This was my entry into the Lou / Velvets catalogue. Then it was Rock’n’Roll Animal, back to Transformer and then forward while, in parallel, heavily mining the Velvet’s catalogue.
Stephen Davis, in a December 1973 review for Rolling Stone, felt the album was a “disaster”; he disliked the world of “paranoia, schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and suicide” that the album introduced to the listener, as well as Reed’s “spoken and shouted” performance.He concluded with words to the effect of “there are some records you want to do physical violence to . Goodbye Lou.”
That extreme aggressive reaction was of course ironic given the themes of the record. And the critical panning at the time fuelled Lou’s resentment of the press for many years, maybe forever. As a teenager I was immediately interested.
It was so dark – the violence, the drugs the storyline, like nothing anyone else would attempt. Lou’s
often monotonal, spoken or semi-spoken and occasionally singing almost sweetly just like he would do occasionally on VU records.
And then there is The Kids it opens with:
” They’ve taken her children away
Because, they said she was not a bad mother”
And ends with kids crying, wailing pleading for their mother. My mother would force me to take the record off at this point. She wasn’t too keen on the Velvet’s Heroin, or Black Angel’s Death Song or Sister Ray for that matter. But I digress. There are various stories about how they got the kids to cry so convincingly. It’s a long way from Our House is a very very fine house, with 2 cats in the yard .
Producer Bob Ezrin said it nearly killed him and he too became a junkie in the process of completing this record ( this is from memory, so I could be wrong).It’s a dense record with a lot of musicians strings, choruses etc. How this for a lineup?
Lou Reed – vocals, acoustic guitar
Bob Ezrin – piano, Mellotron, arrangement
Steve Hunter – electric guitar
Dick Wagner – electric guitar, backing vocals
Jack Bruce – bass guitar except “Lady Day” & “The Kids”
Aynsley Dunbar – drums except “Lady Day” & “The Kids”
Steve Winwood – Hammond organ, harmonium
Michael Brecker – tenor saxophone
Randy Brecker – trumpet
Tony Levin – bass guitar on “The Kids”
B. J. Wilson – drums on “Lady Day” & “The Kids”
Allan Macmillan – piano on “Berlin”
Gene Martynec – acoustic guitar, synthesizer and vocal arrangement on “The Bed”, bass guitar on “Lady Day”
Jon Pierson – bass trombone
Blue Weaver – piano on “Men of Good Fortune”
Steve Hyden, Elizabeth March, Dick Wagner, Lou Reed – choir
Wouldn’t have been cheap ,no wonder the poor reviews rankled.
So today I had another listen after a few years lay off. Previously drawn to the Hunter / Wagner guitaring it was Aynsley Dunbar’s drumming that stood out and the bass of Jack Bruce. I am sure Lou was getting that sort of sound when he had Fernando Saunders in bands after this.
Berlin is challenging, Lou’s voice can be hard work. But it is worth the effort. Rolling Stone subsequentlyu had it in the 300’s out of their top 500 lists and it’s on those annoying lists of records you need to listed to before you die.
Well Lou’s dead. He regarded this as his masterpiece. And it was.