"The Bells isn't merely Lou Reed's best solo LP, it's great art."
June 16, 2014 6:15 PM   Subscribe

Lou Reed's 1979 LP The Bells, featuring Don Cherry and Nils Lofgren, turned 35 in April.

Lester Bangs' take: Lou Reed is a prick and a jerkoff who regularly commits the ultimate sin of treating his audience with contempt. He's also a person with deep compassion for a great many other people about whom almost nobody else gives a shit. I won't say who they are, because I don't want to get too schmaltzy, except to emphasize that there's always been more to this than drugs and fashionable kinks, and to point out that suffering, loneliness and psychic/spiritual exile are great levelers. The Bells isn't merely Lou Reed's best solo LP, it's great art. Everybody made a fuss over Street Hassle, but too many reviewers overlooked the fact that it was basically a sound album: brilliant layers of live and studio work in a deep wash of bass-obsessive noise. Most of the songs were old, and not very good, with a lot of the same old cheap shots.

1. "Stupid Man"
2. "Disco Mystic"
3. "I Want to Boogie with You"
4. "With You"
5. "Looking for Love"
6. "City Lights"
7. "All Through the Night"
8. "Families"
9. "The Bells"

Musician/writer Matt Krefting on a proposal to the 33 1/3 literary series on this LP:

The Bells is written and performed with the same kind of delirious, drunken lack of “quality-control” exhibited by any number of people who have bounced from bar to bar in the great city of New York. Choices cease to be “good” or “bad,” they just come off as peculiar. And these hazy, not-quite-perfect choices are echoed in the songs on this record. People are fools, and The Bells understands this. People popping pills and hopping from bar to bar in New York are big fucking fools, and The Bells understands this as well. Its author is one of these people in 1979. But in all life, no matter how foolish, no matter how depraved and stupid, there is beauty and poetry. The magic of the record is that although it understands all of this, it is up to us to find it for ourselves as we encounter it. And what a glorious human lesson for a work of art to teach us: to look past the mess and shame and ridiculousness of someone’s life and find their particular rhythm, their own desire for the attainment of some sort of transcendence, no matter how temporary. Oh if we could learn to take these lessons to heart, to transfer wisdom attained through record-listening to the rest of our little lives!

Gone is the dramatic misery of Berlin, gone is the spiked dog collar and leather and theatrical pomp of Rock and Roll Animal, the aggressive nihilism of Metal Machine Music, the wistful nostalgia of Coney Island Baby. Released on the heels of the Street Hassle, a record so sleazy you might slip if you walked in it, and the outwardly confrontational Take No Prisoners, a hilarious double live album on which Reed spends as much time ranting as singing, The Bells might almost seem dull. It deals with issues of family, of wanting to be loved, feelings of frustration and loneliness. Reed filters his experience of questioning and longing into a group of booze-soaked songs that change shape with each listen, songs whose moods become harder to pin down the more you hear them. The tables are constantly turning, echoing Bob Dylan’s assertion that “the concept of being morally right or morally wrong seems to be wired to the wrong frequency. Things that aren’t in the script happen every day.”

More Krefting on Lou: To Be Here Without YouHow Do You Think It Feels

Bonus live takes of "The Bells" • October 2011Lou Reed and Don Cherry Live May 1979
posted by porn in the woods (56 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

Don Cherry
posted by Flashman at 6:36 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I quite like some of Lou Reed's music. But I do not understand why The Velvet Underground is given such critical acclaim. I think their favorable reputation perhaps sprang from their being of the bohemian vanguard of the era, rather than from musical merit.
posted by Jeff Dewey at 6:46 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]

Sorry Jeff Dewey, the music was pretty special for the times.
posted by ashbury at 6:48 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]

I always thought this was one of Lester Bangs's most perfect pieces of writing. That man loved music - really loved it - like none other.
posted by mykescipark at 6:49 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

OK OK OK it's stuck in my heads until it's out so I'll share.

And if there is one thing Lester Bangs knows about it's...... Cheap shots.

Ba dum bum
posted by edgeways at 6:50 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I know it's all old stuff, but you can never go wrong listening to something Lester Bangs liked.

Thanks for the links, I was in the camp of not really liking most of the post-Velvets Lou Reed, but hadn't actually heard most of it. This album sounds like it should be on the jukebox of your favorite dive bar.
posted by Catblack at 6:52 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

I have long described The Bells as being the single most inconsistent album I know. It is impossible to pin down, and frustratingly fascinating in new ways every time I listen to it.

