This week we lost Lou Reed. Many remember the name, but all remember his music. His career included stints with the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist. But one song stands out to me more than all the rest. It's the 1972 song, Walk On The Wild Side from Reed's album, TRANSFORMER. It was produced by legendary great David Bowie.
The song is about transvestites who come to New York City and become prostitutes. And Reed's inspiration was real life. The "girls" were "Holly," "Candy," and "Jackie." They are based on Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis-- three real drag queens who appeared in Andy Warhol's 1972 movie Women In Revolt. And each verse introduces a new character, all real and all cronies at the infamous Andy Warhol Factory, where Lou often hung out.
"Take a walk on the wild side" is what these rental transvestites would say to potential customers.
If the public understood what he was writing about, it would have certainly been banned. Remember, this was 1972. Rob and Laura Petrie weren't even allowed to sleep in the same bed though married. A female character on TV wasn't allowed to be divorced. Yes the times were a lot different then. There was a lot more to the song than "And the colored girls say, Doo, doo-doo Doo, doo-doo Doo, doo-doo.
In a 1972 interview with Disc and Music Echo,
Reed described Walk On The Wild Side as an "outright gay song," saying it was "from me to them, but they're carefully worded so the straights can miss out on the implications and enjoy them without being offended. I suppose though the album is going to offend some people." '
This came out at a time when audiences were intrigued by cross-dressing and homosexuality in music. "Glam Rock," where the performers wore feminine clothes, was big, and artists like David Bowie and Elton John were attracting fans both gay and straight.
He was certainly ahead of his time with his socially conscience awareness and his anecdotal tunes. He knew he was pushing the envelope and yet he was able to get away with it overall. From Songfacts:
This [Walk On The Wild Side] was not banned by the notoriously conservative BBC or by many US radio stations because censors did not understand phrases like "giving head." Depending on the regional US market, the song was, however, edited for what we now call political correctness. Reed leads into the female vocalists' "Doo, doo-doo" hook with the words, "And the colored girls say," but some stations played a version that replaced the phrase with, "And the girls all say."
So while we pause to pay tribute to an amazing artist, why not watch and listen to this great version by Lou R himself.