45th Anniversary Album Review: Lou Reed – Transformer (1972, 2012 RCA vinyl edition)

After Lou Reed left The Velvet Undergound, he worked for a short time at father’s tax accounting firm as a typist, then set out on a solo career. His first album, a self-titled number was highly anticipated, but did not sell well. While touring in 1972, Lou worked with David Bowie and Mick Ronson. These rock legends agreed to not only perform on this album, but to co-produce it as well.

For his 2nd album, Transformer, here is the cast of characters: Klaus Voorman, Herbie Flowers, John Halzey, Barry Desouza, Ritchie Dharma, Ronnie Ross, Mick Ronson, David Bowie and Lou Reed. It was bound to be great with all of those wonderful musicians.

Vicious – The buzz saw sounding guitar work, booming bass and Lou’s monotone delivery make this song unique and awesome at the same time. With lines such as “When I watch you come Baby, I just want to run far away You’re not the kind of person around I Want to stay” and “Vicious Hey, why don’t you swallow razor blades You must think that I’m some kind of gay blade But baby, you’re so vicious” it’s not for the faint of heart in 2017. I can’t imagine the flak it took in 1972.

Andy’s Chest – This song was originally wrote for The Velvet Underground but never appeared on an album by that band until 1985’s VU. It was inspired by the 1967 shooting of Andy Warhol. Amazing guitar work from Mick Ronson and background vocals from David Bowie. No more needs to be said.

Perfect Day – A flowing and orchestral song. It never saw the fame it so greatly deserved until it was featured on the 1996 film Trainspotting. For me, Lou’s crackling, almost pubescent vocals, the strings and piano work are the stars here.

Hangin’ ‘Round – Amazing guitar work by both Lou and Mick contrast with the use of a recorder. It has an almost early 70’s Rolling Stones sound to it, and you can’t help but rock along to it. I love this song.

Walk On The Wild Side – Another song I am sure that caused a ton of flak. 1972 was not as open minded to songs featuring references to transsexuality, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex. Andy Warhol is again featured here with mention of 5 of the key players from The Factory studio including Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell (Sugar Plum Fairy). How it became a staple on rock radio is a testament to just how good this song is. For me, Lou’s vocal delivery and the bass work are amazing but the sax work is out of this world.

Make Up – A fun little song about men “coming out of the closets” and putting makeup on. It has a fun beat punctuated with a tuba played in a sort of circus/carnival sort of way.

Satellite of Love – Another song composed when Lou was still in The Velvet Underground. It was originally a demo for Lou’s first album but didn’t make the cut. I have no idea why. It’s a great song. Although Lou had Mick Ronson on guitar and Bowie on background vocals. That must have been what put it over the top.

Wagon Wheel – This song sounds like Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealers Wheel),  Get It On (T Rex) and Whiskey In The Jar (Thin Lizzy version) all got mixed up in an amazing jambalaya of musical awesomeness. What came first, the chicken or the awesome song.

New York Telephone Conversation – A fun little ragtime number about the gossip surrounding New York at the time.

I`m So Free – The hand clapping, background vocals and drumming are ace here, but the guitar work is absolutely stunning.

Goodnight Ladies – Another tuba song that could be played at the end of any circus act. The tuba and sax are the stars for me. Two tuba songs on a rock record. Just one more thing on a long list of firsts that this album had.

10/10

 

 

 

26 thoughts on “45th Anniversary Album Review: Lou Reed – Transformer (1972, 2012 RCA vinyl edition)

  1. One of the few Lou Reed solo albums I own. Haven’t listened to it in ages but I dig it. Some thoughts: I can’t remember ‘Vicious’ taking any kind of flak at all, at least here in the States. It wasn’t really a hit of any sort so you had to pretty much own the album to even know it. I really like Hangin’ Round too. Wish he’d done that on ‘Rock n Roll Animal.’ Kicks some ass. ‘Wild Side,’ of course, was a pretty big hit. But they often played a sanitized version, removing any references to ‘giving head.’ So really, for a lot of people, it was just this oddball, interesting song. Nobody really knew it was peopled with real characters that Reed knew. But yeah, we were a pretty homophobic society back then. BTW, if Reed were around today and wrote this, he could easily get away with those sex references. The colored girl thing? Not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember when Billy Squier put out a video in the 80’s in which he danced weirdly. He lost tons of fans that assumed he was homosexual due to his dancing style.
      I don’t think Lou cared what anyone thought. He did his own thing.
      I’m just surprised in 1972 it got past the record company execs.

      Like

      • True enough it was odd to get that past those execs. But 1972 America was still, effectively, the ’60’s. Creatively, in music, film, and the arts in general, there was more of an “artist-in-control” laissez-faire attitude. It lasted for several years and some of these companies were even run by people who liked music and film. Then they all got sold off to conglomerates for whom anything “artsy” was a small part of their portfolio. And then artists had less control and everything got safer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes it would be nice to go back.
        Kind of like the freedom radio dj’s had back then.
        The days of a dj in Austin or Cleveland or somewhere promoting a new artist are gone.
        Now corporate rules and only new bands in the top 40 get airplay.

        My argument is Led Zeppelin for example reformed and put out a new album, even it may not get airplay.

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      • Right. I have satellite in one car. Every time I’m stuck with the other one and turn on terrestrial FM radio, I am pretty much guaranteed to hear ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Who Are You’ if I stick around long enough. Good songs, but pathetic programming.

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      • I do not have sattelite radio, but if I borrow my dad’s truck, he does have it.
        I like the variety and less commercials.
        I do have a good rapport with my local radio program director.
        He actually listens to his audience and has molded the station. It took years though.
        I actually enjoy radio again. Yes the standards are there but he plays heavier and deeper cuts than any other station.
        Mostly radio people walk on glass wondering when they will be fired.
        The problem with most radio execs is they program radio to suit the masses. Not for real music fans such as you and I. They go for familiarity.
        I suggest to email the program person at your station. They may do what they can to try and make the station better.

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  2. I’ll have to revisit this one Brian – it didn’t reel me in right away when I heard it but your review has encouraged me to give it another go.
    I imagine Reed might be like Brian Eno for me, where I didn’t see the appeal at first, but after repeated exposure have really started to appreciate & enjoy

    Liked by 2 people

  3. J. says:

    Smashin’ review, Bop. Took me a while to fully appreciate this one, but for all its imperfections, it’s very accessible and I’m awfy fond of it. 45 years old, though… wow!

    Liked by 2 people

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