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Lou Reed’s 5 Coolest Guitar Performances: A Birthday Tribute

02.24.2014 Transformer

Make no mistake about it — although Lou Reed hired extraordinary six-string sidemen including the angular giant Robert Quine and the extraordinary rock tag-team of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, his own playing was always the most compelling on his albums, perfectly balancing light and dark, mood and texture. Reed, who passed away on October 27, would have turned 73 this Sunday, March 2. These 10 songs are a solid introduction to his guitar artistry:

  • "White Light/White Heat" (1968): Sterling Morrison plays lead on this title track from the Velvet Underground's album of the same name, but it's Reeds gnarling, gnashing and perambulating rhythm guitar that drives the song to its garage-punk apogee. It's proof that guitar heroism isn't just the province of single-note derring-do.
  • "Sister Ray" (1968): Another entry from White Light/White Heat — this time wildly improvised in the studio, resulting in a nearly 18-minute portrait of decadence and violence. Ever wonder how those things translate to guitar? Listen.

  • "Heroin" (1967): The fragility of Reed's spiked-up narrator is perfectly reflected in the awkward but shimmering quality of his guitar on this cut from The Velvet Underground & Nico. "Heroin" is a gorgeous match of music and message, regardless of its darkness.
  • "Rock 'n' Roll" (1970): The Velvet Underground’s final album Loaded is a pop masterpiece, benefiting from Reed’s growth as a songwriter and composer. His chords here reflect a smoother, more calculated performing style on guitar as well, and are exemplary.

  • "Pumping Blood" (2011): Really, all the tracks from Reed's 2011 collaboration with Metallica, Lulu, feature killer guitar performances. Reed ups the ante here with E-bow, adding a spine of dissonant melody (and later, feedback) to the tune's orchestral arrangement. Many Metallica and Reed fans were dismayed with this collaboration, but with deep listening it delivers no shortage of inspired performances.
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