Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Transformer - Lou Reed and David Bowie

Transformer (AM10)
Artist: Lou Reed
Produced by:  David Bowie, Mick Ronson
Released: November 8, 1972
Length: 36:40
Tracks: 1) Viscious (2:55); 2) Andy's Chest (3:17); 3) Perfect Day (3:43); 4) Hangin' Round (3:39); 5) Take a Walk on the Wild Side (4:12) 6) Make Up (2:58); 7) Satellite of Love (3:40); 8) Wagon Wheel (3:19); 9) New York Telephone Conversation (1:31) 10) I'm So Free (3:07); 11) Goodnight Ladies (4:19)
Players: Lou Reed – guitar; Herbie Flowers – bass, acoustic bass, tuba; Mick Ronson – lead guitar, keyboards, recorder, backing vocals; John Halsey – drums; Bowie – background vocals 

When Velvet-fan David Bowie offered to produce Transformer, he not only brought his glam-rock notions and solid commercial instincts, he enlisted henchman Mick Ronson (Bowie and the Spiders had just completed Ziggy Stardust). In his book Waiting for the Man, Jeremy Reed sums up Bowie's approach: "He incorporated a mellow, sound, with strings and horns, as well as Ronson's inimitable guitar riffs, using Reed's voice as a quietly talkative instrument.” Album opener "Vicious," based on an idea by Andy Warhol, established the bitchy persona that Reed adopted (and questioned): "Hey, why don't you swallow razor blades?" he caterwauls, enhanced by Ronson's slashing guitar in plagal cadence.

Reed wrote "Andy's Chest" in Velvet days after Andy Warhol was shot at the Factory in 1968. Based on Dadaist word play, the song was just to “Cheer up Andy.”

Power ballad "Perfect Day" has seen its star rise in everything from films to TV ads (PS4). Initially the song appears a straightforward thank-you for a wonderful day with a loved one, but the pain lurking in Reed's vocals makes itself known ("You just keep me hanging on," "You made me forget myself/I thought I was/Someone else, someone good"). The song ends with a puzzling, Biblical shout-out: "You're going to reap just what you sow." Is it about addiction, an affair, revenge? IDK, it's still just pretty.

Built on Herbie Flowers' striking acoustic bass line, "Walk on the Wild Side," its title lifted from a novel by Nelson Algren, is a triumph of arrangement and production, with its cool doo-doo-doos from the Thunderthighs backing singers, and a sly sax coda by Ronnie Ross. In a cool, dispassionate tone, Reed delivers vignettes about Warhol's Factory and the Red Room at Max's Kansas City, including Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling and Joe Dallesandro. Astonishingly, it climbed to No. 16 on the Billboard singles chart despite lyrics like: "Candy came from out on the island,/ In the backroom she was everybody's darling,/ But she never lost her head/ Even when she was giving head [sing it for me] I said Hey, take a walk on the wild side/ And the colored girls go…" To this day, one of the oddest singles to make it to Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty.

Side Two isn’t as strong, yet there's a quiet ambiguity interspersed with Ronson's raucous guitar, and of course, the album’s other shoulda-been single, the luxuriously decadent "Satellite of Love," where Bowie chips in an awesome backup as Lou spies on his girlfriend (who's fucking everyone). allmusic adds, "'Satellite of Love' is still the bizarrely affecting centerpiece, serving as a poignant reminder of Reed's underrated gift for melody, which often eclipsed the signature, visceral abrasiveness he's more often recognized for." What sets Transformer apart from the Velvets is that not once was the Velvet Underground funny; there was a pretension and a seriousness that Lou Reed as a solo artist belies. There is the same sense of realism, but "Walk" and "Satellite" and "New York Telephone Conversation" are just for fun. Critically Berlin is the fair haired boy, and maybe it's Reed's Threepenny Opera, but this is the more accessible album, hard and soft, biting and funny - and the colored girls go... 

From his own LP's to Transformer to Iggy Pop's The Idiot, Bowie was the consummate producer.