Lou Reed: Essential listening

Jerry Shriver
Cover of the album 'The Velvet Underground & Nico.'
  • Flop %27Nico%27 %281967%29 is prized as one of Rolling Stone%27s 500 greatest rock albums
  • 1972%27s solo %27Transformer%27 offered %27Walk on the Wild Side%2C%27 his biggest hit
  • The always-adventurous Reed teamed with Metallica for 2011%27s %27Lulu%27

Lou Reed's recording career embraces two distinct tracks: as the co-founder of 1960s proto-punk group the Velvet Underground and more than 40 years as a solo artist. Both aspects are captured on several box sets, most notably Peel Slowly and See (1995, the Velvet Underground) and Between Thought and Expression: The Lou Reed Anthology (1992, solo career). For further exploration, check out these essential albums:


The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967). Musically experimental (for the times) and dark and subversive in tone, the band's debut initially flopped. Now, however, it resides at No. 13 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest rock albums, and it is part of the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

Loaded (1970). The final and most commercial of the group's four studio albums (all essential) with Reed, Loaded features the classics Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll.


Transformer (1972). Reed's self-titled solo debut from earlier the same year flopped, but his second solo album was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson and featured the popular tracks Walk on the Wild Side, perhaps Reed's best-known song, and Satellite of Love.

Berlin (1973). The critical reputation of this massively depressing, suicide-and-violence-themed rock opera has steadily improved over time.

Rock 'n' Roll Animal (1974) and Lou Reed Live (1975). These albums document a 1973 concert that featured Reed (and musicians who later would form Alice Cooper's band) at his hard-rock best.

Sally Can't Dance (1974). His fourth solo album was his highest-charting, reaching No. 10, and featured the song Kill Your Sons, about his stay in a psychiatric hospital as a teen.

Street Hassle (1978). Reed combined studio tracks with live tapes for this ambitious work, which features a spoken-word section by an uncredited Bruce Springsteen on Street Hassle: Slipaway.

New York (1989). In the best-received of his later albums, Reed adopted a back-to-basics rock sound and took venomous aim at topics and figures such as the National Rifle Association, Mike Tyson, Rudy Giuliani and Jimmy Swaggart.

Lulu (2011). One of his last projects was this collaboration with the heavy-metal band Metallica, born out of their joint appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concerts. Though Lulu was drubbed by most critics, the band was supportive of Reed's spoken-word lyrics, which were based on works by German playwright Frank Wedekind.