"See you next year at the halloween parade" - Lou Reed's New York at 25
August 18, 2014 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Lou Reed's New York LP hit the quarter-century mark earlier this year. "Meant to be listened to in one 58-minute sitting as though it were a book or a movie," New York couples an unusually accessible rock style with some of most topical lyrics of Lou's career. "Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation--all that's missing is a disquisition on real estate." - Robert Christgau

Get caught between the twisted stars, the plotted lines, the faulty map that brought Columbus to New York.

"At one point or another, Lou Reed commits every mistake in the activist singers' handbook. Too often, these protest lyrics are gracelessly over-explicit, leaving you no room to discover anything... Musically, New York's among his very best. It reads worse than it sounds; irrespective of their other qualities, when you listen with lyric sheet in hand the words crowd out what his voice is doing to and with them, not to mention everything else going on. Once you quit reading, you're hooked, even though three songs or so still sound lousy." - The Village Voice

Familiar with this LP and looking for some different takes on these tracks? Try this collection of 1989 live shows at this ridiculously comprehensive live Lou site, as well as the Warner home video New York - Live 1989

1. Romeo Had Juliette
It doesn’t get any better than opening rocker “Romeo Had Juliette”, a tale of ephemeral young love amidst crack dealers “dreaming of an Uzi someone had just scored.” As the song unfolds, Reed leaves little doubt that NYC is headed for an ugly demise: “Manhattan’s sinking like a rock/ Into the filthy Hudson, what a shock.” - Consequence of Sound

2. Halloween Parade
Reed was fond of pointing out that he never wrote a “Son of Wild Side,” but if there was one, this is it. Everyone’s in costume, and there is always a degree to which costumes allow us to be ourselves, especially when the world doesn’t want to deal with who we really are. “Halloween Parade,” like “Walk on the Wild Side,” is a love song. It’s an elegy, a topical song that doesn’t rely for a second on the tired language of “protest” or “political” music. - Matt Krefting

3. Dirty Blvd.
“Dirty Blvd.” contrasts the haves and have-nots, as Reed pairs flashy movie stars with “TV whores calling the cops out for a suck.” The song’s piteous protagonist, battered by his abusive father and gouged by a profiteering slumlord, yearns to escape the furnace of his daily life. Alongside Dion’s soulful backup vocals and peppy guitar licks, the singer cries out, “I want to fly-fly-fly-fly from the Dirty Boulevard!” - Consequence of Sound

4. Endless Cycle
"Endless Cycle" sees Lou Reed rewrite his Berlin album - in a way - in just four minutes. It's all there, that observation of horrific lives playing out in spite of themselves. And if it would actually let itself it could be a country song. Saddest damn country song you ever did hear. I tell you. - Stuff

5. There Is No Time
"This is a time for Action/Because the future's Within Reach," he sings on the supercharged "There Is No Time," but nowhere does he suggest either what that action might be or how that future might be seized. - Rolling Stone

6. Last Great American Whale
Last Great American Whale features his line "it's just like what my painter friend Donald says to me, 'stick a fork in their ass and turn 'em over, they're done'". Lou's "painter friend Donald" was in fact John Mellencamp. - Stuff (NZ)

7. Beginning of a Great Adventure
And when he speculates on having a family he says, “I’d raise my own pallbearers to carry me to my grave and keep me company when I’m a wizened toothless clod.” - Elsewhere (NZ)

8. Busload of Faith
"Busload of Faith" serves as this album -- and quite possibly Lou's -- credo, underwritten by stomping drums and needling guitar: "You can depend on the worst always happening / you need a busload of faith to get by." "You can't depend on the goodly hearted," he sings pointedly. "The goodly hearted made lamp-shades and soap." No believer in God or religion, Reed's busload of faith seems to be in faith itself, the defiant desire to persist in the face of the worst. - JSOnline

9. Sick of You
Among the other songs, "Sick of You" is the sort of sardonic-surreal bead-stringing -- shaggy-dog protest -- that hasn't ever quite worked for anybody. - Village Voice

10. Hold On
The song “Hold On” brings everything together with a cheerful litany of trouble from the grimy newspapers: “blacks with knives and whites with guns fighting in Howard Beach … a cop [...] shot in the head by a 10 year old kid named Buddah … a plague of bloody vials … a riot in Tompkins Square.” - cinchreview

11. Good Evening Mr. Waldheim
So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the promisingly titled "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim" turns out primarily to be a lecture to Jesse Jackson about his "common ground" speech, which he delivered at the Democratic National Convention last summer. Placing himself to the right of even the Reagan administration's current Middle East position, Reed chides Jackson with the question "Jesse you say Common Ground/Does that include the PLO?" He goes on to ask, hammering a rhyme worthy of a rapper, "If I ran for President and once was a member of the Klan/Wouldn't you call me on it/The way I call you on Farrakhan?" The song doesn't end hopefully; in the last lines, Reed snaps, "Oh is it true/There's no Ground Common enough for me and you?" - Rolling Stone

