Although this vocalist was well-known among many music fans, one song propelled him into the pop culture one hit wonder category – Walk on the Wild Side.
Best known for being the 1960s band The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed left the band in 1971 to go solo. His first solo album, the self-titled Lou Reed, was recorded for RCA Records in London with members of the Brit band Yes.
It included a few songs that had been recorded by The Velvet Underground, but never released. The album drew very little notice, although it did gain a positive review in Rolling Stone.
With his next album, Reed worked with David Bowie and Mick Ronson, hoping to gain a bigger British audience. The album Transformer was released in December 1972, with the first single “Walk on the Wild Side“.
The song was a radio hit, despite its lyrics which alluded to oral sex, male prostitution, transsexuals and drug use. Influenced by the 1956 novel A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren, Reed’s song was based on five people who were part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene.
Scenesters Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis, Candy Darling and Joe Campbell (Sugar Plum Fairy) were all namechecked in the song with their lifestyles the backbone of the song, which was edited for US radio airplay.
Despite the raunchy innuendoes of NYC’s underground, the song became Lou Reed’s badge – the one song that pop culture attributed to him. Although his career as a singer/songwriter has continued, this song became its own entity.
In consequent years, Reed was alleged to be annoyed of the song and rarely performed it. But for those fans of this odd one hit wonder, it lives on as a commentary of 1970s New York City or a catchy song that had a good beat.