I'm not sure that these qualities make it a good record (or "great art"), but it's an unforgettable, strange, and oddly compelling album.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:05 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

But I do not understand why The Velvet Underground is given such critical acclaim. I think their favorable reputation perhaps sprang from their being of the bohemian vanguard of the era, rather than from musical merit.

There's no requirement to like music just because someone says it is good. But the VU are instantly recognizable -- it wasn't just new then, but still stands out. Lou Reed's solo work is far more inconsistent.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:19 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

As a musician, difficult to listen to (as was much of Lou's work). This album is not about the music, but the lyrics. Lou was a poet first.
posted by whozyerdaddy at 7:39 PM on June 16

The Velvet Underground are given such critical acclaim because they were 4 for 4 in releasing damn near perfect studio albums - and that's not even delving into spectacular official postmortem releases such as Live at Max's Kansas City, the 1969 Ass Album(s), and odds and ends collections. Name another band that has a collection of unused and/or unreleased material as solid as 1984's VU. You can't, and if you think you can then let the wrong start piling up on your side of the fence.

They get the acclaim because they were the seediest first, they wrote music both beautiful and abrasive (often in the same song), they didn't give a flying fuck when 99% of pop music was trying a bit too hard to hit that fuck a'flyin' (and yes I know they wanted hits - Loaded is a good example - but they ended up in an untouchable realm because the music was far too weird to be a hit even at its most commercial [Loaded again]), they invented genres of pop and rock music and damn if it almost never sounded like they were trying, and do you really want me to keep going? Because unlike most of my other favorite bands, I could easily sing the VU's praises for pages and pages of excited blabbering.

I know it's all subjective. It's music, after all. Art. It needs to be subjective or else I shudder to think what would happen upon turning on a radio or hitting shuffle on an mp3 player. One of the very last fights - possibly the very last fight - I can remember getting into with my ex-wife began with her admission that she hated Nico and yes I know not the Velvets but hopefully you get the picture. Before this argument, I had no idea she felt this way. I naively assumed that she dug Nico because dammit it's Nico. She and I both hated the Grateful Dead and Linkin Park and whatever else it was fun to hate together and she and I both passionately loved a lot of the same music, too. She didn't just not get the first Velvets record, but all Nico, including the beautiful Chelsea Girls (with its strong VU connections) and the scariest album released up until that point, The Marble Index. The argument ended when she announced that oh by the way she also couldn't understand the appeal of the Velvet Underground at all. She liked Transformer just fine and I remember turning her onto John Cale's Fear, but the VU were a no-go for her that she politely neglected to mention to me for years. This wasn't what ended our relationship, of course. I think it's safe to admit that our tastes in drugs were more or less what did it, she being a buy-an-eighth-of-weed-and-have-it-last-seven-months-until-she-forgot-she-even-had-it type, and me with a hundred dollar a day dope thing going on. Still, she didn't like the Velvets so at the time of our split a particularly stupid part of my brain processed it was somehow her fault just as much as mine.

This doesn't really explain much, I know, but it'll be a nice topic for my next therapy appointment.
posted by item at 7:45 PM on June 16 [34 favorites]

never gave much of a rats ass for Lou Reed, but Nils Lofgren, that guy can play.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:47 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

> But I do not understand why The Velvet Underground is given such critical acclaim. I think their favorable reputation perhaps sprang from their being of the bohemian vanguard of the era, rather than from musical merit.

That certainly helped, but they had a lot of artistic merit, even if it came from a different angle than conventional musicality. Having roots in both Brill Building pop jingles and Dream Syndicate wall of noise drones was inevitably going to lead to an incoherent mess or a brilliant mess, and ended up being kind of both. Adding Nico for Brechtian effect seemed to glue it all together for a while, until they figured themselves out enough to not need her any more. And I know that's not actually how things happened, but that's the effect on this listener when I hear the first four albums in chronological order.

The Velvet Underground might've been infamous in their time for their image and pre-punk sound, but they were notorious also for being not particularly popular or successful despite their friends in high places and major label sponsorships. They have more fans now than they did in the entirety of their existence as a working group, but that doesn't mean the music is any less challenging, only that time and the generations of musicians influenced by them has made getting into their stuff a little less intimidating. For example, now that you're familiar with the Cowboy Junkies et al covering Sweet Jane, you can go back to the original and see how the band did it differently.

