Lou Reed – Berlin
Getting into the Velvet Underground is fairly simple; four albums and you’re done. For around $40 on Amazon, anyone can get the 1995 box set Peel Slowly And See and have the full discography plus enough ancillary material to keep all but the most ravenous music dork happy.
Walking into Lou Reed’s discography is a whole different animal. He put out 22 solo albums in his lifetime. Were he still alive, he’d have us believe each and every one of them is brilliant. They’re not; they’re a real crap shoot. For every Street Hassle, there’s a Mistrial. Even there, though, there’s a logical point of entry; Transformer, with the A Tribe Called Quest-sampled, Nelson Algren-invoking “Walk On The Wild Side” and the Trainspotting-scoring “Perfect Day.” But Reed scored one of his biggest solo career victories a year later with the 1973 album Berlin.
According to Reed, the idea was simple. Write an album stocked with characters song to song, then have them interact with each other. What this added up to was the tale of a couple named Jim and Caroline wrapped up in addiction, sex work, depression, abuse, and death. But, to hear Lou tell it, this was “very nice; it was paradise.” Looking back on his legacy, Reed seemed to realize he was onto something here; in 2008, five years before his death, he resurrected Berlin for a recorded and filmed live performance.