One of the most dramatic (as in "in-yer-face") cuts on Lou Reed's Berlin album, "Lady Day" takes its title -- of course -- from Billie Holiday but its impact from the fate that, already, is racing to over-take the concept album's female protagonist, Caroline. Reed's vocal is especially powerful, as close to spoken word as he has ever come, while the spartan lyric is peppered with the kind of incidental detail that, in other hands, might seem trite or worse -- "it had greenish walls," Reed muses of the suite where the action is taking place; "a bathroom in the hall." Real estate has never sounded so threatening.
With its almost-funky, graceless lurch, the studio version of the song does appear just a little unfinished. Such complaints, however, are trampled out of sight by the live version featured on 1974's Rock and Roll Animal album. Dynamic and histrionic, the twin guitars of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner leave Reed with little option but to roar the song along, to spellbinding effect. Subtle it ain't.