Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"Walk on the Wild Side"
Single by Lou Reed
from the album Transformer
A-side"Perfect Day"
ReleasedNovember 24, 1972 (1972-11-24)
RecordedAugust 1972
StudioTrident, London
GenreGlam rock[1]
Songwriter(s)Lou Reed
Lou Reed singles chronology
"Walk and Talk It"
"Walk on the Wild Side"
"Satellite Of Love"

"Walk on the Wild Side" is a song by Lou Reed from his second solo album, Transformer (1972). It was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and released as a double A-side with "Perfect Day". The song received wide radio coverage and became Reed's biggest single, despite its touching on taboo topics such as transgender people, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex. In the United States, RCA released the single using an edited version of the song without the reference to oral sex. In 2010, Rolling Stone ranked it at number 223 in its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.[2]

The lyrics, describing a series of individuals and their journeys to New York City, refer to several of the regular "superstars" at Andy Warhol's New York studio, the Factory, namely Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell (referred to in the song by his nickname Sugar Plum Fairy). Candy Darling was also the subject of Reed's earlier song for The Velvet Underground, "Candy Says".

Two decades after the song's release, Reed told interviewer David Fricke, "I know my obituary has already been written. And it starts out, "Doot, di-doot, di-doot...""[3]


The baritone saxophone solo played over the fadeout of the song is performed by Ronnie Ross, who had taught David Bowie to play the saxophone during Bowie's childhood.[4]

The backing vocals are sung by Thunderthighs, a vocal group that included Dari Lalou, Karen Friedman, and Casey Synge.[5][6]

The bass hook was devised by Herbie Flowers and was performed by him on double bass overlaid by fretless Fender Jazz Bass. He was paid a £17 flat fee (equivalent to £200 in 2019).[7][4]

Drums were played by Ritchie Dharma using brushes rather than conventional drumsticks.[8]

Musical elements[edit]

Like many of Reed's songs, "Walk on the Wild Side" is based on a simple chord progression alternating between C major and F major, or I and IV in harmonic analysis. The pre-chorus introduces the II, [D major].[9]

The song is also noted for its twin interlocking bass lines played by Herbie Flowers on double bass and overdubbed on a stacked knob 1960 fretless Fender Jazz Bass. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 (Playing Second Fiddle, aired July 2005), Flowers claimed the reason he came up with the twin bass line was that as a session musician, he would be paid double for playing two instruments on the same track, thus likely totalling his pay to £34 (equivalent to £500 in 2019).[7]


Reed and three of the persons he has said he described in his lyric: Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis and Joe Dallesandro

In the 2001 documentary Classic Albums: Lou Reed: Transformer, Reed says that it was Nelson Algren's 1956 novel, A Walk on the Wild Side (itself titled after the 1952 song "The Wild Side of Life"),[10] that was the launching point for the song, even though, as it grew, the song became inhabited by characters from his own life. As with several other Reed songs from the 1970s, the title may also be an allusion to an earlier song, in this case Mack David and Elmer Bernstein's Walk on the Wild Side, the Academy Award-nominated title song performed by Brook Benton for the 1962 film based on Algren's novel. During his performance of the song on his 1978 Live: Take No Prisoners album, Reed humorously explains the song's development from a request that he write the music for the never-completed musical version of Algren's novel.

Each verse refers to one of the "superstars" at Andy Warhol's New York studio, The Factory.[11]

  • "Holly" is based on Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who lived in Miami Beach, Florida as a child. In 1962, after being bullied by homophobes, the fifteen-year-old ran away from home; and, as in the lyrics, learned how to pluck her eyebrows while hitchhiking to New York.[12]
  • "Candy" is based on Candy Darling, a transgender actress and the subject of an earlier song by Lou Reed, "Candy Says". She grew up on Long Island ("the island") and was a regular at "the back room" of Max's Kansas City.[13][14]
  • "Little Joe" was the nickname of Joe Dallesandro, an actor who starred in Flesh, a 1968 film about a teenage hustler. Dallesandro said in 2014 that he had never met Reed when the song was written, and that the lyrics were based on the film character, not himself personally.[15]
  • "Sugar Plum Fairy" has been described as a reference to actor Joe Campbell, who played a character by that name in Warhol's 1965 film, My Hustler.[16] The term was a euphemism for "drug dealer".[17] "Sugar Plum Fairy" may have been a composite of a number of drug dealers in the Warhol superstars circle.[18]
  • "Jackie" is based on Jackie Curtis, another Warhol actress. "Speeding" and "crashing" are drug references. Curtis at one time hoped to play the role of James Dean in a movie; Dean was killed in a car crash.[19]


The lyrics were groundbreaking and risqué for their time, telling stories not usually told in rock songs up to then, and containing references to prostitution, transgender people, and oral sex.[20] "I always thought it would be kinda fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn't met before, or hadn't wanted to meet," Reed said.[21] The original release was a worldwide hit. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the 223rd greatest song of all time.[2]

In the United States, RCA released the single using an edited version of the song without the reference to oral sex.[when?] In the UK, the reference has sometimes slipped past the censors, who were apparently unfamiliar with the term "giving head".[22][when?] The term "colored girls" was also an issue in the US; RCA provided radio stations with a version in which it was edited out.[23][when?]

