With both David Bowie and Lou Reed having passed so recently - re-listening to 1972's utterly brilliant "Transformer" is a bittersweet experience. But more than the pain of their loss - you're also struck by just how 'fully-formed' the record is, how lyrically kick-ass it was (and still is) and that it’s not just some dismissible showy glam rock period piece either. This sucker has more attitude (and mascara) than the angst-ridden gay spawn of Mary Whitehouse and Eddie Izzard. If anything "Transformer" seems shockingly rad in 2016 - contemporary and emotionally brave (a bit like its creator really).
Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson (Ronson on Guitars, Bowie on Backing Vocals also) - the whole of Lou Reed's "Transformer" works - and Vic Anesini's wonderful 2002 CD remaster brings the album to life like never before – each track clean yet muscular without ever being over trebled for the sake of it. The audio of the monster smash "Walk On The Wild Side" alone is enough to make the hairs on the back on neck stand up (that Bass line, the Baritone Sax solo). Here are the plucked eyebrows...and shaved legs...
USA released 22 October 2002 (28 October 2002 in the UK) – "Transformer" by LOU REED on BMG/RCA 07863 65132 2 (Barcode 078636513225) is an expanded 'Original Masters' CD Remaster and plays out as follows (45:23 minutes):
2. Andy's Chest
3. Perfect Day
4. Hangin' 'Round
5. Walk On The Wild Side
6. Make Up [Side 2]
7. Satellite Of Love
8. Wagon Wheel
9. New York Telephone Conversation
10. I'm So Free
11. Goodnight Ladies
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 2nd solo LP "Transformer" – released 8 November 1972 in the USA and UK on RCA Victor LSP-4807 (didn't chart until April 1973 in the UK). All songs by LOU REED – Produced by DAVID BOWIE and MICK RONSON – it peaked at 13 on the UK charts and 29 in the USA. Other guest Musicians included Herbie Flowers on Bass and Tuba, Klaus Voorman on Bass with Barry Desousza, John Halzey and Richie Dharma on Drums
12. Hangin' 'Round (Previously Unreleased Acoustic Demo)
13. Perfect Day (Previously Unreleased Acoustic Demo)
The 16-page booklet is a pleasingly chubby and substantive affair – rare foreign picture sleeves for "Walk On The Wild Side" (most countries had "Perfect Day" as the B-side but some had "Vicious"), sheet music, RCA Master Tape Boxes, a music press advert for the album and even a picture of the 8-track cartridge on Page 3. The CD is a picture disc and there’s even a “Transformer” photo beneath the see-through tray.
MICHAEL HILL provides the excellent and informative liner notes that go into song-by-song analysis and general ruminations on drag queens, Nelson Algren novels (where he got the title "Walk On The Wide Side") and how clueless BBC Radio 1 controllers simply didn't get the reference 'giving head' as being frightfully naughty and so played the song on English radio with gusto because it was 'one of those hit things' (much to the delight of the listening British public). But the big news is the truly superb VIC ANESINI Remaster. Anesini is a name I've raved about many times before when it comes to Audio Engineers - a man who seem to lift proceedings without drowning them out. He's worked on the prestigious Elvis Presley catalogue, Simon and Garfunkel. Carole King, Santana, The Jayhawks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Byrds, Nilsson, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Denis Wilson (of The Beach Boys), Hall & Oates, Cab Calloway, Big Maybelle...to name but a few (see reviews for all). His work here is typically on the ball – the album is muscular without being showy and those formerly too-distant bottom-end rhythm pieces now full of subtle punch. A top job done...
The words alone on this record should elicit classrooms full of study – witty, street savvy, butch and snarling – characters are looking for Soul food and a place to eat. Holly from Miami FLA has shaved his/her legs and we’re all taking a walk on the wide side (baby). Any album that opens with a song that counter-culture's with "...You hit me with a flower...oh baby you're so vicious..." is probably not going to be a demo for the Euro Vision Song Contest. Even the soundscape of "Vicious” with that manic treated guitar in the background and the rhythm amplified into the right speaker like some voodoo man tapping out a New York mantra on an empty tin of beans – it has such a 'Lou Reed sound' (helped of course by David Bowie and Mick Ronson understanding what Reed wants). "Andy's Chest" talks of "venom snipers" and "hairy-minded pink bare bear" and "...yesterday Daisy May and Biff were grooving on the street..." So much of the album is about clothing, make up, lipstick traces, torn tights, sex and generally coming out in New York regardless of the consequences.
