Soundbooth: Lou Reed, circa 1966

velvetunderground1The ultimate success of the late Lou Reed (1942–2013) as a musician and writer was, like with most great artists, never a sure thing. Although he went from obscurity to rock legend in a few short years, he started out pushing an idiosyncratic style of literary talk-singing and mixing old doo-wop harmonies with discordant sheets of noise that was never guaranteed to win him entry to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he put his whole life into it: “My God is rock ‘n’ roll,” he supposedly said.

For an example of how the music of Reed’s early years was received, check out this notice from the New York Times in 1966. The story was a society piece about a dinner for the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry. The evenings entertainment? Something called “The Chic Mystique of Andy Warhol.” On the program was the Velvet Underground:

The high decibel sound, aptly described by Dr. Campbell as “a short-lived torture of cacophony,” was a combination of rock ‘n’ roll and Egyptian belly-dance music.

Most guests voted with their feet and streamed out early. Reed and the Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, Egyptian belly-dance music (did they play “Venus in Furs,” perhaps?) be damned.

Here’s Reed performing one of his best post-Velvet songs, “Halloween Parade”:

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