It is believed that Reed died of complications following a liver transplant which he underwent in May this year. Reed, who was 71 years old, was at home in Long Island, New York.
Widely regarded as one of the most influential rock musicians of the last 50 years, Lou Reed initially found fame with band Velvet Underground before embarking on a solo career. His hit singles include ‘Walk on The Wild Side’ and ‘Perfect Day’.
Born Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed in Brooklyn in 1942, Reed developed an early interest in rock & roll and rhythm & blues and learned to play the guitar from the radio. After college he moved to New York City where he worked as a songwriter at Pickwick Records and had success with the 1964 parody dance-song ‘The Ostrich’. A partnership with Welsh musician John Cale followed, in a group named ‘The Primitives’ (soon to be known as ‘The Warlocks’). Reed’s acquaintances, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, were soon invited to join the group and ‘Velvet Underground’ was formed.
Although the band’s debut album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico’ (produced by Andy Warhol) lacked commercial success upon its release in 1967, the album is now widely considered one of the most influential rock albums ever recorded. Brian Eno once famously stated: "The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band".
Three further Velvet Underground albums followed: 1968’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ (the band's last with founding member John Cale), 1969's ‘The Velvet Underground’ and 1970's ‘Loaded’ (which was released shortly after Reed’s departure from the band).
After leaving Velvet Underground, Lou Reed relocated to London where he released his first solo album, self-titled ‘Lou Reed’. However, it was his second solo album, 1972’s ‘Transformer’, (produced by David Bowie) that introduced him to a wider popular audience, elevating him from cult status to international star, with some of the songs becoming Reed’s best-known works: ‘Walk on The Wild Side’, ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘Satellite of Love’.
The albums that followed met with both commercial success – for example, Coney Island Baby (1975), The Blue Mask (1982), New Sensations (1984), New York (1989) and Magic and Loss (1992) - and commercial failure: Metal Machine Music (1975) and Mistrial (1986). Reed also received huge critical acclaim for a lot of work that was not necessarily commercially successful at the time but has attained popularity retrospectively: Berlin (1973), Street Hassle (1978) and Songs for Drella (with John Cale) (1990).
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1987, Reed, explaining his career path, said: “My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.” Looking back on his career, his said: “All through this, I’ve always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter. They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”
In 1992, Velvet Underground reunited for a series of successful European gigs, after which various ideas were proposed – from a US tour to new studio recordings – before Cale and Reed fell out again, once more breaking up the band.
Over the last two decades, Reed continued to release music, perform, and influence musicians. 2005 saw the release of album ‘The Raven’ and most recently Reed collaborated with Metallica on 2011’s album ‘Lulu’. He also took an interest in photography and staging exhibitions of his work.
As a member of Velvet Underground he was inducted into the Rock Hall in 1996, alongside John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen “Moe” Tucker.
He will be forever remembered as one of the greatest American songwriters of his generation and leaves behind many classic tracks such as ‘Street Hassle’, ‘Sweet Jane’. ‘Caroline Says’, ‘Dirty Blvd.’, and those already mentioned above.
Reed is survived by his third wife, recording and performance artist, Laurie Anderson.
Many tributes have been paid tribute to Reed:
Paul McLoone via Facebook: “Lou Reed R.I.P. I genuinely do not know where to begin when it comes to describing what this man and his music has meant to me down through the years. Linger on”
John Cale: "The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet … I've lost my school-yard buddy."
David Bowie via Facebook: "He was a master."
Lloyd Cole: "Without Lou there is no Bowie as we know him. Me? I'd probably be a maths teacher."
Nile Rodgers of Chic tweeted: "Lou Reed, RIP I did the Jools Holland show with him last year and we yucked it up. I didn't know he was ill."
Writer Salman Rushdie: "My friend Lou Reed came to the end of his song. So very sad. But hey, Lou, you'll always take a walk on the wild side. Always a perfect day."
Check out our playlist for some of his finest work:
In 2010, Lou Reed also collaborated with Irish rockabilly singer Imelda May on her single 'Kentish Town Waltz':