The Classic Album at Midnight – Lou Reed’s Transformer

The Classic Album at Midnight – Lou Reed's Transformer


Tonight (October 27th) on the world famous Classic Album at Midnight on Radio Nova we’re playing Lou Reed’s Transformer.

The album is presented in full with no commercials or interruptions.

Former guitarist, lead singer and chief songwriter of art-rockers The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed released his first self-titled solo album in 1972. Reed’s first outing on his own was a commercial and critical flop, despite a newfound interest in The Velvet Underground among the early 70s glam rock community.

Reed had a high profile fan in David Bowie however. Bowie was known to cover Velvet Underground tracks White Light/White Heat and I’m Waiting for the Man in his live performances. His 1971 album Hunky Dory featured a song, Queen Bitch, that was heavily indebted to Reed’s proto-punk style.

Along with his Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, Bowie acted as producer on Reed’s second solo album, Transformer. Ronson would also perform various musical roles on the album, including lead guitar, piano, recorder and arranging the strings on the anthemic track Perfect Day. Bowie contributed backing vocals and keyboards, along with acoustic guitar on Wagon Wheel and Walk on the Wild Side. Other contributors were T-Rex bassist Herbie Flowers, Spiders from Mars’ Trevor Bolder (trumpet) and jazz saxophonist Ronnie Ross.

Reed’s debut album consisted almost exclusively of material written while he was with The Velvet Underground, some of which had even been performed live by the band. For Transformer, Reed reworked four Velvets era demos – Andy’s Chest, Satellite of Love, New York Telephone Conversation and Goodnight Ladies.

In its original release, Transformer features 11 tracks. On Side A are Vicious; Andy’s Chest; Perfect Day; Hangin’ Round; and Walk on the Wild Side. On Side B are Make Up; Satellite of Love; Wagon Wheel; New York Telephone Conversation; I’m So Free; and Goodnight Ladies.

Transformer was released on November 8th, 1972, reaching number 13 in the UK and 29 in the US.

Walk on the Wild Side was released as the album’s first single and became a worldwide hit. Despite dealing in then taboo subjects like drugs, transgender people and male prostitutes, the song received heavy airplay, becoming Reed’s signature tune. In 1989 the song’s famous bassline was sampled by rappers A Tribe Called Quest on their hit Can I Kick It?, and again in 1991 by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on Wildside.

A double A-side release, Walk on the Wild Side was paired with Perfect Day. While that track was overlooked on release with its companion favoured, it received a rebirth in the 1990s when it was included on the Trainspotting soundtrack. In 1997 an all-star version of Perfect Day was recorded as a BBC charity single, with Reed joined by the likes of Bowie, Bono, Elton John, Boyzone, Shane McGowan and Tom Jones. That version reached number one in both the UK and Ireland.

Critics were lukewarm on Transformer on its original release, but in the decades since it’s been reassessed and is now considered by many to represent Reed’s finest work. Rolling Stone ranks it at 109 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It was selected as an episode of the British TV series Classic Albums.

And a classic album it is, which is why we’re playing it tonight at midnight to mark the anniversary of Reed’s passing on October 27th, 2013.