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:-
mp3 : Lou Reed – Walk on The Wild Side
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.
4 thoughts on “RCA 2303”
I cite this single as the first of the three Seminal Singles that shaped me as a music listener growing up. I can’t stress the importance of this song enough! Nor can I imagine what was going through the minds of RCA as they took this calmly near-blasphemous [for Puritanical America] song and gave it the big push as the hit single that probably was the critical song in making certain that Lou Reed would even have a career following the flop of the VU and his stillborn first solo album. After the “Lou Reed” album, he was all set up to become one of the more obscure musical footnotes of the 60s. Without this song, it’s possible that Lou Reed would have quickly receded from memory which might have left the VU only a slim chance at critical re-discovery in later years without his artistic rep, which had been bolstered significantly by Bowie’s advocacy and “Transformer’s” commercial success. It’s hard to say. My story is here: https://postpunkmonk.com/2010/09/29/three-seminal-singles-no-1/
I think the reason ‘Perfect Day’ wasn’t held back as a single is because RCA already had a planned follow up to ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ in the form of ‘Satellite of Love’, a song which dated back to Lou Reed’s last days in The Velvet Underground. There is a demo version available on the 2cd ‘Fully Loaded’ and the 5cd ‘Peel Slowly And See’ box set recorded with the band. ‘Satellite’ was released in February 1973 with ‘Vicious’ as the b-side, and reached the rather low orbit height of 51 in the charts. I think ‘Perfect Day’ would have been a far better choice as a single, but who am I to say?
Lots of reasons to like Walk On The Wild Side, a quintessentially downtown NYC song (even if it was recorded in London). The fact that a tune about Warhol Superstar trans women giving head in the back room of Max’s Kansas City made it on to the radio in the US still cracks me up. And I love Herbie Flowers’ playing both upright and electric basslines together. A Classic.