He may not be one of the highest-selling artists of his time, but Lou Reed is without a doubt one of the most influential, important artists of the 20th century. Born on March 2, 1942, Lewis Allan Reed began playing guitar in his early teens, and by the time he got to high school he joined a doo-wop group called The Shades. After he graduated from Syracuse University in 1964, Reed moved back to New York City and began writing songs for the artists of the small, NYC-based Pickwick Records. While he was at Pickwick, he met a Welsh musician named John Cale, and together they formed the Velvet Underground. The group’s first LP, 1967’s The Velvet Underground & Nico, didn’t sell well right away, but through the years it became seen as a watershed album for rock music. Taboo topics like hard drugs, S&M and life on the streets were too much for mainstream rock radio but found a home in their dark and melodic opuses.
Reed would only craft three more albums with the group before he quit in August of 1970. After a brief spell out of music, Reed signed with RCA in 1971 and headed to London to record his debut solo album. The self-titled disc featured mostly re-worked versions of unreleased Velvet Underground songs, and he didn’t taste real commercial success until 1972’s Transformer. Featuring a slicker, glam-influenced sound, the album sold well and is viewed as a staple on many “Best Albums of All-Time” lists. It features classic tracks like “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Satellite of Love” and “Perfect Day.”
Over the next 35-plus years of his career, Reed released over 15 more studio albums, unabashedly taking chances and crafting consistently influential albums, including 1973’s majestic Berlin, 1989’s stunning return to form with New York and 2003’s concept album The Raven. While he is no longer a road dog, the singer continues to perform and write music to this day.