My first known exposure to Lou Reed would have been just short of my tenth birthday in the summer of 1973. I can say this with some confidence as none of my parents or my aunts, uncles or cousins ever owned anything by The Velvet Underground….if I had ever clapped eyes on a record sleeve with a banana as its cover, I’d have remembered it vividly.
So, the fact that the sophisticated and enigmatic New Yorker was riding high in the charts at the same time as I was really gaining an awaremess about pop music, shaped almost entirely by whatever was being played on BBC Radio 1 and was being shown on Top of The Pops, was the reason this was the song to which I was being exposed:-
I obviously had absolutely no idea what the song was about. The lyrics made no sense whatsoever, I just knew it was a great and memorable tune, and I couldn’t help but love and no doubt sing along to the bit that went doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo…..
I would have been allowed to buy some singles with money and or record tokens for that particular birthday. Looking at the chart for the week in question, Lou Reed was sitting at #13, just beginning to drop down a bit having been in the Top 30 for the past five weeks and so it would have been one of the songs most known to me.
Like most kids my age, the simplicity and exciting of glam was hugely appealing, and so I would have bought the new stuff by Suzi Quatro (Can the Can was #1), Sweet (Hell Raiser was #21 but had been #2 a few weeks earlier) and Gary Glitter (Hello, I’m Back Again was just outside the Top 30 but had been a fixture of the chart for a couple of months). I’m sure I did want to buy Walk on The Wild Side but I was steered away in the direction of Rubber Bullets by 10cc, another of the quirky and bouncy tunes that was never off the radio….I certainly remember having all those singles in the house as a kid. Whether my mum and dad specifically stopped me getting my hands on Lou Reed’s 45, or whether the local shop just happended to be out of stock, I have no idea. But there’s no doubt a favour was done as I would have spent hours playing the song and learning it word for word, most likely singing it out loud absent-mindedly in front of my granny or one of my god-fearing aunties who would have been ashamed of my folks for allowing me to be so out of contraol.
I had no idea until looking it up in prepartion for this pithy piece that the b-side was another of Lou’s best known numbers:-
mp3 : Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Makes me wonder why the RCA bosses didn’t think to hold this back as a potential follow-up single. Then again, nobody, including the singer himself, ever anticipated that Walk on the Wild Side would even get played on radio far less become a smash hit.
Incidentally, one of the reasons the song ended up stalling at #10 was that Lou Reed didn’t fly over and make a Top of the Pops appearance, meaning his song wasn’t in the position to be aired on the one of the most popular TV shows in the UK, attracting some 15 million viewers, which was over 1 in 4 of the entire population. Having said that, the practice was to have such songs where the performer couldn’t be in the studio be the track to which the in-house dance group, Pan’s People, would stage a special performance. This probably did happen during the extended chart stay in May/June 1973, but there’s no footage available to confirm it.