KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #145: Sweet Jane by Velvet Underground.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #145: Sweet Jane by Velvet Underground.

When I was a boy, growing up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, my mother was someone who taught me a lot of life lessons by way of familiar phrases or mottos. For instance, it was Mona Frances, herself, who raised me to “not judge books by their covers” or, in other words, don’t pre-judge people or things without giving yourself a chance to get to know them/it first so you can gather the facts needed to make a proper judgement. When I was a boy, her admonishments to “not judge a book by its’ cover” often went in one ear and out the other. But, she had her ways of making these lessons stick. All I can say about it, really, is that after a few years of opening ottoman-sized gift-wrapped presents on Christmas Eve (*We had a family tradition of opening one gift on the 24th), only to discover a pair of new socks or pyjamas at the bottom (which no kid really wants), I began to realize that the best gifts weren’t necessarily in the biggest boxes and so, I started to learn “not to judge a book by its’ cover” in a way that had meaning for me as a boy. Lesson learned, Ma. Thanks. But, if we are all being honest, it is hard to restrain ourselves from rushing to judgement on the people we meet based upon factors such as appearance and so on. We are all judgey types, whether we want to admit it or not.

The song, “Sweet Jane” was written and sung by Lou Reed when he was still a member of Velvet Underground in the early 1970s. Reed often wrote his songs as morality plays set in NYC; often creating scenarios involving flawed characters who existed in the underbelly of life in the city. In the song, “Sweet Jane”, the play that forms his song involves Jack and Jane and himself, as the Rock star. Each of these three people find freedom in the “uniforms” they wear as bankers and clerks and musicians but, at the same time, the outward appearance of the lives they seem to be living places them in boxes that restrict their abilities to achieve the highs that Life has to offer. The term, “Sweet Jane” is said to refer to heroin but, in this song, it is more the elusive feeling of the immediate “high” that comes with drug use that Reed is after in this song. “Sweet Jane” isn’t really about drugs at all. It is about the image of ourselves that we project to others and how it affects our ability to get the most out of life.

The song, “Sweet Jane” comes from an album that was sarcastically called, “Loaded”. As you may know, Lou Reed and Velvet Underground served as the “house band” for Andy Warhol and his Art crowd and Reed always produced music that contained an “Art-first” mentality. As such, Velvet Underground became the poster kids for Art-Rock and became highly influential as a result but, on the business side of the ledger, they were wildly unsuccessful and were deemed to be commercial failures. Before recording “Loaded”, Reed’s record company threatened to drop the band if the new album didn’t come “loaded with hits” thus, Lou Reed responded with the title, “Loaded” as a middle finger to the “suits”. To be fair, “Sweet Jane” was the most radio-friendly song that Velvet Underground had released. It has gone on to be covered by many artists including Reed’s own, personal favourite, Canada’s own, The Cowboy Junkies, who recorded their cover on an outstanding album called, “The Trinity Sessions”.

There are several versions of this song as sung by Velvet Underground floating around on the Interweb. There are rocked-out versions, slower/softer/more subdued versions, longer versions with more instrumentals and shorter versions with the bridge to the song removed. Depending on what you like, there are a variety of albums recorded, live and in studio, that contain a version of “Sweet Jane” that is sure to tickle your fancy. Whatever the case, “Sweet Jane” is one of the more intelligently conceived songs in our countdown. There is much wisdom in giving people and experiences the chance to unfold, unfettered by our prejudices. It isn’t easy but, if I have learned anything at all from my mother, it is that Life’s greatest gifts don’t always come in the shiniest of packages. That is as true throughout the year as it is at Christmas time. Thanks for the wisdom, Ma and Lou.

Here is “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed and Velvet Underground. Enjoy….and grow.

The link to the video for the song, “Sweet Jane” by Velvet Underground, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Velvet Underground, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Sweet Jane”, as covered by The Cowboy Junkies, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Cowboy Junkies, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Sweet Jane”, *Cowboy Junkies version, as used in the movie, “Natural Born Killers”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #27: Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, 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, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

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.