Music works for somebody or it doesn't. So it's OK not to like VU either. But if you like western pop or rock music at all, you're almost certainly a fan of somebody who has all their albums.
posted by ardgedee at 8:02 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

The Velvet Underground also suffer a bit from the curse of being an oft-copied innovator - something Gram Parsons and Big Star, for example, also suffer from. If you hear the bands that took their work and built on it and then hear the Velvet Underground, it is perhaps harder to understand what's the big deal (until you recognize, in the case of all three bands, that they wrote some killer songs, too). If you look at them in context of the time, they were blazing new ground.

On topic, The Bells is pretty boss, too.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:49 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I think this is the ultimate case of the emperor's new clothes. There is virtually not a single bar of Lou Reed's music that isn't inane, painful garbage.

Someone on this thread commented that Lou Reed is a poet first. A poet?? Lou Reed's lyrics are like the cringe-inducing "poetry" of high school yearbooks.

This is his "poetry". This is typical. And with a lifetime of writing this poetry, has it gotten better? No. It still makes people who don't realize they're supposed to like Lou Reed want to jump out of a closed window.

To top it off, he's completely tone deaf. Holding a tune is not a redeeming skill.

People, give your heads a shake.
posted by huron at 8:58 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I like a lot of the Velvet Underground and a couple of Lou's solo records but I will admit I never found it particularly innovative. I always assumed though that it's because I came to it later and other bands had incorporated his thing enough to where it didn't really sound unique anymore. I like to think that's the case because other people I respect hold him in such high regard that they have to be hearing something I don't. They can't all be crazy. But I'm not sure if it'll ever click with me the way it seems to for some folks. It's good but I don't get the worship.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:10 PM on June 16

Thanks for those Krefting links! I hadn't read him before, and really liked what he said about Reed, particularly the attentiveness to his guitar sound. Somehow, though I've heard most of Reed's solo stuff, I hadn't crossed paths with The Bells, and I'm digging it. His solo stuff is always hit or miss, but the ones that are good are transformative.

I think what most stands out for me with Reed is how his armor of cool lets him go to thumping, ugly, awkward places that a less confident/egocentric performer couldn't. One can hear a lot of Jonathan Richman's willful lumpiness in Reed's slant rhymes and lines of verse that don't resolve, just dribble off onto the nod. Even the production on the early VU albums have an eagerness to embrace clipping, muddiness, and all the other things you're not supposed to do with sound, just like Reed's narrators live to do what they know damn well they shouldn't.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:54 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]

And this is great, from the first Krefting article:

It is in this language available to anybody that Reed writes “Halloween Parade.” The images are direct, clear, and evocative. Through a simple catalog of who is in the parade and who is not, he conjures an entire social reality. Like any good art, we are not told what to think. There is nothing dogmatic present. A scene is offered, a perspective established, and the audience must make its way through the rest.

“In the back of my mind I was afraid it could be true/In the back of my mind I was afraid that they meant you.” It’s both the most explicit and mysterious moment in the song. Who has he been talking to this whole time? Whether he’s talking to a departed friend or talking to himself, it’s sad as shit.

posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:02 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Yeah Heroin's a real turd. Good luck making any impact on 50 years of popular music with that, Lou!

posted by anazgnos at 10:32 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]

I find The Bells almost painfully unlistenable.

Complex arrangement, orchestration, improvisation... these are not Lou's strong suit. Keep it simple, maybe layer drones ala Black Angel's Death Song, but horns? No, Lou, no. Don't even try it.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:55 PM on June 16

Oh, Huron. I guess that you just don't know.

Can you really listen to "I'm Waiting for the Man" or "Candy Says" and not see the genius there? Even his fans will admit he recorded some real dreck, but when the guy was on, he was on.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:03 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]

To top it off, he's completely tone deaf. Holding a tune is not a redeeming skill.

People, give your heads a shake.

Who ever said you have to sing well to sing great?
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 11:15 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]

Sometimes people suspect that people like something because everybody likes it. Velvet Underground isn't that way. They were amazing. The first three albums were three of the greatest rock albums of all time. Like in the top 20.

And I think they were actually innovative. That drone--that comes largely from them. And while they didn't create "noise rock", they did it better than anybody else- including the Beatles -were doing it in the late 60s. And that softer ballad sound on the third album and on Loaded--everyone picked up on that.

