Lou Reed’s two favourite John Lennon songs

The mastermind of The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, was known to have been somewhat challenging to work with due to his obstinate nature and dry sense of humour. Just how difficult Reed was to collaborate with is a matter of conjecture, but his opinions never came in half measures, even if he contradicted himself on several occasions.

To illustrate how delightful Reed’s character references could be if you were in his good books, I bring to your attention a magazine interview feature Reed undertook in the 1970s. Of Andy Warhol, his artistic mentor from the early Velvet Underground days, he kept it short and sweet: “I really love him”.

Similarly, he had nothing but praise for David Bowie, the man who rescued Reed’s solo career in 1972. “I love the guy,” Reed said about Bowie. “He’s got everything. The kid’s got everything… everything”.

Reed’s opinion on The Beatles, however, wasn’t quite so clear cut. In his 1987 interview with PBS, Reed was asked for his opinion on the Fab Four after he had spent a few minutes slating some of his ’60s rivals. “No, no, I never liked the Beatles,” he said. “I thought they were rubbish”.

However, it appears that Reed’s opinion of the Liverpool lads changed throughout his life, likely with the ebb and flow of his capricious and conflicted mindset. Ostensibly, by the 1980s, Reed was fed up with the eclipsing durability of The Beatles’ legacy, but in the 1970s, he was quoted as saying: “They just make the songs up, bing, bing, bing. They have to be the most incredible songwriters ever – just amazingly talented. I don’t think people realise just how sad it is that the Beatles broke up.”

During a 2015 conversation with Uncut, Reed’s former bandmate John Cale threw more light on the matter. “There was always this competition between the Stones and the Beatles,” Cale said. “Even though The Beatles could be brilliant, the Velvets would always side with the Stones because they were darker, rougher.”

“Then ‘She Said She Said’ turned up, and I could see The Beatles were changing,” Cale added. “Lou [Reed] and I looked at each other and realised something was happening, which we zeroed in on. The way [John] Lennon did it seemed so natural. It was obviously not just something he made up his mind to do; it was always part of who he was.”

It appears Reed and Cale were fans of the Beatles’ darker, more introspective material, often drawn from the troubled mind of Lennon. Following the Beatles’ breakup in 1970, Reed continued to follow Lennon’s solo career and became an enthusiastic fan.

Not long before his death in 2013, Reed sat down at the Helsinki Music Club to write a list of 100 songs he would describe as the greatest of all time. While The Beatles didn’t make an appearance, Lennon’s name cropped up twice, for ‘Mother’ and ‘Jealous Guy’.

Revealing his love for ‘Mother’ in 1970, shortly after the single’s arrival, Reed told interviewer Bruce Pollock: “That was a song that had realism. When I first heard it, I didn’t even know it was him. I just said, ‘Who the fuck is that? I don’t believe that.’ Because the lyrics to that are real. You see, he wasn’t kidding around. He got right down to it, as down as you can get. I like that in a song.”

Watch Lou Reed cover Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘Mother’ below.

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