“At work sold a pair of Koss phones for £39 and a cassette player for £16. Extra £2.75. Got Transformer from Virgin”
As I remember, headphones by Koss were considered quite high-class and sought-after back in the seventies. 39 quid for a pair – the cost of (in my teenage mind) several albums – does seem a lot of money, especially when that cassette player I mention cost less than half the price?!
My sales floor efforts bumped my wages up by an extra £2.75 though and that was certainly not to be sneezed at.
It looks like £2.75 which I immediately went and blew on Lou Reed’s classic 1972 “Transformer” LP. Result!
“Transformer” was Lou Reed’s second solo album since breaking up the influential Velvet Underground, and in my opinion it is head and shoulders the very finest of his extensive recorded output.
The album was co-produced by David Bowie and his band mate (in the Spiders from Mars), guitarist Mick Ronson. Many people don’t realise that the utterly beautiful strings segment on “Perfect Day” were arranged by Ronson and that he was the primary musician on many of the tracks, contributing not just guitar, but keyboards, woodwind and backing vocals.
Side one kicks off in great style with the powerful “Vicious“, complete with its heavily fuzzed guitar sound and strange sing along chorus…
hey, you hit me with a flower
You do it every hour
oh, baby you’re so vicious”
“Andy’s Chest” – it’s title reputedly coming from the scars Lou’s mentor Andy Warhol received after being attacked and stabbed – was originally scheduled to appear on the (never released) fourth studio album from the Velvets. It’s a peculiar ballad, neither a straight forward love song or a parody, but it does contain some of the weirdest ‘relationship’ lyrics ever with…
If I could be any one of the things
in this world that bite
instead of an ocelot on a leash
I’d rather be a kite
and be tied to the end of your string
and flying in the air, babe, at night
“Perfect Day” is one of the immense songs on the album and something which will stand the test of time for several more decade to come. It’s about as lush as any song can be. The low-key vocal delivery by Reed contradicts the sheer optimism that the lyrics suggest – “it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you” – but the whole thing works to such a degree that it’s impossible to ignore, those previously mentioned strings mere icing on a very tasty cake indeed,
The song is so strong that 25 years after it’s release it was used by the BBC (to promote the corporations diverse music output) in a promotional video which catapulted it back into the charts, only this time Reed shared screen time and vocal duties with musical legends such as David Bowie, Bono, Dr John, Shane MacGowan, Tammy Wynette and Tom Jones!
Intrigued?… check it out…
“Hangin’ ‘Round” is the odd man out of Side 1 (i.e. the weakest moment, albeit another collection of peculiar lyrics) before we get to the main event, the classic “Walk on the Wild Side”.
“Walk on the Wild Side” ranks amongst the very best of all the Seventies glam anthems. Its subject matter – transexuality, prostitution, oral sex and drugs – didn’t stop it from reaching #16 on the US charts and #10 in the UK and remaining a public favourite some 40 years later.
Trivia champs may wish to store away this nugget of information: the sax solo is performed by Ronnie Ross who had previously taught David Bowie to play the instrument when Bowie was just a kid
Side two commences with “Make Up“, another nod to transexuality, the lyric
“Now we’re comin’ out
Out of our closets
Out on the streets
Yeah, we’re comin’ out”
something of a giveaway
“Satellite of Love” – a paean to extreme jealousy – is another Lou Reed song that dates back to his time with the Velvet Underground and was actually recorded by the band for inclusion on their “Loaded” album.
“Wagon Wheel” was, is, and will always remain, the weakest cut on the album, whilst the short and bizarre “New York Telephone Conversation” ranks amongst my faves. The drugs influence is definitely there with
I was sleeping, gently napping, when I heard the phone
Who is on the other end talking, am I even home
Did you see what she did to him, did you hear what they said
Just a New York conversation, rattling in my head
“I’m So Free” is a catchy rock number before the album gets wrapped up with the sublime “Goodnight Ladies“, another love’s lost ballad that is infused with not just anger and regret but Reed’s ever-present wicked sense of humour.
“Transformer” is another one of those album I know inside/out and back to front. I’ll be honest though when stating I pretty much ignored all of Lou Reed’s subsequent recorded output until his excellent “New York” album in 1989, but even as good as it was I feel it still pales in comparison to this 1972 masterwork. It’s dark and angry all wrapped up in a collection of perfect pop songs. If you don’t already own it, I can only recommend you hunt it down and buy it now.
I do remember playing both sides of this album over and over – and over – again when I bought it. The LP I bought today in 1975 skipped on “I’m so Free” – I do remember that – but it didn’t distract from what I thought – and still think – is a fabulous and utterly timeless piece of work.