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An Iconic Album By An Iconic Artist
on 3 March 2017
..and if we’re talking icons, another highly memorable one is Mick Rock’s legendary photo (taken in The Dorchester Hotel, no less!) of Lou, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, arms around shoulders, basking in the reflected glory of early 70s glam-rock (though to 'belittle’ these three by reference to a transient fashion would be a mega-injustice). In (or around) 1972 we were blessed with Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Berlin and Raw Power, and extending to cover Messrs. Bolan and Cooper, Electric Warrior, The Slider, Killer and School’s Out, as well as Lou’s gender-bending classic, Transformer – for me personally, one of the most formative, fertile, creative periods in ‘rock’ ever (evidenced by the fact that these albums, pound for pound, probably still receive more airtime than any others in my household).
What is interesting, and not to say a little surprising, about Transformer is the mixed reception it initially received (and still receives) in some quarters, but I would argue that its post-Warhol tales of low-life, taboo-breaking eccentricity mix dark themes and ironic humour (not to mention great tunes!) to form an enthralling (dare I say it?) concept album. Reed owes a significant debt of gratitude to both Bowie and Hull’s finest, Mick Ronson, for the superb arrangements here. And not just the arrangements, that’s none other than Ronson himself playing the sublime Wakeman Hunky Dory era-like piano (plus recorder!) on Satellite Of Love. Of course, Walk On The Wild Side is, well, Walk On The Wild Side, simply one of the most inspired, original songs ever – simple, evocative, timeless, perfect. And talking of perfect, evoking the melodic qualities of the Velvets’ finest (Sunday Morning, Femme Fatale, Candy Says, etc) is the lush, beautiful Perfect Day. Elsewhere, each of Vicious, Andy’s Chest, Hangin’ Round, Wagon Wheel and I’m So Free evoke the album’s post-Velvets aura, rocking along to good effect with the Ronson-influenced guitar playing to the fore, whilst New York Telephone Conversation and the quirky Herbie Flowers tuba-beat on closer Goodnight Ladies add the ironic, finishing touch to Reed’s distinctive and original concept.
Indeed, Reed’s penchant for the tongue-in-cheek extends to the album’s iconic (sorry that word again!) sleeve design, again featuring Rock’s photography. As Michael Hill’s sleeve notes (to the 2002 CD) suggest, the (apparent) 'gay hustler’s’ lunch-box seems to provide a particularly unforgettable throw-back to Warhol’s cover design for the Velvets’ debut album!