Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed song)
|"Walk on the Wild Side"|
|Single by Lou Reed|
|from the album Transformer|
|Released||November 8, 1972|
|Recorded||August 1972, Trident Studios, London|
|Lou Reed singles chronology|
"Walk on the Wild Side" is a song by Lou Reed from his second solo album, Transformer (1972). It was produced by David Bowie. The song received wide radio coverage, despite its touching on taboo topics such as transsexuality, 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.
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".
Like many of Reed's songs, "Walk On The Wild Side" is based on a plagal cadence, alternating from C to F. The F is played as a sixth chord. The pre-chorus introduces the major second, D Major, although in some live performances this was changed to D minor, resulting in a completely diatonic song.
The song is also noted for its twin interlocking bass lines played by Herbie Flowers on double bass and overdubbed on a 1960, stacked knob Fender Jazz Bass. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 (Playing Second Fiddle, aired July 2005), Flowers claimed that 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.
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, 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 song of the same name, the Academy Award-nominated title song of 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.
- "Holly" is based on Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who lived in Miami Beach, Florida as a child. In 1962, after being bullied by transphobes, the fifteen-year-old ran away from home; and, as in the lyrics, learned how to pluck her eyebrows while hitchhiking to New York.
- "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.
- "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.
- "Sugar Plum Fairy" was a reference to actor Joe Campbell, who played a character by that name in Warhol's 1965 film, My Hustler. The term was a euphemism for "drug dealer".
- "Jackie" is based on Jackie Curtis, another Warhol actor. "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.
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, transsexuals, and oral sex. "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.
In the United States, RCA released the single using an edited version of the song without the reference to oral sex. In the UK, the reference slipped past the censors, who were apparently unfamiliar with the term "giving head". The term "colored girls" was also an issue in the US; RCA provided radio stations with a version in which it was edited out.
The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in early 1973. After the announcement of Reed's death in October 2013, both the song and the Transformer album re-charted via iTunes.
- Lou Reed: lead vocals, acoustic guitar
- Thunderthighs: backing vocals
- David Bowie: acoustic guitar
- Mick Ronson: electric guitar, string arrangement
- Herbie Flowers: electric bass, double bass
- Ronnie Ross: baritone saxophone
- John Halsey: drums
Covers and references
- Italian singer Patty Pravo recorded an Italian language version of the song, "I Giardini di Kensington" for her 1973 album Pazza idea.
- In February 1990, two club/hip hop versions charted simultaneously in the UK - Jamie J. Morgan's cover produced by Richard Mazda reached #27, whilst Beat System got to #63.
- Rod Stewart's 1976 single "The Killing of Georgie" covers terrain similar to "Walk on the Wild Side", and also uses similar elements of melody and backing vocals.
- Stephan Jenkins, lead singer of American alternative rock band Third Eye Blind has stated that the band's hit song "Semi-Charmed Life" was meant as a response to "Walk on the Wild Side", but from a San Francisco perspective.
- The Flowers of Hell released a 2012 cover version made using the work-in-progress lyrics from an early Lou Reed demo
- American hip hop band Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch sampled the song heavily throughout their 1991/92 hit "Wildside".
- Hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest also sampled the song, in their 1991 single "Can I Kick It?".
- Joseph Arthur sang a version of the song on the Late Show with David Letterman on April 3, 2014, the night that David announced his upcoming retirement.
- In 2014, industrial hip hop outfit Tackhead covered the song which appeared their album For the Love of Money.
- Brazilian musicians Autoramas and BNegão performed a version of the song at the Rock in Rio festival in 2013; it is also included on their 2014 album Auto Boogie.
Charts and certifications
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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.
- Simpson, Dave (12 December 2008). "Bet you think this song is about you". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
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- McCourt, James. "Warhol's Brainy Goddess". Gay City News. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
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- 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].
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- "For the Love of Money". Allmusic. Retrieved October 1, 2014.
- "Autoramas Setlist at Rock In Rio 5". setlist.fm. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
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- "Italian single certifications – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in Italian). Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. Retrieved July 4, 2014. Select Online in the field Sezione. Enter Lou Reed in the field Filtra. The certification will load automatically