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Transformer (Lou Reed album)

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Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 8, 1972 (1972-11-08)
RecordedAugust 1972
StudioTrident (London)
LabelRCA Victor
Lou Reed chronology
Lou Reed
Singles from Transformer
  1. "Walk on the Wild Side"
    Released: November 1972[1]
  2. "Satellite of Love"
    Released: February 1973
  3. "Vicious"
    Released: April 1973

Transformer is the second solo studio album by American recording artist Lou Reed. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the album was released on November 8, 1972 by RCA Records. It is considered an influential landmark of the glam rock genre, anchored by Reed's most successful single, "Walk on the Wild Side", which touched on controversial topics of sexual orientation, gender identity, prostitution and drug use. Although Reed's self-titled debut solo album had been unsuccessful, Bowie had been an early fan of Reed's former band The Velvet Underground and used his fame to promote Reed, who had not yet achieved mainstream success.[2][3]


As with its predecessor Lou Reed, Transformer contains songs Reed composed while in the Velvet Underground (here, four out of eleven). "Andy's Chest" was first recorded by the band in 1969 and "Satellite of Love" demoed in 1970; these versions were released on VU and Peel Slowly and See, respectively. For Transformer, the original up-tempo pace of these songs was slowed down.

"New York Telephone Conversation" and "Goodnight Ladies"[4] were played live during the band's summer 1970 residency at Max's Kansas City; the latter takes its title refrain from the last line of the second section ("A Game of Chess") of T. S. Eliot's modernist poem, The Waste Land: "Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night", which is itself a quote from Ophelia in Hamlet.

As in Reed's Velvet Underground days, the connection to artist Andy Warhol remained strong. According to Reed, Warhol told him he should write a song about someone vicious. When Reed asked what he meant by vicious, Warhol replied, "Oh, you know, like I hit you with a flower",[5] resulting in the song "Vicious".


Transformer was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, both of whom had been strongly influenced by Reed's work with the Velvet Underground. Bowie had obliquely referenced the Velvet Underground in the cover notes for his album Hunky Dory and regularly performed both "White Light/White Heat" and "I'm Waiting for the Man" in concerts and on the BBC during 1971–1973. He even began recording "White Light/White Heat" for inclusion on Pin Ups[citation needed], but it was never completed; Ronson ended up using the backing track for his solo album Play Don't Worry in 1974.

Mick Ronson (who was at the time the lead guitarist with Bowie's band, the Spiders from Mars) played a major role in the recording of the album at Trident Studios, London,[6] serving as the co-producer and primary session musician (contributing guitar, piano, recorder and backing vocals), as well as arranger, contributing the string arrangement for "Perfect Day". Reed lauded Ronson's contribution in the Transformer episode of the documentary series Classic Albums, praising the beauty of his work and keeping down the vocal to highlight the strings. The songs on the album are now among Reed's best-known works, including "Walk on the Wild Side", "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love", and the album's commercial success elevated him from cult status to become an international star.


Blue plaque at 275 Pentonville Road, London, marking the gigs of 14 and 15 July 1972 at which the Stooges and Reed played; a photograph by Mick Rock from one of these shows appears on the cover of Transformer.

The cover art was from a Mick Rock photograph that inadvertently became over-exposed as he was printing it in the darkroom. Rock noticed the flaw but decided he liked the fortuitous effect enough to submit the image for the album cover.[7]

According to Rock, "When I showed Lou the contact sheets, he zeroed in on the transformer shot. I made the print myself – as I usually did in those days. The first test I made fell out of focus in the exposure. Lou loved the result. It took me twelve attempts to reproduce this accident for the final larger print for the album cover".[8]

Karl Stoecker (who also shot the first three Roxy Music album covers) took the back cover photo of a woman and a man. The woman is 1960s London supermodel Gala Mitchel. The man is portrayed by Ernie Thormahlen (a friend of Reed). The man appears to have a noticeable erection,[9] although Reed has said this was actually a banana which Thormahlen had stuffed down his jeans before the photo shoot.


The first single from the album, "Walk on the Wild Side", became an international success, despite its controversial subject matter. The song's lyrics mention transgender issues, sex acts, and drugs, leading it to be edited in some countries and banned in others.[3] It is now generally regarded by fans and critics as Reed's signature tune. "Satellite of Love" was issued as the second single in February 1973. In 2002, a 30th anniversary edition of the album was released; in addition to demos of "Hangin' Round" and "Perfect Day", it includes a hidden track featuring an advert for the album. Following Reed's death in October 2013, digital sales of Transformer, "Walk on the Wild Side", and "Perfect Day" all rose more than 300%, and "Walk on the Wild Side" cracked the new Billboard Rock Digital Songs chart at No. 38.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Retrospective professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[13]
Christgau's Record GuideB−[14]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[15]
Rolling Stone[16]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[17]
Spin Alternative Record Guide8/10[19]

In a mixed review for Rolling Stone, Nick Tosches noted the songs "Satellite of Love", "Vicious", "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Hangin' 'Round" which he felt expressed a stimulating sexuality saying "Reed himself says he thinks the album's great. I don't think it's nearly as good as he's capable of doing. He seems to have the abilities to come up with some really dangerous, powerful music, stuff that people like Jagger and Bowie have only rubbed knees with."[9] In a retrospective review for The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Tom Hull remarked that Reed "wrote a bunch of clever new songs and tried to cash in on producer David Bowie's trendily androgynous glam rock, which worked well enough to break 'Walk on the Wild Side.'"[17]

In 1997, Transformer was named the 44th greatest album of all time in a "Music of the Millennium" poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM.[20] In 2000, it was voted number 58 in Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums.[21] Transformer is also ranked at number 55 on NME's list of "Greatest Albums of All Time". In 2003, the album was ranked at number 194 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time,[22] maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list, and is ranked 109 on the 2020 list.[23][24] It is also on Q magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Albums Ever".