Fuck, every time I hear White Light White Heat, I want to move to New York and start a band. And I don't even play any instruments.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:51 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]

Something else: there are some bands where it's easy to point to what makes one of their songs extraordinary. So with the Beatles you can point to the harmonies, the songcraft, the bridge, the lyrics. With Pink Floyd you can point to the synths, drumming, and David Gilmour's guitar. Easy example-- with Rush you can point to drums and bass time signatures etc. But there are some bands where it's very hard to say why they are so fucking awesome; they just are. So I have in mind here bands like the Clash, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Modern Lovers, and today a band like Savages. It's hard for me to tell someone what to listen for in them. I just want to point at the speaker/stage and say, can you hear how fucking amazing that is? If they can't , there's not much I can say.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:10 AM on June 17

Perhaps the VU broadcasted an attitude that was both cocksure and invitingly experimental at the same time. Experimental art usually isn't inviting, but they made it feel like "you can be here too, and maybe you can even do this stuff. Isn't it glorious and radical and very human, just like you?" In fact, I think that's part of the whole thing Andy Warhol was about (though no one tends to agree with me).

I read the article and found it quite moving. I think Lou Reed is an artist we learn to have an evolving relationship with, and I think the essay expressed this sense of evolution quite well. Some stuff is terrible. Then, on second listen, it's brilliant. And then, on fiftieth listen, it's terrible all over again. You can't pin it down and whether you like it or hate it, if it speaks to you, it simply does so, and it's ok that you're not sure whether you like it or not or whether it would be good music by your anyone else's standards. It's what it is and it either moves you or it doesn't.

But if you're on the being-moved side, there's so much stylistic richness and lyrical richness and complex orchestrations to explore and get to know. Until you realize it's all just shlock -- but then rethink yourself a week later.

I think it's his emotional nakedness that really does it for me. There's a sense of honesty about his music that, throughout all of the surprisingly disparate styles, never ceases to touch a chord in me. I honestly haven't given a fair listen to The Bells, and will do so soon.
posted by treepour at 12:36 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]

I'm one of those people who loves the Velvet Underground but who has never really gotten into solo Lou Reed - which always seemed like a few terrific tracks surrounded by an awful lot of boring riffs and wanky guitar. I'm listening to the The Bells, though, and really loving it. So ragged, sleazy and funny. What else did he do that sounds like this?
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:33 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

I just want to say I still love "Wild Side". As a 13 yr old hearing that song on the radio, that song scared me and thrilled me.

The first time I heard it, I couldn't believe the radio was allowed to have a song so obviously about drugs and prostitution and is that gay sex I can't tell and holy crap what is wrong with these people!! I bet a mob will call the station and they'll never be allowed to play it again.

Then the next day when I caught myself singing that catchy tune it I was kind of ashamed, like Oh no, what's the Wild Side going to be for me? I was glad nobody heard me.

Just the whole idea of the song was dark and nasty to me, about how some people turned out.

The song grew on me over the years. I kept looking at it differently and I won't go into all the ways. Now it's mostly a campfire tale that used to scare me and I like to sing along.
posted by surplus at 3:56 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]

I have read that the VU were more influential than the Beatles. How is that measured, I wonder.
posted by Major Tom at 4:03 AM on June 17

I have read that the VU were more influential than the Beatles. How is that measured, I wonder.

Because while everybody who first heard the VU went out and started a band, everybody who first heard the Beatles waited 6 months until their hair was long enough and then went out and got a bowl cut.
posted by item at 4:36 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]

>Lou Reed's lyrics are like the cringe-inducing "poetry" of high school yearbooks.

That from which you recoil, but still makes your eyes moist.
posted by Catblack at 4:38 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]

while everybody who first heard the VU went out and started a band, everybody who first heard the Beatles waited 6 months until their hair was long enough and then went out and got a bowl cut.

That's a pretty good summary of the divide between garage bands and prog rockers, although I think that when the Beatles first came to the attention of a lot of people, they still had a lot of the garage band about them. And there's a lot of evidence that, later in their career, the Beatles really missed that; Paul tried to get the other lads to go out and play pubs in disguise, and Let It Be ends with a rooftop concert (and eventually with the police shutting them down), the first public performance they had put on in years.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:26 AM on June 17

I think mostly because of the ideology around what makes a group authentic, the role of bandleader is one not generally celebrated in rock and roll, but it's a valuable skill that Reed profited from over the course of his solo career. The Bells (which I have loved since it's release) is a good example of that; this is clearly a Lou Reed record, but because Reed picked Lofgren and Cherry to play on it, it's quite a bit different from The Blue Mask with Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders or the Guitarchitecture stuff he did with Chuck Hammer.

