Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Rock & Roll"

There has been more lionizing of Lou Reed than maybe any other musician of the past 40 years, especially in his home town, New York City. Along with fellow experimental musician John Cale, Reed infused pop music with an art house sensibility with The Velvet Underground at a time when The Beatles and Beach Boys were just starting to experiment sonically. Cale was soon dismissed and Reed left the band by 1970, just as their final studio album, Loaded, was being finished. Between Lou Reed's mythic status as the sound of 1970s New York, and Andy Warhol's initial involvement, The Velvet Underground is likely still better known for their art house reputation than their actual music.

There have been many rock & roll songs about Rock 'n Roll, but Lou Reed's autobiographical tune is probably the best, definitely the most personal love letter to the music:
"Rock and Roll' is about me. If I hadn't heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet. Which would have been devastating - to think that everything, everywhere was like it was where I come from. That would have been profoundly discouraging. Movies didn't do it for me. TV didn't do it for me. It was the radio that did it." - Lou Reed
I  can't remember when exactly I heard the song, probably much later in life than I should have, but Lou Reed's deceptively minimal arrangement immediately jumped out at me from a pretty amazing album. After several jammy songs, I wanted to take a crack at it. Even though the song is mostly acoustic, I had to figure how to strip the song down acoustically without removing the attitude. Also, I just don't have a lot of punk in my voice. I tried to sing/speak it like Lou, but it sounded like a bad imitation. So I tried to put a bit of a melody to it, which I didn't love, so I tried masking it with harmony and back up vocals, similar to the "All Right" answer back up vocals on the chorus. I didn't love it, so I shelved it. I came back to it a few months later, with fresh ears, and thought it didn't sound so bad once I ditched the harmony singing, and wasn't going to get any better.

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