[Review] Lou Reed: Transformer (1972)

Reed joins the ranks of the glammer twins (Bowie, Iggy) on this breakout album. A walk on the wild side, indeed.

Kronomyth 2.0: The rise and fall of Lou Reed.

Whether or not you bought into the idea of Lou Reed the bisexual glam rocker, the transformation from underground hero to solo superstar was now complete. It wasn’t that the songs of Transformer were radically different from the last two Velvet Underground albums, but that fans could finally focus all their attention and adulation on Reed as author, creator and icon. Between Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, it must have seemed that David Bowie was conscripting all the old punks into his new dude army.

It is an unusual alliance; Reed was never a glammer, although if the title came with Mick Ronson I’d take it too. Of course, Reed didn’t need the reflected glory of David Bowie to shine, and Transformer isn’t that much different from what he was doing before. He would have written “Vicious” and “Perfect Day” without Bowie being on the same continent, let alone in the control room, but “Satellite of Love” (here rendered in a brilliant approximation of Ziggy-era Bowie), “Make Up” and “Walk On The Wild Side” would have turned out much differently (if they turned up at all) with a different producer.

What’s interesting here is that Lou Reed seems to inhabit the same debauched, burned-out beau monde as Iggy. Listening to “Andy’s Chest” or “Wagon Wheel,” you have the sense that Reed might be the one sane person in a crazy world. Reed tore up his dude card soon enough and people stopped talking about whether he liked boys or girls, but we’ve never really stopped talking about Transformer. It helped cement his status as a star, healed the hurt over the Underground’s demise and introduced a new hero for people who desperately needed one. It also provides about forty minutes of intense listening pleasure, in case you care about those things.

Read more Lou Reed reviews

Original LP Version

A1. Vicious (2:55)
A2. Andy’s Chest (3:17)
A3. Perfect Day (3:43)
A4. Hangin’ Round (3:39)
A5. Walk On The Wild Side (4:12)
B1. Make Up (2:58)
B2. Satellite of Love (3:40)
B3. Wagon Wheel (3:19)
B4. New York Telephone Conversation (1:31)
B5. I’m So Free (3:07)
B6. Goodnight Ladies (4:19)

All songs written by Lou Reed. Song arrangements by Lou Reed, David Bowie and Mick Ronson. String and brass arrangements by Mick Ronson.

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Hangin’ ‘Round (previously unreleased acoustic demo)
13. Perfect Day (previously unreleased acoustic demo)

The Players

Lou Reed (vocals, guitars) with David Bowie (vocal backings), Barry Desouza (drums), Ritchie Dharma (drums), Herbie Flowers (bass guitar, string bass, tuba, arrangement on B6), John Halzey (drums), Mick Ronson (guitars, vocal backings, piano, recorders), Ronnie Ross (baritone sax), The Thunder Thighs (vocal backings), Klaus Voorman (bass guitar). Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson; mixed by Ken Scott, Mike Stone, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Mick Ronson.

The Pictures

Art direction and design by Ernst Thormahlen. Color photographs by Karl Stoeker. Black and white photographs by Mick Rock.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in November 1972 in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada (RCA, LSP-4807) and in 1973 in Japan (RCA, RCA-6079).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in the US (RCA, AFL1-4807).
  2. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1981 in the UK (RCA International, INTS/INTK 5061) and the US (RCA, AYL1/AYK1-3806).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in Japan (RCA, RPL-2117).
  4. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in the UK and Germany (RCA, NL/ND 83806).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (RCA, PCD14807, made in Japan).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1987 in Japan (RCA, R28P-1106).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in 1989 in Japan (RCA, B20D-41005).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in Australia (Castle, PCD 10209).
  9. Re-issued on compact disc in 1995 in Japan (RCA, BVCP-7361).
  10. Re-issued on compact disc in 1997 in the US (BMG Special Products, 44541-2).
  11. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1998 in the UK and Germany (RCA, 601812).
  12. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2002 (RCA/BMG Heritage, 65132) with 2 bonus tracks.
  13. Re-packaged with Lou Reed on for-for-1 2CD in 2006 in the US (RCA, 82315).
  14. Re-packaged with New Sensations on 2-for-1 2CD in Australia (BMG, 2197).
  15. Re-issued on compact disc on February 22, 2007 in Japan (RCA, BVCM-37726).
  16. Re-issued on compact disc on September 14, 2009 in the UK (RCA, 754662, in tin case).
  17. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2012 in the US (RCA, 88691958041A).
  18. Re-released on Blu-Ray 2CD on March 6, 2013 in Japan (RCA Legacy, SICP-30090).

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