RIP Lou Reed
I have been listening (intentionally) to Lou Reed since the late 80s, but had previously been subjected to his music for as long as I can remember.
When I discovered, like generations before and since, the work of the Velvet Underground, it seemed not like some 60s time capsule, but as modern and relevant as anything new I was listening to at the time (which would probably have been the Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, Morrissey, Ride, Lush etc etc etc) and their place as one of the iconic groups of all time remains absolutely secure.
This is a list of personal highlights, he did lots of other things worthy of attention, and the tailing off after the early 90s is simply because I have never gotten around to listening to his later work yet. I will though, because even at its worst his music has a unique voice and at best it's up there with the best of anyone.
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
Highlights: Sunday Morning, I'm Waiting for the Man, Femme Fatale, I'll Be Your Mirror, Run Run Run - the whole album
Simply one of the great, timeless albums in rock history, famously the polar opposite to the contemporary summer of love, but no less consciousness-altering for that. The Velvet Underground were cool and restrained where others were flamboyant and all-embracing, but their music was as adventurously expansive in its improvised dissonance as any psychedelic band of the era.
The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat (1968)
Highlights: Again, the whole album
Famed for its extremity, White Light/White Heat is a less satisfying album than the band's debut but just as vital
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground (1969)
Highlights - Candy Says, What Goes On, Pale Blue Eyes, Beginning to See the Light, That's the Story of My Life, After Hours
Surprisingly, more of an acquired taste than the band's more extreme works, the largely mellow and reflective third album has perhaps the cheapest-looking cover art of any major band and a ton of great songs
The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)
Highlights - Who Loves The Sun, Sweet Jane, Rock & Roll, Cool It Down, New Age
Much-hated but excellent album, it doesn't sound like the Velvet Underground but it's a masterpiece of late 60s rock.
Highlights - Vicious, Perfect Day, Hangin' Round, Walk on the Wild Side, Make Up, Satellite of Love, Goodnight Ladies
This dark & decadent glam masterpiece emphasised a slightly one-sided aspect of Lou Reed's art, but it remains one of his most cohesive albums.
Highlights - Caroline Says I, How Do You Think It Feels, Oh Jim, Sad Song
Harrowing masterpiece that is nevertheless more listenable than it's reputed to be.
Sally Can't Dance (1974)
Highlight - NY Stars
Famously an awful album, but this one song has a can't-be-bothered glam charm.
Rock 'n' Roll Animal (1974)
Highlights - Heroin
Lou Reed reminded the world that his career started long before Transformer with this excellent, if sometimes gruelling live album
Coney Island Baby (1975)
Highlights - Crazy Feeling, She's My Best Friend
A return to more accessible tunes with this excellent, surprisingly light-toned album
Lou Reed Live (1975)
Highlights - Sad Song
On the whole a slightly disappointing sequel to Rock 'n' Roll Animal, but the Berlin songs make it worthwhile.
Street Hassle (1978)
Highlights - Gimmie Some Good Times, Street Hassle, Real Good Time, Wait
Superb, gritty album, the binaural production still sounds great too, especially through headphones.
Live: Take No Prisoners (1978)
Highlights - the whole thing
The music, good though it is, is secondary to Lou Reed's continual flow of humorous, bitchy onstage banter on this prickly masterpiece.
New York (1989)
Highlights - Romeo Had Juliet, Dirty Blvd, Last Great American Whale; nearly everything
Lou Reed's 80s weren't all bad by any means, but this album still felt like a return to form, and it's crisp, almost tangible sound set the tone for the next few years.
With John Cale - Songs For Drella
Highlights - all of it
This masterful concept album about Andy Warhol has a unique atmosphere and is a career high for two artists whose lows are better than most peoples' masterpieces.
Magic and Loss (1992)
Highlights - all of it
Much like New York, only warmer, deeper and sadder. With this album Lou Reed truly reached 'elder stateman' status, whether he liked it or not.
Set the Twilight Reeling (1996)
Highlight - Hooky Wooky
A solid rather than great Lou Reed album, but it showed that despite his role as a serious artist and cultural spokesman he hadn't lost his sense of fun.