Vinyl Vlog 547

Vinyl Vlog 547

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Friday, 06 May 2022
COLUMN

Lou Reed
I’m So Free (The 1971 RCA Demos)

Lou Reed is a hard man to pin down. He’s simply unknowable. Either because he wanted it that way, or because he himself wasn’t quite sure of who he was. He’s been analyzed and idolized endlessly as a messiah or a junkie or a misunderstood genius. The reality is that he was all of those things to some degree, but it’s probably also true that he didn’t care. He was just interested in living his life. And his life was making music.

Of course Reed’s time with the Velvet Underground is what gets the most attention and that material will always get revisited and explored and analyzed and picked apart with different mixes, demos, live performances and alternative takes. The well will never run dry. But it’s probably Reed’s solo career that is most interesting to those who want to understand him as a songwriter and person. With the Velvet Underground one will always wonder if what they’re hearing is Andy Warhol, or John Cale, or a studio production, but with Reed’s solo material it’s much more Reed. And nothing is more Reed than his solo demos. That’s what makes the 1971 RCA Demos so important: it’s Reed distilled to his purest essence. No overdubs, no producer, just him and his acoustic guitar, unfiltered in the highest quality possible.

It’s not like these demos were released with the best intentions. It’s pretty well known that Sony released the RCA demos last Christmas on iTunes and then quickly removed them. Why? Because they retain copyright on the songs as long as they’ve been “communicated” to the public in some form within 50 years of their release. Or some such nonsense. Really, the whole music industry is a wonder. But these songs exist, and they’ve been worked and sonically improved, and they’re important. First, because it helps us appreciate just how solid the foundation of these songs are that they can remain so solid in this state. Could any of be prepared for the Dylan-esque drawl in Reed’s voice when he sings when no one is looking? Reed was just a great songwriter in the truest sense of the word. And second, because they’re as Reed as Reed can be and maybe one of the few honest peeks into the man.

Whether these songs are enjoyable and informative to fans is no doubt. What they also might be is better than their studio counterpart. An important release.

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