The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in early 1973.[24] After the announcement of Reed's death in October 2013, both the song and the Transformer album re-charted via iTunes.[25]

Charts and certifications[edit]

Also see[edit]


  1. ^ Fleischmann, Mark and Ira Robbins. "Lou Reed". Trouser Press. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2019.
  3. ^ Fricke, David, Mojo Magazine, November 2016, pg. 75
  4. ^ a b Dave Simpson (21 October 2014). "The little-known musicians behind some of music's most famous moments". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Barton, Laura (12 May 2011). "Hail, Hail, Rock'n'Roll". The Guardian.
  6. ^ "Thunderthighs". AllMusic. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  7. ^ a b UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  8. ^ Ian Daley (1 December 2008). "Classic Tracks: Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wildside" - Mixonline".
  9. ^ "Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side (ver 3) Chords". Bigchords.com. Retrieved 2012-11-16.
  10. ^ Richard Flanagan, "Prophet of the neon wilderness", The Sunday Telegraph, January 29, 2006 (reprinted as "Introduction", dated "October 2005", in the novel's digital edition, Canongate Books, 2009, ISBN 978-1-84767-649-8): ‘As Algren admitted, the book “wasn’t written until long after it had been walked… I found my way to the streets on the other side of the Southern Pacific station, where the big jukes were singing something called ‘Walking the Wild Side of Life.’ I’ve stayed pretty much on that side of the curb ever since.” ’
  11. ^ Reed, Lou (1991). Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed. Hyperion. p. 42. ISBN 1-56282-923-8. They were going to make a musical out of Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side. When they dropped the project I took my song and changed the book's characters into people I knew from Warhol's Factory.
  12. ^ Simpson, Dave (12 December 2008). "Bet you think this song is about you". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  13. ^ Moynihan, Colin (24 February 2009). "From the Archives, a Portrait of a Pop-Art Muse". The New York Times.
  14. ^ 1944-1974, Darling, Candy (2015). Candy Darling : memoirs of an Andy Warhol superstar. New York: Open Road Integrated Media. ISBN 9781480407756. OCLC 899942329.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ "Joe Dallesandro: The Warhol-Era Sex Symbol Talks". LA Weekly. 17 January 2014.
  16. ^ Michael Hann (8 December 2015). "Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side: what became of Candy, Little Joe and co?". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  17. ^ Klemm, Michael D. "Warhol On The Beach". CinemaQueer.com. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  18. ^ David Cheal (November 28, 2015). "The Life of a Song: 'Walk on the Wild Side'". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  19. ^ McCourt, James. "Warhol's Brainy Goddess". Gay City News. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  20. ^ Trebay, Guy (1 November 2013). "The Real-Life Stories Told in 'Walk on the Wild Side'". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Bockris, Victor (1994). Transformer: The Lou Reed Story. Simon & Schuster. p. 207. ISBN 0-684-80366-6. The impact of Transformer's sexual content has been forgotten. It is hard to conjure up the shock resulting from David Bowie's confession of bisexuality [in 1972].
  22. ^ "Ten things you never knew about Lou Reed". Clashmusic.com. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  23. ^ Santoso, Alex (17 September 2012). "The Story Behind Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"". Neatorama.com. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  24. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 523.
  25. ^ "NME News Lou Reed to have posthumous hit with 'Walk On The Wild Side'? - NME.COM". Nme.com. 28 October 2013.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Bac-lac.gc.ca. 2013-07-17. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  28. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Walk on the Wild Side". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  29. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  30. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  31. ^ "Lou Reed Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  32. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  33. ^ "Lescharts.com – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  34. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved March 19, 2019.
  35. ^ "Archivio - Top Digital Download - Classifica settimanale WK 44 (dal 28-10-2013 al 03-11-2013)" (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  36. ^ "Lou Reed Chart History (Japan Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  37. ^ "Spanishcharts.com – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  38. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  39. ^ "Lou Reed Chart History (Hot Rock & Alternative Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  40. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  41. ^ "Italian single certifications – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved November 9, 2020. Select "2017" in the "Anno" drop-down menu. Select "Walk on the Wild Side" in the "Filtra" field. Select "Singoli online" under "Sezione".
  42. ^ "British single certifications – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved November 9, 2020.

Further reading[edit]