the Runaways, Jane’s Addiction, Susan Boyle, Beck, Nick Cave, R.E.M., Joy Division, Cowboy Junkies and Gang of Four, while hip-hop notables A Tribe Called Quest prominently sampled “Wild Side” for breakthrough single “Can I Kick It?”
Following the 1987 death of Warhol, Reed and former Velvet Underground bandmate Cale reconciled and collaborated for 1990’s tribute album “Songs for Drella,” which eventually lead to a 1993 reunion of the original Velvet Underground lineup.
In this image Reed performs on stage in Indianapolis in 1990.
Aside from his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Reed’s career was light on traditional awards, yet his influence on decades of descendants is impossible to miss.