Lou Reed heads off to New Sensations

photo credit: copertinedvd.org

photo credit: copertinedvd.org

A rock and roll legend passed away last weekend. Lou Reed was grunge and punk long before those terms existed in popular music. His band, The Velvet Underground, influenced untold numbers of artists over the years.  Much of his solo work on albums like Transformer, Berlin, The Blue Mask, and New York is considered essential Rock & Roll listening.  But not the album that I am going to write about today.

If you want to read more deeply about the music that has made Reed a legend, there are numerous bio’s published all over the web right now detailing the impact of his contributions.  I’m guessing none of them includes the 1984 pop gem, New Sensations. Yet, this is the album that I credit for taking me beyond “Walk On the Wild Side” and into a deeper appreciation of Lou Reed.  I can’t honestly say that I’ve heard critics and fans denounce the album, but I never hear it mentioned in discussions of his work.  At all.  Even Reed himself, when personally selecting tracks for 2003’s Essential Lou Reed, ignored this pop gem.

I was s sophomore in high school at the start of 1984.  For me, this remains the greatest music year of my life (I actually have a theory that, for most people, the year that takes them from sophomore to junior, right in the middle of their high school experience, creates the majority of music that forms their life soundtrack – but that’s a topic for another post).  In the spring, MTV started playing a video for the new Lou Reed song, “I Love You, Suzanne.”  This thing was upbeat, fun, and infectious, if not lyrically challenging (think George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You”).  It also helped that I had a friend named Suzanne.  I didn’t love her, but she was a dear friend and it was fun to sing this around her.  How this thing didn’t become a bigger hit is still lost on me (it never charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, though it did go as high as number 28 on the rock radio chart).

In 1984, if you asked the average teenage music fan to name two Lou Reed songs, few would likely be able to get past “Walk On The Wild Side”.  I had only just become aware of Reed’s participation in The Velvet Underground but wasn’t familiar with much beyond “Sweet Jane”.  But I knew that Lou Reed was someone important in the still relatively short history of rock and roll.  So, when I fell for “I Love You, Suzanne”, I decided to go ahead and purchase the album it came from.  New Sensations became a staple of my summer playlist, and one of my favorite albums in a year filled with favorite albums.

As with the lead single, this whole record is upbeat.  It feels bright and hopeful.  Songs like “Turn To Me”, “Fly Into The Sun”, and the title track, are pure feel-good.  “My Red Joystick” is a made-for-radio anthem about being blissfully technology-addicted before we even knew that was a thing.  Even in the reggae infused “High In The City”, while running through a list of urban dangers, Reed doesn’t let any of that stop him from a day of joy.

I didn’t realize until later that much of this was not normal for Reed.  Maybe that’s why New Sensations isn’t held to the same standard as his other albums.  But that’s stupid!  The guy made a great, feel-good, pop record.  Deal with it!  Put out your cigarette, open up the blinds, and let the sunshine in! Maybe even dance a little while you’re at it.

Today, I certainly get the impact of The Velvet Underground and enjoy their music.  I acknowledge the greatness of Reed’s Transformer.  But for me, New Sensations remains my favorite Lou Reed album.  And it’s the tone of that record that comes to mind when I remember him now.  I read recently on mirror.co.uk that Reed had been quoted as saying “It always bothers me to see people writing RIP when a person dies.  It just feels so insincere and like a cop-out.  To me, RIP is the microwave dinner of posthumous honors.”  And so, partly inspired by that quote, I decided to write this Lou Reed thank-you note for the wonderful songs of an underappreciated classic.  Thank you, Lou, for being a part of my greatest musical year.  Thank you for doing the things that you wanted to.  May you fly into the sun on your way to some new sensations.  Goodbye, Lou.

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~ by themattmorrisshow on October 31, 2013.

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