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"Walk On The Wild Side"
Lou Reed
Lou Reed

It may seem pretty tame now but back in the early Seventies 'Walk On The Wild Side' broke new ground with its depiction of transexuals, drugs and bohemia.

The life of Reed's first solo hit began in 1970 when he was approached about a project to turn Nelson Algren’s book "Walk on the Wild Side" into a musical. Reedworked on a title track but never wrote the musical. However the resulting song became one of his most enduring compositions.

In "Walk on The Wild Side" he recounts the lives of the transexuals and tranvestites who hung out with Andy Warhol at The Factory. They were Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis. "Joe" is Joe Dallesandro, a notorious hustler. Later Holly recalled that Reed had simply told the truth.

Holly Woodlawn
"That song is completely true about me hitching from Miami, at 15 I might add, which is not easy ..."

In London in 1971, after the release of an unsuccessful debut solo album, Reed was suffering a personal and professional low. The sexual ambivalence and avant garde decadence of the Velvet Underground’s music had been a major influence on David Bowie and Mick Ronson and so they both agreed to produce Reed's next album, Transformer. In actual fact Bowie made little contribution to the finished product but Mick Ronson's treatment of Walk On The Wild Side helped Reed to his first solo hit.

Lou Reed
"..those were Rono's arrangements, Rono's strings...he was a terrific, terrific musician".

At first, Reed didn't want the track to be released as a single fearing it would be banned and never get any radio play. But Bowie insisted and Reed, fortunately, relented. In 1973 the song reached number 10 in the UK charts, no doubt helped by a young Johnnie Walker, who made the track record of the week before BBC bosses realised what the lyrics meant. In America it was the no. 1 jukebox hit, but the censors were more heavy handed, turning the song into a series of bleeps.

Johnnie Walker
"I nearly got sacked playing that record"

Session guitarist Herbie Flowers saw a way of making the bass line sound more interesting (which also meant he got paid more!) by double-tracking an electric bass-line a tenth higher. Arranged by Mick Ronson the bass-line is quite unique in that it provides its own melody as well as rhythm. This bass-line melody is played in a portamento style which also runs as a counter-melody to the vocal melody.

I was amazed it wasn't banned by the BBC

Bob Harris

  Listen to Bob Harris on the song

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