The work with Hammer illustrates another side of Reed, which was an (often passing) enthusiasm for a recording technology or technique, like his celebration of binaural sound on Street Hassle and which continues on The Bells, especially effectively on All Through the Night. That's an aspect of Reed's career that drove Bangs to distraction, as chronicled in one of his famous slugfest/interviews that ran in Cream.

But, yeah, The Bells. I'm just gonna sit back and listen. Thanks, porn in the woods.
posted by layceepee at 5:48 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the post! I haven't listened to this one, but I find something awesome in (nearly) every solo album.

In conclusion, just exactly what treepour said...

cincinnatus c, have you heard New York?
posted by allthinky at 6:44 AM on June 17

When I started to get into good music, my father played me some songs by the Velvets. (Stuff that would later appear in Wes Anderson movies.) At one point on a long car ride he popped in Live at Max's Kansas City. The music stopped at one point and a man's voice came in, ordering a drink.

"That's me," Dad said, nodding at the radio.

And I believed him, since he saw the Velvets every time they traipsed through Boston, and had even made the pilgrimage to Max's to see them.

Many years later I was in a bar, and the bartender threw on Live at Max's. When the man ordering the drink came on, I pointed my swizzle stick at the speakers. "That's my dad."

The bartender scratched his chin and squinted at me. "Is your old man Jim Carroll?"


"Then it wasn't your old man, was it?"

It sure wasn't.

posted by pxe2000 at 6:53 AM on June 17 [12 favorites]

VU can't be discussed without noting there are two distinct bands called the Velvet Underground; the one with John Cale and the one without. The one band had atonal drones and a nerve-jangling wall of sound and the other band playing perfectly twisted pop songs.

They're two completely different bands who happened to have shared some personnel and it is entirely possible to love the both equally.
posted by fatfrank at 6:57 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]

Somehow, I've never heard this album. It reminds me enormously, though of my favorite Lou Reed album Set The Twilight Reeling. Each song is an intensely personal reflection on something which could reveal important truths about living if one's a) open to life itself and b) to being shared with in this raw, visceral way.
posted by cleroy at 6:58 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

"Oh yeah? Well your favorite band SUCKS!"

Thanks for the laugh!
posted by From Bklyn at 7:10 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

I love the VU, but my favorite Lou Reed related song is the Live version of Sweet Jane on Rock & Roll Animal. Amazing guitars.
posted by jonmc at 7:19 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

> They're two completely different bands who happened to have shared some personnel and it is entirely possible to love the both equally.

Oh man. They're a half-dozen completely different bands. And that's not even including the ones after Reed and Cale left.
posted by ardgedee at 7:34 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

I love the VU, but my favorite Lou Reed related song is the Live version of Sweet Jane on Rock & Roll Animal. Amazing guitars.

Not to mention Prakash John
posted by thelonius at 8:05 AM on June 17

But I do not understand why The Velvet Underground is given such critical acclaim

You know, I, too, used to wonder why some people didn't like what I liked and did like things I didn't like. Then I realized that it's because they're not me. And, curiously enough, I'm not them.
posted by yoink at 8:48 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]

I'm not crazy about The Bells as a whole, though I've always enjoyed "Disco Mystic" for some perverse reason. (And I guess that means I'm on Lou's wavelength to some extent.) But I have it on vinyl, and I do play it from time to time. And it's OK, I guess, but when I finally get to "The Bells," and I'm listening to it thinking "Man, this is so fucking weird, who did Lou Reed even think he was with these whacked-out otherworldly noises" and the whole record is threatening to just twist out of my grasp entirely, and then that moment comes at the five-and-a-half-minute mark where the vocals kick in, along with the cheesy drum fills and the piano at the back of the mix and I swear to god the gooseflesh just rises. Maybe it's an illusion but it all comes together and Lou's quivering voice sings "Here come the bells" and ghosts of all the characters from Transformer and Sally Can't Dance and Street Hassle suddenly rush into the room and I feel like my heart's going to explode. Every time. I have no idea why it happens or how he does it. But man.
posted by Mothlight at 10:13 AM on June 17 [8 favorites]

Cincinnatus: Maybe try Street Hassle next.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:04 AM on June 17

Or try drinking a couple of bottles of cough syrup like Lester Bangs did
posted by thelonius at 11:38 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

That was for Tangerine Dream.
posted by jonmc at 12:33 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]

I never really understood rock and roll until I heard "Rock and Roll." And then it all fell together and made sense.
posted by blucevalo at 2:29 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Cincinnatus: Maybe try Street Hassle next.

