Lou Reed: 20 Hidden Treasures

A deep dive into the New York legend's catalog as Rolling Stone pays tribute to a icon

Lou Reed performs in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Frans Schellekens/Redferns
November 7, 2013 11:45 AM ET

Lou Reed's whole career is full of great songs that bristle with life, even when he was exploring the dark places in the heart. He sang about twisted characters finding transcendent moments of love and human connection, even in the seediest circumstances. Nobody could match the snarl of his voice, the rabid intensity of his guitar. Yet for every one of his songs that turned into acclaimed classics, there are other essentials scattered through his catalog. So here are 20 hidden treasures that deserve to be cranked in celebration of the late great Lou Reed. Like the man used to say, walk it home.

Read Laurie Anderson's touching tribute to Lou Reed

"Here She Comes Now" (1968) This quiet tune is easy to overlook because there's no noise, no poetry – it's all in the rhythm, just two minutes of guitar and viola building into a drone-plus-rebop incantation. Everything the Velvet Underground set out to do seems to appear somewhere in this song.

"Sister Ray (3/15/69, Boston Tea Party)" (1969) Every version of "Sister Ray" is a different adventure. This one is the Velvets' peak, the absolute summit of human/guitar sex action: 24 minutes of demonic feedback glory, recorded live in Boston on March 15, 1969. (The YouTube link is mislabeled). It's from the famous "guitar amp" bootleg – you can hear Lou go loco around the 11-minute mark, whipping it on every Jim in the room. The second-best "Sister Ray" is the 12/12/68 Boston version, which has more organ and some surprisingly Byrds-ish guitar frills 14 minutes in. Third best is the 29-minute "Sister Ray/Foggy Notion" from The Quine Tapes, which begins with Lou warning the audience, "This is gonna go on for a while." You could devote your whole life to "Sister Ray" bootlegs, and some of us do.

"Move Right In" (1968) A showchase for Lou's jagged R&B guitar, always the heartbeat of his music. The Velvets burn through this groove in under three minutes (from the immortal Live '68 boot, also known as Problems In Urban Living), as Lou and Sterling Morrison pounce on that evil riff and ride it into the sun.

"Pale Blue Eyes (La Cave Version)" (1968) Like so many of his songs, "Pale Blue Eyes" can keep you company through a long night of dread, the kind of night Lou knew well. "Pale Blue Eyes" gets a wild treatment in this October 1968 performance from Cleveland's La Cave. Lou makes up new lyrics as he goes along: "The angels went to heaven and the devil went to hell, and I seen him coming down from the ceiling in my room. He looked like the mad monk who came here from Afghanistan. You should have seen the mother when he came down on his broom. I certainly couldn't get out of there too soon."

"I Found a Reason" (1970) A poetic doo-wop ballad disguised as a parody, this has some of his finest rhythm-guitar playing – especially that break from 2:38 to 3:15, 37 sections of glistening electric perfection. His guitar makes you want to immerse your head into the left speaker, all the more moving for being passed off as a sarcastic joke. Great lyrics, too: "I do believe / You are what you perceive / What comes is better than what came before."

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