This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #27: Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed.
There are many reasons that a song become memorable. In the case of “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, it is because of the boundaries it pushed and the acceptance it showed toward a whole class of people who, up until that time, had lived a dangerous existence on the fringes of polite society. It is a song that earned its fair share of bans but, not for the most obvious of reasons, either. Finally, it is a song born out of one of the most permissive and promiscuous of environments; Andy Warhol’s Art Factory. As you may recall, *(in a previous post that you can read here), one of the foundational ideas at play with Andy Warhol, and those he surrounded himself with, was that anything could be Art. It was also true that anyone could be Art, as well. Art, for Warhol was a process and that there was no greater work-in-progress than a human being who dabbled with sexual and gender transformations.
“Walk on the Wild Side” is from Lou Reed’s second solo album, “Transformer”. It was his most commercially successful song and has come to be known as his signature song, as well. “Walk on the Wild Side” is a song about New York, as most Lou Reed songs tend to be. In addition, it explores familiar territory in that it centres on a group of well-defined characters who defy society’s norms and, as such, revel in the role of the outsider. “Walk on the Wild Side” is inspired by a book of the same name by author, Nelson Algren. It was produced by David Bowie and his sidekick, Mick Ronson. The characters who inhabit “Walk on the Wild Side” were all real people who frequented Andy Warhol’s Factory, where Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were the house band. Reed opens the song by singing about “Holly”, who was a transgender actress named Holly Woodlawn. “Candy” is Candy Darling, a transgender actress and, sometimes, drag queen. *Candy darling was, also, said to have been dating Ray Davies of The Kinks for awhile when he was writing the classic song, “Lola”. Reed drops the names of other characters like “Sugar Plum Fairy….a drug dealer named Joe Campbell, a man named “Little Joe”, who was actor, Joe Dallesandro and, finally, “Jackie”, who was actress, Jackie Curtis. All legends of the Andy Warhol Experience who, through him, had their requisite fifteen minutes of fame.
“Walk on the Wild Side” is an important song because it introduced topics such as transgender identity and sexual orientation in a way that seemed palatable to mainstream America. As mentioned off of the top, “Walk on the Wild Side” was banned by some radio stations but, not for the sexually-explicit nature of a song that talks openly about “giving head”. Instead, some radio station programmers were nervous about a phrase that Reed used to describe his back-up singers whom he referred to as, “…and the coloured girls sang…..” before they launched into a series of “Doot-de-doos”. The reality of this song is that Lou Reed was as welcoming and as inclusive to those involved in the production of his music as anyone could possibly have been. There wasn’t the slightest chance that him throwing the song to “the coloured girls” was racist in the least. But, when someone pushes the boundaries of societal norms, as Reed did, some people feel the need to push back and those who did, did so with the race card. Lou Reed laughed it off. His backup singers didn’t seem to mind, either.
Lou Reed was a lot like the subject of our last post, Neil Young, in the sense that he welcomed all kinds of people into his personal and professional orbit and was fiercely independent. He carved out a career that stands as fairly unique compared to many other “rock stars” of his time period. I admire his creativity and his willingness to stay true to his roots and his identity as a New Yorker and as a storyteller and champion of those who rarely got to bask in the warm glow of the spotlight. I loved his songs, solo and with The Velvet Underground, such as “Sweet Jane”, “I’m Waiting For My Man”, “Crazy Mary”, “Perfect Day”…..which was the B-side to “Walk on the Wild Side” when it was released as a single, “Romeo Had Juliet”, “Dirty Blvd.” and “The Last Great American Whale”….which had the line that has since become a popular coach-phrase, “Stick a fork in him, he’s done“. Lou Reed’s discography is one of the most original of any artist featured in our countdown.
So, without further delay, here is one of the most original and important songs of all-time, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. Enjoy.
***EDITOR’S NOTE: Here ends the regular portion of our musical countdown. Starting with our next post, we will start the process of thanking people who helped to make this countdown journey the joyous experience that it has been. So, up next, we will have Leah and Sophie’s final personal Top Ten songs and then, immediately after that, we will start having only one “Countdown song” per day, accompanied by one “Honourable Mention” song per day. If all goes well, we will finish up just before or after Easter. Thanks for your support so far. It has been a hoot!
The link to the video for the song, “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Lou Reed, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the best and most original artists and bands of all-time. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.