Classic Albums – Transformer: Lou Reed

Between Thought And Expression

Lou Reed: Transformer In Depth

My god, this is good. I don’t even like Transformer that much, but it’s undeniably foundational… and it’s great. It’s just not my favorite Lou. GET OFF MY ASS. This is my site. I can like what I want. Remember when I posted that Velvet Underground documentary?  You don’t own me. Where’s my whistle?

Click to buy the DVD if you wanna own it forever.

Ok. Here’s the deal. Transformer is a hugely influential album because (mainly):

  • It’s the first (real) Lou Reed solo album
  • David Bowie (a huge Velvets fan) produced it
  • Mick Ronson (bowie’s guitarist) did the arranging (and there’s some pure beauty)
  • Herbie Flowers has that awesome overdubbed Standup/Electric bass line for Walk On The Wild Side
  • The whole album is gender fluid, queer as fuck, and very very very ahead of it’s time, topic-wise
  • It is the Shadow Lord of the glam movement. T-Rex and Ziggy Stardust would be more saccharine without Transformer to counterbalance.

The story of how I found a streaming copy of this episode of Classic Albums is wild and the stuff of legend. I had eaten a legal edible cannabis candy (50mg THC) and I was extremely high. Almost too high. Pulling myself together enough to do anything was akin to hugging smoke. However, I had a flash of epiphany and searched on Bing, because if you search for videos on google, you get almost exclusively YouTube results. Is it because Google owns YouTube? I would say so. There was no full version of this episode of Classic Albums on YouTube. A lesser man would have given up, but I went to Bing instead.

Bing provided about a half dozen full versions, on various sites of dubious legality (lots of Russian). Who cares? I found one on a Russian tube site, and watched it. It was a low resolution copy (like watching YouTube on 240) but totally adequate. Luckily I know a little Russian, thanks to Cold War paranoia and high school Russian classes. Using my knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet I was able to find not only a high resolution version, but a longer version! There’s like an additional half hour of interviews and performances here. Holy Shit.

lou reed david bowie transformer
The 70’s demanded ugly clothes.

Anyway. Watch this. It’s absolutely riveting. My favorite part is when Lou is listening to the multitrack of Perfect Day, and he isolates only the strings. It’s perfectly sublime and beautiful, easily as lovely as the strings on Eleanor Rigby (if not as complex), and Lou’s face changes and he freezes. You can tell that he hasn’t heard that in a long time, and he’s moved by the beauty. He then praises Mick Ronson’s arrangement, and it’s touching, and real.

It’s totally worth the hour and half to watch. Or even listen to at work. You can even buy it on DVD like a grown up.  You are absolutely free.

Velvet Underground Documentaries You Must Watch

velvet underground documentaries
They changed everything. Pic from

Why must you watch these Velvet Underground documentaries? Simple. There are few bands as absolutely seminal as the Velvet Underground. Hopefully you already know who they are, and why they’re the fertile crescent of Shadow that gives depth and perspective to the Optimistic Arrogance of the 60s. They’re a counterpoint to the Love Generation. Not pessimistic, or mopey, at all. Just dark and realistic. They’re the hours of hellish introspection that follow the euphoric trip. That’s it. They’re the comedown.

Velvet Underground Documentaries Number One

A Closer Look

A Closer Look (aka Under Review) is a recent (new millennium) documentary that features tons of Warhol Factory people, music critics, and (to my delight) lots of Mo Tucker and Doug Yule. It’s just about as good as it gets as far as Velvet Underground documentaries go. This video has been encoded at an abysmal 144p, which is super low res. However, it’s the one I can find online that’s complete. You can hunt around and find a higher res version in segments, if you’d like, but this one was satisfying to me.

You don’t get a lot of Doug Yule in most Velvet Underground documentaries. He was frozen out of their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as their famous 1993 reunion tour. That’s too bad, because he was a contributor to their later work, and was a legit member who should be recognized for that. He burned bridges when he recorded a Velvet Underground album after Lou Reed left, without any other Velvets involved, but… so? The Velvets weren’t legends then. They were just a name to which Yule apparently had rights to use. Bad form perhaps, but not worth a 45 year ostracism.

Velvet Underground Documentaries Number Two

1987 French TV

I don’t even see a title for this one, but it’s from 1987, is just excellent, and.. it features interviews with Lou Reed, John Cale, and NICO (who died about a year later). Good stuff! Everyone is much younger, the band had been a viable force about 15 years prior (rather than 40+ in the first of the Velvet Underground documentaries), so everything is fresher. Plus the inclusion of Reed, Cale, and Nico, add gravitas to the story.

Now What?

Excellent. You’ve watched both Velvet Underground documentaries, and are now converted. Welcome. Everyone should have a little Velvet in their collection, much in the same way millennials still buy Dark Side of the Moon. It’s canon.
So, if you’re a person of quality and would like to own some Velvets, I applaud you. Digital copies abound from the carrier of your choice, but if you want to own something you can hold, and kiss, and covet, and worship, then here are some suggestions from yours truly.



  • Peel Slowly and See (5 CD Box Set) –
    • This has the 4 seminal albums, plus a TON of outtakes and live tracks. This should complete you as a human.
  • LIVE MCMXCIII – 2 CD set from their INCREDIBLE 1993 reunion tour –
  • The Velvet Underground (self titled) – if you own just album of theirs, this is the one to get.