Wednesday, March 24, 2021

A deep dive into Lou Reed's catalog: A preview

2011: Reed in Kent, England, in one of his last performances

Anyone who knew me in the last quarter of the 20th century knew well that I had two real passions -- St. Louis Cardinals baseball and Lou Reed. For a few reasons, I drifted far away from the Cardinals in the mid-1990s. But I did stick around with Lou for a few more years, until I realized in the mid-2000s that he had stopped rocking and become laser-focused on legacy building.

My separation from the baseball team evolved quickly into hardened animosity toward that franchise. But with Reed, the love remained even if the passion subsided. I kept my eyes and ears open to whatever was going on with him, if with only scant interest. His serious illness in 2013 got me concerned, and the news of his death that October hit me hard. I still get emotional sometimes when the reality of his absence hits me in the right spot. It really does feel sometimes like I've lost a brother.

The glory days of that baseball team of my youth and young adulthood remain a fond memory. I do remember the days of El Birdos and Whitey Ball with great joy, as if that were a completely different franchise than the Evil Empire of La Russa and Edmonds and Yadi. (Arrrrrgggghhh, excuse my while I shake that out of my head.)

With Lou Reed, though, the records are still here, and his music will be right there within ears' length for as long as I live. This stuff isn't memory. It's still as real as it was 50 years ago, and it's here ready to fill that hole in our hearts whenever we need it. That's something to celebrate.

1971: Reed in Crawdaddy magazine at the dawn of his solo career

Let me be your guide:
Reed released 22 studio studio albums in his solo career. In addition, there were nine official live albums as well as countless compilations during his lifetime. If you aren't all that familiar with the particulars of Reed's work, please allow me to help. I may or may not do a personal ranking of all of Reed's albums -- I haven't decided yet if that would be a particularly valuable task. What I have done, though, is created five baskets to contain groups of studio albums, based on what I consider their value as catalog signposts. We have five essential albums, four albums of little to no value, and three groups in between.

I'll cover each of these lists in a series of Geezerology posts over the next couple of three weeks. And even though I am not a fan of live albums in general, I'll make an exception here. I mean, it is Lou Reed. And for the most part, Reed's live albums were issued as distinct artistic statements. A couple of them were basically just live replications of his studio work. But most of them had something to offer separate and apart from his other work. But we'll get to that later.

I'll start in the coming days with a look at the essential Lou Reed albums, the ones I feel are required listening if you have any inclination to dive into the catalog to learn about what Lou Reed was all about. And I'll work my way down through the baskets until I get to the ones that you can skip altogether. And I'll close with the live albums.

I won't keep you in suspense in case you might want to get ahead of me. Here are the baskets of Lou Reed albums I will tell you about:

Transformer (November 1972)
Berlin (July 1973)
Street Hassle (February 1978)
New York (January 1989)

Coney Island Baby (December 1975)
The Bells (April 1979)
The Blue Mask (February 1982)
Magic and Loss (January 1992)

Sally Can't Dance (August 1974)
New Sensations (April 1984)
Songs for Drella (credited as Lou Reed and John Cale) (April 1990)
Set the Twilight Reeling (February 1996)
Ecstasy (April 2000)

Lou Reed (June 1972)
Rock and Roll Heart (October 1976)
Growing Up in Public (April 1980)
Legendary Hearts (March 1983)
Mistrial (May 1986)

Metal Machine Music (July 1975)
The Raven (January 2003)
Hudson River Wind Meditations (April 2007)
Lulu (credited as Lou Reed and Metallica) (October 2011)

Rock 'n' Roll Animal (February 1974)
Lou Reed Live (March 1975)
Live: Take No Prisoners (November 1978)
Live in Italy (Janaury 1984)
Perfect Night: Live in London (April 1998)
American Poet (June 2001)
Animal Serenade (March 2004)
Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse (November 2008)
The Creation of the Universe (credited as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio) (December 2008)

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