Lou Reed didn’t rank among the artists with the top 100 best-selling albums of the 1970s—but his songs will outlast almost all those marquee names. Reed’s subjects were drugs, dislocation, and alienation, and the sometimes lonely life on the wild side. His only constant companion was the city of New York.
Reed specialized in finding the light in dark corners. He first found fame as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist for The Velvet Underground, whose debut album captured the horror and fleeting joys of the junky life in songs such as “Waiting for the Man,” “Heroin,” and “Sunday Morning.”
His solo career brought hits like the subversive anthem “Walk on the Wild Side” and the arguably more enduring “Satellite of Love” and “Perfect Day,” which have slowly racked up sales over decades—the leather tortoise beating the rhinestone hare. Or take his 1978 song “Street Hassle,” a three-part story about ditching an woman who overdosed on a corner that becomes an 11-minute epic, complete with synth violins and a background chorus, uncharacteristically chased by Bruce Springsteen mumbling Beat poetry.
Like Dylan but darker and dirtier, Reed did not sing in any conventional sense, but his halting delivery had authenticity and the words were simple poetry. He lived long enough—unexpectedly, to many—to find creative revivals in later albums such as New York, which boasted “Dirty Blvd.” and “Romeo Had Juliette,” and the title track to Magic and Loss. He toured with the briefly reformed Velvet Underground and found domestic happiness with Laurie Anderson. Past years of hard living caught up with him, and he had a liver transplant earlier this year. He died on a Sunday morning in New York.
Below are 11 essential songs written and performed by Lou Reed, compiled by The Daily Beast on the day of his death.
‘Street Hassle’ (full music video)
‘Walk on the Wild Side’
‘Satellite of Love’
‘Pale Blue Eyes’ (original)
‘Pale Blue Eyes’ (MCMXCIII version)
‘Romeo Had Juliette’ (song only)
‘Dirty Boulevard’ (live in 1989)
‘Sweet Jane’ (Rock N Roll Animal version)
‘Sweet Jane’ (Original Velvet Underground version)
‘Coney Island Baby’ (Take No Prisoners version)