With the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico in 1967, Lou Reed became one of the most controversial and acclaimed figures in rock & roll, a songwriter whose tales of the wild side of life were at once powerful, shocking, and full of understated compassion for the demimonde figures who populated his lyrics. Reed was promptly acclaimed as a one-of-a-kind talent, but while some imagined he'd appeared out of nowhere or emerged from a William S. Burroughs novel, the fact was Reed had been on the outskirts of the record business for close to a decade when the Velvets issued their first album, having played in bands since he was in high school. Early Lou: Pre-Velvet Underground Recordings 1958-1965 brings together a number of rare recordings that predate Reed's work with the Velvet Underground. The collection includes the lone single released by Reed's teenage band the Jades; a pair of demos by "Lewis Reed" recorded for Time Records while Reed was in college; and several tracks Reed cut while he was a staff songwriter and studio musician at Pickwick Records, a budget label that had him crank out tunes that resembled the styles of hits of the day. Reed is essentially inaudible on the Jades sides, and he was still looking for his lyrical voice on the Time demos, but even the least of his Pickwick recordings qualify as truly inspired rock & roll trash ("Cycle Annie," "You're Driving Me Insane," and "Why Don't You Smile Now" are considerably more than that), and "The Ostrich" and "Sneaky Pete" by the Primitives sound like a rough draft of what he'd do just a few years later with the Velvets. A worthy exercise in rock & roll archaeology, and good greasy fun for hardcore Lou Reed fans.
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