You have to say that "Andy's Chest" sounds amazing – especially those drums and backing vocals that used to kind of get lost on my vinyl issue. The beauty and ever so slightly lonely/desolate vibe that permeates the whole of "Perfect Day" was picked up by filmmakers (the druggy sequence in "Trainspotting") and even charity groups (1997 saw it reach No. 1 in the UK for three weeks after the BBC gathered together an all-star cast and used it (with permission) for their Children In Need Appeal). It was of course originally the B-side of "Walk On The Wild Side” when RCA issued that stunning song as a 45 7" single back in November 1972 in the USA (went to No. 10 in the UK in May 1973 after the "Transformer" album charted in April 1973).
Harry becomes a priest and digs up his recently deceased father in the wicked groove of "Hangin' 'Round" as the guitar-shadow of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the following year's Aladdin Sane anchors the acidic lyrics. Then we get 'the' tune that defines the LP and for my money easily in the top 5 greatest 45 RPMs ever released bar none – the sensational "Walk On The Wlld Side". Even now it brings a smile to me face and flips a beat in my heart. The liner notes wittily explain that the song's truly iconic and hooky bass line by Herbie Flowers was more of a fluke than a stroke of musical genius. He did it first on an upright bass then added the more subtle electric bass line to underpin it - that way he got paid for two sessions instead of one. Flowers got his £12, RCA got their hit, Reed got to be a lippy Global superstar and we got musical history that literally oozes cool and sex. RCA issued it in the USA as a 3:57 minute edit without the 'oral' reference (to you know what) and it's a shame this CD reissue didn't include that version here as a third bonus track (plenty of room boys – as Candy would say on the streets of New York). By the way it's RONNIE ROSS who plays that brilliant Baritone Saxophone as the song fades out.
Side 2 opens with "Make Up" where Lou tells us of a 'slick little girl' and people coming out of their closets. It's followed by another gorgeous "Perfect Day" moment – the very Bowie/Mott The Hoople "Satellite Of Love". Originating from his Velvet days in 1969 – Reed updated the song for "Transformer". A simple piano refrains play as he sings of cars parked on Mars while someone on Earth has been bold with Harry, Mark and John (and that's just on Monday). "Wagon Wheel" slides in like a slick T. Rex knock off – that cleverly treated guitar sound while Lou sings of 'flirting with danger' – Anesini's remaster brings out the clarity of those quite 'heavenly father' passages. Vaudeville rhythm fills "New York Telephone Conversation" with a street gossip bitchiness and you're not really sure he means it when he sings "...I'm glad to hear from you all..." The chugging guitars and backing vocals of the utterly brilliant "I'm So Free" could easily have been another single – and the remaster here gives it incredible clarity and power (you can Bowie's voice just above those harmonies more now – and that Ronson guitar soloing as it fades out). It ends on a Tuba where Herbie Flowers puffs away as Reed gets all Leon Redbone on "Goodnight Ladies" telling us that she's sucked her lemon peel dry...nice.
I had thought the two demos would be throwaway – but their unplugged acoustic strum (beautifully produced) allows you to focus on the words that feature verses he didn't use in the finished song. Jeannie and her mentholated cigarettes are still in there as is "...you're still hung up on things I gave up years ago..." - but then there's Raymond who had no hair on his head so he didn't use a comb. The bittersweet "Perfect Day" feels even bleaker somehow in Acoustic Demo form as he sings "...it's just a perfect day...I'm glad I spent it with you..." Both are excellent finds.
What mercurial talents Lou Reed, David Bowie and Mick Ronson were between 1971 and 1973 – everything they touched seemed to have a kind of fairy dust magic about it. Some records grow in stature - get rediscovered and rightly so - Lou Reed's second solo LP "Transformer" is one of those albums. It's still fresh, effortlessly cool and lyrically as snotty as The Sex Pistols - and 44 years after the event – just as relevant.
All together now – "...And the colour girls go...do...de...do...de...do...de...do..."