Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed song)

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"Walk on the Wild Side"
Single by Lou Reed
from the album Transformer
A-side "Perfect Day"
Released November 8, 1972 (1972-11-08)
Format 7-inch single
Recorded August 1972, Trident Studios, London
Length 4:12
Label RCA Records
Writer(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 released as a double A-side with "Perfect Day". 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".

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..."[1]


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.[2]

The backing vocals are sung by Thunderthighs, a vocal group that included Dari Lalou, Karen Friedman, and Casey Synge.[3][4]

The upright bass and bass guitar are both played by Herbie Flowers who was paid a £17 flat fee.[2]

Musical elements[edit]

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.[5]

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.[citation needed] 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.[6]

  • "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.[7]
  • "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.[8]
  • "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.[9]
  • "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".[10]
  • "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.[11]


Underground cabaret performers from Stockholm do Walk on the Wild Side on tour in New York City in 2011.

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.[12] "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.[13] The original release was a worldwide hit.

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 slipped past the censors, who were apparently unfamiliar with the term "giving head".[14][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.[15][when?]

The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in early 1973.[16] After the announcement of Reed's death in October 2013, both the song and the Transformer album re-charted via iTunes.[17]


Covers and sampling[edit]

Charts and certifications[edit]


  1. ^ Fricke, David, Mojo Magazine, November 2016, pg. 75
  2. ^ a b Dave Simpson (21 October 2014). "The little-known musicians behind some of music's most famous moments". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ Barton, Laura (12 May 2011). "Hail, Hail, Rock'n'Roll". The Guardian. 
  4. ^ "Thunderthighs". Allmusic. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  5. ^ "Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side (ver 3) Chords". Bigchords.com. Retrieved 2012-11-16. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Simpson, Dave (12 December 2008). "Bet you think this song is about you". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  8. ^ Moynihan, Colin (24 February 2009). "From the Archives, a Portrait of a Pop-Art Muse". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "Joe Dallesandro: The Warhol-Era Sex Symbol Talks". LA Weekly. 17 January 2014. 
  10. ^ Klemm, Michael D. "Warhol On The Beach". CinemaQueer.com. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  11. ^ McCourt, James. "Warhol's Brainy Goddess". Gay City News. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Trebay, Guy (1 November 2013). "The Real-Life Stories Told in 'Walk on the Wild Side'". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ 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]. 
  14. ^ "Ten things you never knew about Lou Reed". Clash. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  15. ^ Santoso, Alex (17 September 2012). "The Story Behind Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side"". Neatorama. Retrieved 6 April 2015. 
  16. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits: Eighth Edition. Record Research. p. 523. 
  17. ^ "NME News Lou Reed to have posthumous hit with 'Walk On The Wild Side'? - NME.COM". NME.COM. 28 October 2013. 
  18. ^ "Steve and Abe's Record Reviews". Angelfire.com. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  19. ^ "Las Vegas Review-Journal". Las Vegas Review-Journal. 
  20. ^ "Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch's Wildside sample of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side". WhoSampled. 2013-04-30. Retrieved 2013-05-04. 
  21. ^ "Jamie J. Morgan - full Official Chart History". Official Charts. Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  22. ^ "A Tribe Called Quest's Can I Kick It? sample of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2013-05-04. 
  23. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  24. ^ "Image : RPM Weekly - Library and Archives Canada". Bac-lac.gc.ca. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  25. ^ "Lescharts.com – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  26. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  27. ^ "Lou Reed – Chart history" Japan Hot 100 for Lou Reed. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  28. ^ "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. 
  29. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  30. ^ "Spanishcharts.com – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  31. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  32. ^ "Archive Chart: 1973-06-02" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  33. ^ "Lou Reed – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Lou Reed. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  34. ^ "Lou Reed – Chart history" Billboard Hot Rock Songs for Lou Reed. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  35. ^ "Australian Chart Book". Austchartbook.com.au. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  36. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  37. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X. 
  38. ^ "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

External links[edit]