Though Lou Reed has had a long and illustrious solo career, he is likely to be best remembered as singer/songwriter of The Velvet Underground, that oh-so-trippy Andy Warhol-endorsed musical experience. Yet his post-psychedelic, proto-punk roots in The Velvet Underground are only passingly evident in his most established solo album, Coney Island Baby, recently re-released by RCA for its 30-year anniversary. The new CD consists of the original eight tracks, as well as six bonus tracks, including previously unreleased versions of “Crazy Feeling,” “She’s My Best Friend” and “Coney Island Baby”.
Before releasing this album in 1976, Lou Reed was between a rock and a hard place due to a heated lawsuit regarding his previous effort, Metal Machine Music. To avoid a life of destitution, Reed had to make a rock album that could sell; Coney Island Baby is that album. Reed’s heartfelt lyrics stand out on the self-titled track, in which he explores everything from just wanting to fit in with the high school football team to his growing homosexual desires, all in under seven minutes. His endearing low voice and spoken lyrics throughout the album remind me of Bob Dylan, another icon of ’70s rock who, like Reed, often uses New York City as a backdrop of musical influence.
The album opens with “Crazy Feeling,” one of my favorite Lou Reed songs. The genius hook, slide guitar and bells on this track are an addictively light-hearted departure from his darker previous works. Coney Island Baby presents a different Lou Reed than the one who sang for The Velvet Underground. Heavy songs about drug abuse and prostitution have been replaced with more polished, lighter-sounding fare. The material is far from mundane however, presenting earnest stories on Reed’s past trials and tribulations. This is a timeless album by one of America’s most underrated artists. The re-release is a must for any ’70s rock fan.