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Lou Reed: 20 Hidden Treasures

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"Going Down" (1972) A lost beauty from his muddled solo debut – one of those records a friend gives you just because they find it somewhere and think of you, so you play it a lot and like it, even though it's easy to hear why it has a bad reputation. (Paintings of hummingbirds on the cover are generally a bad sign.) "Going Down" is a moody piano ballad with a typical Lou theme: Some love makes you strong, some love makes you weak, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

"Crazy Feeling" (1975) A girl-group gem worthy of the Ronettes, with church bells chiming. For Lou Reed, the human heart is like a big city – a funny place, something like a circus or a sewer, but a place where you can find other people as crazed as you if you search hard enough. So he goes looking for love in a bar full of drag-queen hookers. Best line: "Everybody knows that business ends at 3 / And everybody knows that after hours love is free."

"A Gift" (1975) Not to be confused with the Velvets track called "The Gift," the weakest thing they released during their lifetime – it's practically the "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" of their catalog. (Although the instrumental version, "Booker T," is great.) "A Gift" is a song he put far less work into, a throwaway delight from Coney Island Baby – just Lou strumming his guitar and sighing, "I'm just a gift to the women of this world" and meaning it, which was probably the hard part.

"Satellite of Love (Lou Reed Live version)" (1975)

The first Lou Reed I ever laid eyes on was the cover of his 1975 Lou Reed Live – not his best live record, or even one of his 10 best, but a hell of a cover-photo statement. Lou looks like a badly damaged psych-ward refugee posing as a rough-trade hepcat, rocking his pimp hat, scoffing at the world through shades too thick to let the world scoff back. From hearing his voice on the radio and seeing that album cover, I knew this guy was going to play a major role in my life, probably a dangerous one. He grunts "Satellite of Love" like he's trying to scoff at his own song, scoffing at the notion of true romance, but falling under its spell anyway.

"Gimme Some Good Times" (1978) Street Hassle is one of his best albums, haunted by the mysteries of human compassion. Sometimes you trust people and let them in, but they turn out to be dirt. Some people will give up on you as soon as you turn the wrong shade of blue – when you're weak and desperate, they'll ditch you on a side street and help themselves to the rings off your fingers before they slip away. But other people will stand by you, even when they know you're wrong. How can you tell which people are which? Lou seems to suggest you can find out by doing drugs with them, but it was 1978 and everybody thought that. This great opening song kicks off with the "Sweet Jane" riff – the song Lou couldn't stop rewriting, maybe because it couldn't stop rewriting him. Plus a line that gets downright terrifying when you listen close: "Some people say they can't move, no matter where they are."

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

More Song Stories entries »
 
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