12. Xmas in February
"Xmas in February" is a great story-song, in as much as it's practically another spoken-word/"Last Great American Whale." "Please send this vet home/But he is home" and "He's an example of the war that wasn't won". You get the feeling this song doesn't even need to be rewritten and it would still hold relevance. - Stuff (NZ)

13. Strawman
In logic, a strawman is a misrepresentation or caricature of an opponent's position to make it easier to knock down. That doesn't completely track with Reed's use of the title to criticize American excesses. He may not be a great logician, but I enjoy the smash-mouth music here, and his fervent desire for something transcendent near the end: "Does anyone need yet another blank skyscraper / if you're like me I'm sure a minor miracle will do / A flaming sword or maybe a gold ark floating up the Hudson / when you spit in the wind it comes right back at you." - JSOnline

14. Dime Store Mystery
Partly as a result, left sounding more anomalous than it probably needs to is "Dime Store Mystery," Reed's farewell to his old band's erstwhile patron, Andy Warhol. His sense of occasion for once accurately recognizing the obvious move as the right one, he's designed the song to bring back memories of the Velvets, both in the flesh (Maureen Tucker sits in on drums, as she does on "Whale") and in spirit (an uncredited string part simulates John Cale's viola). Even the fact that the religious imagery feels pretentious also makes it feel apt. The problem is that "Mystery" is the final cut, leaving unresolved an album whose structure demands that it end with a definite Yes or No. - Village Voice
posted by porn in the woods (37 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
I still know virtually all the words to virtually all these. This was one of the albums that - and I don't even like it, or Lou Reed except the Velvets, because everyone likes the Velvets - made me who I am today. In my early teens, it made the world seem both knowable and a place where you had to think in political terms. Also, it made the world seem big, which is funny since it's just about New York.
posted by Frowner at 3:11 PM on August 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

I listened the hell out of that album in the early 90s. "It's like my painter friend Donald said..." is something I still quote frequently.

As long as we're piling on with Lou Reed stuff that you should listen to all at once, a requiem for Andy Warhol:
Lou Reed and John Cale - Songs for Drella
posted by mcstayinskool at 3:17 PM on August 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

25 years? Yikes. I had tickets to see the live show of this album in August of '89 but he fell of the stage in Cleveland two days earlier and broke his ankle and had to cancel. Never got to see him.
posted by octothorpe at 3:19 PM on August 18, 2014

There was a string of Reed albums that where really good starting with New York.

New York
Songs for Drella
Magic and Loss

less so but still -- Set the Twilight Reeling

I like Lou Reed quite a bit, mainly though in individual songs - those four though are all pretty great
posted by edgeways at 3:26 PM on August 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

This has got to be one of my very favourite albums qua album, by anyone. This even though, on the whole, I'd say the songs on Transformer are much better, they just don't create a world the way New York does. Thank you for reminding me to listen to it again.
posted by 256 at 3:36 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

An often overlooked instant classic. I love this record.
posted by NedKoppel at 3:44 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

A totally amazing album. As mentioned or alluded to in some of the reviews, the songs themselves aren't necessarily his best, but as an album, the whole thing together is a gold ark floating up the Hudson. It is just perfect.

Also, I'm pretty sure that this was the first album that proved that a 1960s rock icon could produce something that was legitimately as good as anything they had ever made, even after all the excesses, missteps and phoned-in embarrassments of the 70s and 80s (speaking of 60s rock icons in general, not just Lou). I think part of it was stepping back from the gated reverb and other 80s production tics that made everything instantly dated. Mostly it was the songs.

Many others have tried this same trick, but few have equalled it. And Lou didn't even need Rick Rubin.
posted by snofoam at 3:52 PM on August 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Halloween Parade has always been one of my favorite Lou Reed songs, and might be my all time favorite song about an era of my own New York experience (my college years at NYU) - it just captures like that crisp, autumn West Village vibe and all the emotional baggage that goes with it.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 3:53 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was fortunate enough to see Lou play these songs live in 1989. He was on tour supporting "New York" and played a small, sold out hall in Tampa. A great show—left me deaf for at least an hour, 'though.

Spot on, snofoam, about "New York"'s being proof that an apparently washed up 60's rock n' roller could produce a record twenty years later as good (or better) than his old hits, and better than what was then on offer from younger musicians. NYC's nightmare decade gave Reed ample grist for his poetic mill, and classic, straight up rock instrumentation—guitar, bass, and drums—gave his verse the perfect post-Reagan sound: two steps above garage band. But "New York" is Reed's most coherent work, his hommage to the Big Apple, warts and all.

