Lou Reed: One of the great shit-eating grins of all time…
At long last the week is at and end and I am good and ready to curl up in a down-filled cocoon of my of making, where my video iPod and I will spend as much time as possible in womb-like isolation. Just until I get my head screwed on securely.
I figured I’d close out the week with something cool I grabbed when I was digging in western Mass last year. Alongside some cool Easy sounds, as well as a few stellar pieces of 60s pop, I was lucky enough to find a record I’d been seeking for years.
Since I first discovered the band some 25 years ago, I have been a serious Velvet Underground fan. Though I knew some of their songs before then – via versions of ‘Rock and Roll’ by Detroit (used as the jingle for the local dragstrip), and Lou Reed’s solo versions of their songs on the ‘Rock’n’Roll Animal’ LP – I didn’t actually hear a Velvets song until the mid-80s, by which time, along with Big Star they had become patron saints of the new, alternative underground.
To be honest, in the beginning I tended to breeze right by noise experiments like ‘Sister Ray’, in favor of the band’s poppier side with songs like ‘Sunday Morning’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’, but as the years wore on I grew to love almost everything they recorded (before Lou Reed left the band, anyway).
Anyway, in the years of my VU fandom I read that before the band came together, Lou worked as a songwriter and session musician for exploito label Pickwick Records. Pickwick was one of the truly great ‘knock-off’ labels, manufacturing al manner of spurious music meant to fool the less studious record buyer into believing that they were buying something cooler than they actually were. These scams ran from repackaging the early, uncharacteristic work of popular artists, to creating new ‘soundalike’ artists out of whole cloth.
During his time at Pickwick, Reed both wrote material for other people (like the All Night Workers’ ‘Why Don’t You Smile Now’) and performed himself under assumed names. Today’s selection is an example of the latter.
Now, when you think of someone cranking out teen exploitation, whether it be films or music, there are varying levels of, how do you say, finesse. Some folks, like the AIP factory created movies, that while generally dumb and condescending managed to also be brilliantly colorful, entertaining and had the bonus of featuring motion picture appearances by all kinds of cool musical acts.
On the other hand, you had the schlockmeisters who filled the drive-ins of the 1960s with quickly made garbage meant to flicker on screen as the background to millions of heavy petting sessions.
The Beachnuts’ ‘Cycle Annie’ falls somewhere in between those two extremes. The band name and song title sound like they were created by some Vitalis soaked goon in a shiny suit who had himself convinced that he understood the youth market. The actual music is something else entirely. With a vocal that is unmistakably the voice of Lou Reed, and a wall of distorted, barely tuned guitars, ‘Cycle Annie’ is what exploitation pop sounds like when shoved through the avant garde meat grinder of Reed’s sensibility. If you swapped out the motorbike lyrics for something a little heavier, like cruising the back alleys of the city for drugs and quick sex, you wouldn’t land too far off from the actual Velvet Underground.
Give this one six or seven listens, preferably with a head full of green cough syrup. I think you’ll see what I mean.
See youse on Monday.