My man Sam Smith posted yesterday about the wide-ranging influence Lou Reed had—and continues to have—on popular music.
Alas, though, Sam was no doubt in the throes of grief and unable to think straight when he wrote: “The Beatles were the biggest thing in the history of popular music and it’s hard to imagine any band or solo artist ever surpassing the influence they exerted, both musical and cultural. But it’s entirely possible that the #2 position on that list belongs to Lou Reed.”
It’s also entirely possible that Justin Bieber is the reincarnation of Sam Cooke. But that’s a topic for a different time.
As his readers noticed, Dr. Slammy rounded up a long list of artists who say Reed influenced them. Many of them are no-brainers. For me, David Bowie is the obvious connection, a connection has existed from probably before the release of Bowie’s Hunky Dory (1971). Listen to “Queen Bitch” from that LP and tell me it’s not a Lou Reed song.
As part of his case, Sam wrote, “If you’re a devotee of serious popular music today, it’s nigh-on inconceivable that your collection is free of Lou Reed’s legacy, whether you knew it or not.” That statement is inarguable, but such broad phrases—“serious popular music today” and “nigh-on inconceivable”—make the pronouncement sound much grander than it is.
Let’s consider who else could be contenders for the No. 2 spot—who else has a musical legacy bubbling through our music collections. Here, then, are the names that come to my mind, in no particular order:
• James Brown
• Robert Johnson
• Paul Anka (Kidding! Just kidding!)
• Chuck Berry
• John Mayall
The real heavyweight, though—the guy who slams the “Lou’s No. 2” argument down on the mat for a 10-count in the first round—is Bob Dylan. If there had been no Bob Dylan, there would have been no Lou Reed. Simple as that. And the influence of artists Dylan influenced would take a month to read.
We need to remember that the measure of an artist’s merit does not lie mainly in the number of artists she or he has influenced. We also have to consider the artist’s body of work. As I posted yesterday, I am more than familiar with Reed’s work from 1972 to 1984. It is uneven at best—shards of brilliance, but all too often, it shows an effort exemplified by the nameless critic who said Lou “phoned in” his vocals on his Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal LP (1974). I don’t know—maybe Reed suddenly became a genius after New Sensations, but by that time I’d stopped caring, viewing Lou as a wasted talent and a talent gone to waste.
Speaking of an artist’s body of work, let’s not forget Metal Machine Music, which I mentioned in my Reed post yesterday. I had a friend, Jerry, who ran a record store/head shop, and I spent a lot of time there when MMM came out. Jerry was looking to close the store late one Saturday afternoon with a bunch of people in the store, and they ignored him when he politely asked them to leave. So what did he do? Put Metal Machine Music on the turntable and cranked it up. The place was empty inside of a minute, except for me and Jerry, who had a look of unadulterated glee.
As for the list of acts that Reed has influenced, there’s at least one artist on it whose presence puzzles me: Brian Eno. I’ve been listening to Eno since his first solo LP, Here Come the Warm Jets, was released in 1974. I can’t say I have every record from Eno’s more-than-considerable discography (I have 16), but if Reed’s music is reflected in Eno’s work, I can’t hear it. It makes me wonder exactly what kind of influence Reed had on all of those people.
In the end, I cannot and will not argue with the premise that Lou Reed was an influential artist whose sonic fingerprints are all over the modern musical landscape. But is he second only to the Beatles in the influence he exerted both musically and culturally?
No. It’s not possible. It’s not even close.
Image Credit: Crow’s Garage
Categories: Music/Popular Culture