And it still takes a busload of faith to get by.
posted by rdone at 4:16 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh man do I love this album. I sing Busload of Faith when the shit is getting real. And there's this from Last Great American Whale:

Americans don't care too much for beauty
They'll shit in a river, dump battery acid in a stream
They'll watch dead rats wash up on the beach
And complain if they can't swim
posted by mondo dentro at 4:20 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

My fave:

"My mother said she saw him up in Chinatown
last week
But you can't always trust your mother."
posted by allthinky at 4:23 PM on August 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

My cassette of this is long gone and I can't find the liner notes online anywhere, but besides 'His polemical liner notes direct the listener to hear the 57-minute album in one sitting, "as though it were a book or a movie."' I found "I'm on the left and the other guitarist, Mike Rathke is on the right." I seem to remember some contemporaneous interview where Lou talked about the tone he was looking for. He seemed satisfied that he'd really nailed it- just a particular combo of pickup & amp I think.

New York is my favorite L.R. album. Lyrics poetic enough to be transcendent, but grounded enough to not anger my brain's confusion centers. Musically it's deceptively simple. Someone said of MIDI that it captures the least important thing about music while stripping out expression. New York doesn't have a lot of notes, but fuck they are expressed.
posted by morganw at 4:23 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite albums. Listened to it a lot as a teenager with my mom in the car. There is a ton of great lines in that record--Lou Reed wrote a beast.
posted by Meatafoecure at 4:27 PM on August 18, 2014

This was one of the many albums I took and sold from my father's collection to finance my teenage drug habit. I gave him a copy years later for Father's Day and we sat down, two men with deep appreciations for the symbolic, and listened in the recommended single sitting. It opened the door for several subsequent sit-downs which became dear, dear memories when two months later he died suddenly of a heart attack. I may never overcome my bitterness about that, but I can't think of a more perfect album to be bound up in such inextricable bittersweetness. Once a year is about the right frequency for me to revisit something so dense and intensely emotional, and I suppose that's New York for you even without the heavy personal associations.

Songs for Drella is my regular go-to from this era, such a great album.
posted by Lorin at 4:30 PM on August 18, 2014 [13 favorites]

Maybe I was remembering this from Mix about recording Dirty Boulevard:

“It’s a very, very simple record,” Reed told MTV’s Kurt Loder in 1989. “Trying to do something with two guitars, bass [and] drums with all the technology that’s around today—all the synthesizers and all the instruments you could bring in—it’s hard to resist the temptation.”
posted by morganw at 4:32 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

There is a ton of great lines in that record--Lou Reed wrote a beast.

Listening it to now and thinking the same thing. So many great lines: the jokes, obtuse and original aphorisms, moments of immaculate cadence, lyrically, he is ON pretty much the whole time. He is running circles around all but the very best songwriters in their primes and it largely seems effortless and even offhand or improvised at times.
posted by snofoam at 4:33 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Among the other songs, "Sick of You" is the sort of sardonic-surreal bead-stringing -- shaggy-dog protest -- that hasn't ever quite worked for anybody.

Au contraire, Village Voice. "Sick of You" -- surreal, occasionally disgusted, but completely honest -- is the purest essence of Lou's work.

Also, this post reminds me to collect enough of something to name the last few Eggplant, Rufus, Dummy, Star and The Glob.
posted by Mapes at 4:36 PM on August 18, 2014

Love loved it way back then, but haven't listened to it in years.

Listening to it right now, and hot damn, it seriously holds up well. It even still sounds fresh in its raw rock approach.

And the lyrics... such lovely wisecracking lyrics.

Thanks for the reminder of this gem.
posted by billder at 5:28 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I sing Busload of Faith when the shit is getting real.

I've occasionally wondered if I was the only person who did that. Seriously.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:51 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't believe there are so many people saying they haven't listened to this for years. For me New York is an album that traps the 80s NY city in amber, and is required listening pretty often.
Shoo, shoo, go listen to it now!
posted by bystander at 6:06 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also one of my favorite albums of all time.

It was one of the cassettes I carried around in my backpack when I was wandering around Europe in 1988/89, and I still remember one glorious night when my buddy the Bearman and I had showed up that day on Mykonos (where I ended up staying and working under the table for about 9 months) and, as was our habit, had made it a priority to find a candidate for the bar where we'd end up spending most of our evenings. It was an early evening in the off-season, the place was almost empty, and we made friends with the Irish bartender (whose name was Mary, as I recall) and got her to put it on the stereo. And just that easily, we'd found a new home.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:16 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

"New York" is a great album, but I still maintain "Legendary Hearts" is the best thing he ever did.
posted by davebush at 6:17 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You misspelled "Metal Machine Music."
posted by delfin at 6:19 PM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think New Sensations is more fun and interesting and heartfelt, but any Lou Reed fan has to love almost all of the great studio albums he made in the 80s - The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, New Sensations, New York and Reed and John Cale's Andy Warhol tribute Songs for Drella.

