10. “Andy’s Chest” (Transformer, 1972)
Lou Reed helped define a subgenre with this seminal glam rock record and yielded some of the most memorable hits of his career, such as “Perfect Day” and “Walk on the Wild Side”. Yet early in the tracklisting, he managed to weave a bizarre and often ludicrous narrative of transmogrification that falls somewhere between a harrowing acid trip and Un Chien Andalou. While still delivered in the chatty, street corner hustler rap of other Transformer cuts, “Andy’s Chest” is easily the most grotesque of the bunch.
Notable lyrics: “If I could be anything in the world that flew / I would be a bat and come swooping after you.”
9. “Halloween Parade” (New York, 1989)
Let’s get this one out of the way nice and early so the cynical Reed devotees skeptically scanning this piece can exhale without any needless brain cell loss. Not merely a colorful description of New York’s proud annual October tradition, “Halloween Parade” transcends its namesake by drifting into grieving amid the memories of loss conjured by the event. Sure, Reed never utters the word “AIDS” at any point, but he sure as hell doesn’t need to. The background singing is a somber yet tastefully poppy touch.
Notable lyrics: “But there ain’t no Harry and no Virgin Mary / You won’t hear those voices again / And Johnny Rio and Rotten Rita / You’ll never see those faces again.”
8. “Call on Me” (The Raven, 2003)
Nobody asked for an album of artistic interpretations of Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous work featuring contributions by the likes of Steve Buscemi and Willem Dafoe. But when did Lou Reed ever give a damn about what people want? The Raven is a disastrous effort, pretentious and overwrought to the point of being unbearable. (Don’t even get me started on the butchering of “Perfect Day”, part of an apparent vendetta against the tune.) “Call on Me” is a suitable example of these piano-driven proceedings, but the scariest thing here is how absolutely terrible this all is.
Notable lyrics: “Reliving the past of the maddening impulse / Violent upheaval / The pure driven instinct / The pure driven murder.”
7. “Waves of Fear” (The Blue Mask, 1982)
Constantly reinventing while still staying stubbornly himself, Reed made many deliberate choices with this album, not the least of which being using a blue Warholian version of the Transformer artwork as the cover. Returning to RCA after a quartet of full-lengths with Arista, he teamed up with Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine for ten tracks of infernal rockers and sentimental slow-burners. The schizophrenia of his transitional subject matter spills all over “Waves of Fear”, which exudes a personal paranoia he’d return to again.
Notable lyrics: “I’m too afraid to use the phone / I’m too afraid to put the light on / I’m so afraid I’ve lost control / I’m suffocating without a word.”
6. “Paranoia Key of E” (Ecstasy, 2000)
Sputtering to a start with an overdriven bluesy bassline, the opening track of Reed’s first album of the 21st century finds the songwriter overflowing with poetic verse rife with existential and psychopharmacological dread. It ultimately evolves into a stream of musical notes and diagnoses, accounting for the clever title. Were it not for the topic and his pugnacious resistance to staying inside the lines vocally — a constant at this stage in his career that makes live performances maddening — the horns might almost make this a conventional pop song.
Notable lyrics: “I remember when you had a dream / Everything was what it seemed to be / But now nightmares replace everything / And everything you see is wrong.”