In 2018, 33⅓ published a book by musician Ezra Furman about Transformer.[25]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Lou Reed

Side one
2."Andy's Chest"3:17
3."Perfect Day"3:43
4."Hangin' 'Round"3:39
5."Walk on the Wild Side"4:12
Side two
1."Make Up"2:58
2."Satellite of Love"3:40
3."Wagon Wheel"3:19
4."New York Telephone Conversation"1:31
5."I'm So Free"3:07
6."Goodnight Ladies"4:19
Total length:36:40
30th Anniversary Edition Bonus Tracks
1."Hangin' 'Round" (acoustic demo)3:58
2."Perfect Day" (acoustic demo; includes a hidden track featuring an advert for the album)4:50


Adapted from the Transformer liner notes.[26]



  • David Bowie – producer
  • Mick Ronson – producer
  • Ken Scott – engineer


Chart Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[27] 12
UK Albums Chart 13
Dutch Album Chart 11
US Billboard Top LPs & Tape[28] 29

Sales and certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[29] Gold 20,000^
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[30] Gold 10,000
France (SNEP)[31] Gold 100,000*
Italy (FIMI)[32] Platinum 50,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[34]
2003 release
Platinum 424,666[33]

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ The Great Rock Discography. August 19, 1995. p. 681. ISBN 9780862415419.
  2. ^ a b Stephens, Matthew (March 11, 2003). "Lou Reed: Transformer". Pitchfork. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Trebay, Guy (November 1, 2013). "The Real-Life Stories Told in 'Walk on the Wild Side'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 29, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Velvet Underground - Live performances and rehearsals - 1970". Olivier.landemaine.free.fr. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  5. ^ Fitch, Andy (2012). Pop Poetics. ISBN 978-1-56478-766-8.
  6. ^ "The Story Behind Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"". Neatorama. September 17, 2012.
  7. ^ Pryor, Fiona (May 10, 2007). "Entertainment – Photographer lives the Rock dream". BBC News. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  8. ^ https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=397633541718418&set=a.219133926235048 [user-generated source]
  9. ^ a b Nick Tosches (January 4, 1973). "Transformer – Album Reviews". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 24, 2022.
  10. ^ "Lou Reed's Album Sales Rise 607% Following Death". Billboard. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
  11. ^ Deming, Mark. "Transformer – Lou Reed". AllMusic. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  12. ^ Young, Jon. "Lou Reed: Transformer". Blender. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2017.
  13. ^ Kot, Greg (January 12, 1992). "Lou Reed's Recordings: 25 Years Of Path-Breaking Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
  14. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Lou Reed: Transformer". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor and Fields. ISBN 0-89919-026-X. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  15. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Reed, Lou". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  16. ^ Sheffield, Rob (March 28, 2002). "Lou Reed: Transformer". Rolling Stone. No. 892. p. 72.
  17. ^ a b Hull, Tom (2004). "Lou Reed". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 684–85. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  18. ^ Marchese, David (November 2009). "Discography: Lou Reed". Spin. Vol. 24, no. 11. p. 67. Retrieved January 13, 2017.
  19. ^ Strauss, Neil (1995). "Lou Reed". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 325–27. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  20. ^ "The music of the millennium". BBC News. January 24, 1998. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  21. ^ Larkin, Colin (2000). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 61. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  22. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Transformer – Lou Reed". Rolling Stone. November 18, 2003. Archived from the original on December 20, 2010. Retrieved November 22, 2020.
  23. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. May 31, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2019.
  24. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. September 22, 2020. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
  25. ^ Korber, Kevin (July 14, 2019), 33 1/3: Transformer: By Ezra Furman, Spectrum Culture, retrieved April 14, 2020
  26. ^ Transformer (CD booklet). Lou Reed. RCA Records. 1972.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  27. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 249. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  28. ^ "Lou Reed Album & Song Chart History: Billboard 200". Billboard charts. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  29. ^ "Cash Box Magazine" (PDF). Cash Box. November 2, 1974. p. 36. Retrieved November 15, 2021 – via World Radio History.
  30. ^ "Danish album certifications – Lou Reed – Transformer". IFPI Danmark. Retrieved March 20, 2024.
  31. ^ "Les Certifications (Albums) du SNEP (Bilan par Artiste)"
  32. ^ "Italian album certifications – Lou Reed – Transformer" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana.
  33. ^ Jones, Alan (November 4, 2013). "Official Charts Analysis: Arcade Fire LP sells 45k to hit No.1". Music Week. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  34. ^ "British album certifications – Lou Reed – Transformer". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 25, 2013.

External links[edit]