Yeah, I listened to Street Hassle next and this is my kind of thing! I had no idea this stuff existed, so I'm thankful this post exists.

My experience of listening to the song "The Bells" for the first time - the final song on the album - was a bit like how Mothlight describes. Amazement and goosebumps.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:36 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

There is virtually not a single bar of Lou Reed's music that isn't inane, painful garbage.

I feel stupid. All these years I've been enjoying Lou Reed's music. Thanks for clearing things up for me.
posted by davebush at 3:35 PM on June 17

"The Bells" is staggeringly good.
posted by naju at 4:06 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Cincinnatus: Glad you liked it! If this is the Reed you're into, you might want to try (in this order): Coney Island Baby, Berlin, Transformer, and Rock'n'Roll Animal. I think about half of The Blue Mask is terrific and half is wank, ymmv.

There's a lot of terrible Lou Reed albums out there, but the good ones are really special.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:51 PM on June 17

Also, if you dig VU but are hot/cold on LR, I recommend checking out John Cale's solo work. As noted upthread, a lot of the great Velvets songs were very much his sound, and I think he's much more consistent than Reed. Start with the Seducing Down the Door best-of, and see what periods grab you most.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:44 PM on June 17

you might want to try (in this order): Coney Island Baby, Berlin, Transformer, and Rock'n'Roll Animal.

Heh, that's interesting; I love Street Hassle and also the much-reviled Berlin, but Coney Island Baby seems firmly on my list of crappy Lou Reed solo efforts. Transformer I think of as "the solo Lou Reed that everybody already knows" although maybe that's not true anymore? Rock'n'Roll Animal and "Lou Reed Live" are amazing rock albums, but people who love Velvet Underground usually find them too slick and MOR in my experience.

All of which is not to say "you're wrong" but just to note how everybody seems to map the Lou Rred terrain rather differently. There's general agreement that he produced a lot of dreck and a either a few or a lot of winners, but there really doesn't seem to be general agreement about which is which.
posted by yoink at 7:27 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]

I guess I should add as a caveat about Street Hassle that "I Wanna Be Black" is one of those songs that although I think you can construct a perfectly plausible defense of it (i.e., that it's commenting ironically on the various stereotypes its riffing on etc.), on the whole I think the album would be stronger without it.
posted by yoink at 8:58 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I've always taken "I Wanna Be Black" as a parody of the fake soul that was so prevalent in music at the time, especially since the lyrics make very, very clear that he's speaking through a narrator, not himself: ""I don't want to be no fucked-up, middle-class college student anymore..."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:52 AM on June 18

I love Lou Reed, and have tried sporadically for years to enjoy The Bells, but just have never been able to get into it.

After a recent move, I dug out all my old LPs, hooked up the turntable, and gave The Bells another shot. My younger wife (born just few years before I bought my copy of The Bells, on sale with its corner cut off) had an immediate, visceral hatred for Disco Mystic, which is actually my favorite cut on the album. (I'm accustomed to milder versions of her reaction when I force her to listen to my teenage musical obsessions, but she REALLY loathed Disco Mystic...)

I don't know why The Bells leaves me cold when I love 1/3 of Lou's odd binaural experiment - Street Hassle is a great, great record. (The other 1/3, the Take No Prisoners live album is meh, but the monologues are amusing, at least the first few times you hear them.)

but Coney Island Baby seems firmly on my list of crappy Lou Reed solo efforts.

Aw, I have a soft spot for it, but mostly for the minor songs that never get talked about, like "Nobody's Business." The title track is one of those "important" autobiographical Lou Reed songs that are overrated, I think.

Surely the crappiest solo Lou Reed album is Rock and Roll Heart. So very, very lame.
posted by JeffL at 6:59 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Toss-up between Rock & Roll Heart and Mistrial, I'd say.

This thread just inspired me to listen to Coney Island Baby again. Still love "Charley's Girl".
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:27 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Rock and Roll Heart is awful, but closes with the excellent "Temporary Thing"
posted by porn in the woods at 9:04 AM on June 19

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