That's an amazing near-decade of music. I dunno, can you think of any rock artist active in the mid- to late-60s who produced a comparable high-quality body of work in the 80s? I sure can't.
posted by mediareport at 6:29 PM on August 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Man, I had good taste when I was 14!
posted by oneironaut at 7:00 PM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Transformer, Berlin, and everything he did with the Velvets

Legend and lore doesn't always = truth. "Legendary Hearts" is his strongest, most cohesive set of songs, in my opinion.
posted by davebush at 7:39 PM on August 18, 2014

That's an amazing near-decade of music. I dunno, can you think of any rock artist active in the mid- to late-60s who produced a comparable high-quality body of work in the 80s? I sure can't.

Well I was going to say, oddly enough, Neil Young, but then I looked it up, and he didn't really start releasing great albums again until '89. I'd say the Eldorado EP > Freedom > Ragged Glory > Arc/Weld > Harvest Moon is a pretty good run, though I'd cheat and also throw in the widely bootlegged '88 Jones Beach show w/ the Blue Notes, for the 12-minute version of Ordinary People, because that's pretty much immortal... Don't know if it's comparable. We'll never really know until he finishes releasing the Vault, which should be about 2070 or so at this rate.

So I guess, no. But then again Frank Zappa, but it always feels like cheating to compare him w/ any of his contemporaries.

I always loved this album, though I also always felt like everything post-Quine could have used some damned Quine. But Reed wasn't exactly famous for his ability to get along with people who were anywhere near as difficult as he was, so oh well. I'll also always wish he could have recorded more with Cale.

It felt to me like he picked up a whole songwriting style or methodology or something for this album which he didn't really use before or since. Which just makes it seem more special.
posted by hap_hazard at 8:34 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's still hard to fathom, that he's actually dead. Not just in the studio recording a version of Cage's last work that only dogs and ravens can hear or something, but dead.

I'll never forget him walking out onto Letterman in jeans and a white t-shirt, pack of smokes rolled up in his sleeve, and rage powering through "Dirty Blvd." My whole concept being transformed. I am so grateful for that lightning bolt, and for this album.
posted by riverlife at 9:18 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great album, and I second the view that this, "Songs For Drella" and "Magic and Loss" represented a real high point in Reed's solo efforts.
posted by Decani at 11:54 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fantastic post. New York was one of my favorite albums of the '80s, and I still listen to if often. You can't beat two guitars, bass, drum.

Also, as bad as I am on guitar, I can play "Romeo Had Juliette," so there's that.
posted by Gelatin at 4:17 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember when I first got this, it kind of stayed permanently in the CD player for a long, long time. Great album.
posted by caddis at 10:31 AM on August 19, 2014

As a minor aside, New York was one of the few CDs to be released in the CD+G (CD plus Graphics) format which allowed you to watch low-resolution computer graphics along with the music. It's similar to how the graphics on karaoke CDs are encoded.

The graphics on the New York disc are just the lyrics, but I was unreasonably excited to decoded them on my first Mac. Love this album.
posted by quartzcity at 11:41 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

The line "Caught between the twisted stars" is so great, some enterprising bootlegger used it for the title of a stellar 4 CD Velvets 'best of the boots' in the late-1990s.
posted by porn in the woods at 2:34 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love seeing this post! My mom was a huge Lou Reed fan, so we listened to this a lot when I was a kid, and then I sort of co-opted the cassette tape for my own when I hit my teen years. Actually, I loved this whole album way before I'd ever even heard anything by the Velvet Underground, which is sort of funny.

For a socially-conscious but somewhat ignorant kid living in the suburbs, the stories Reed told on this album opened my eyes quite a bit. Also, I give partial credit for "Last Great American Whale" for making me an environmentalist, and now that's kind of my career. So this album is a big deal for me personally.
posted by lunasol at 4:07 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always thought that the line:

"Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor I'll piss on 'em. That's what the Statue of Bigotry says"

did a wonderful job of describing contemporary US society.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:38 AM on August 20, 2014

It's Friday evening here in Korea and I'm drinking beer, watching the sun go down behind the trees, and listening to New York. It is so goddamned good, even after all these years.

I think I might just listen to The Pretenders' Learning To Crawl next, which is a similarly perfect rock and roll album from that time, and looms just as large in my memory.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:11 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

The quivering "holding" in the perfume burned his eyes / holding tightly to her thighs on "Romeo Had Juliette" is my favorite moment on the entire LP.
posted by porn in the woods at 5:39 PM on August 22, 2014

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