Wednesday, August 04, 2010

"Walk on the Wild Side" (1973)

91. Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side" (March 31, 1973, #16)

Sweet Lou Reed's one and only appearance in the top 40 delivers up the now well-famed throwaway of the chorus, "And the colored girls go / Doo do doo do doo do do doo," the one thing that may finally end up being what he is best remembered for, ironically or not, for better or worse. It's another one of those songs, like the Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug," that could have found its way to the mainstream of American popular culture only in the flamboyantly decadent '70s, as it sardonically and explicitly celebrates transvestism, street hustlers, and drug addiction in a series of nursery rhyme style scenarios admirably sketched out with deft economy, e.g., "Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets / Lookin' for soul food and a place to eat / Went to the Apollo / You should've seen 'em go go go / They said, Hey sugar / Take a walk on the wild side." Reed's quavering alto seems barely capable of pushing the syllables past his lips. You can imagine him practically motionless in his shades and black leather. But the creepy affect is just more of the proto-Halloween fun. Fruit of an early collaboration with David Bowie, who at that moment was segueing from the Ziggy Stardust opus into the throes of his lightning-bolted Aladdin Sane phase, "Walk on the Wild Side" became the standard-bearer for Reed's Transformers album, which may or may not have done justice the way that producer Bowie wanted to his hero from the Velvet Underground. It's hardly Lou Reed's best but nor is it even close to his worst. I think a number of other songs on it happen to be better, such as "Perfect Day" (used brilliantly in the movie Trainspotting), but hey, this was the hit.

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