The starting point

Last updated 00:43 04/03/2009

mistrial.jpgSometimes it’s the first album you hear by an artist – it has you hooked. It might not be that artist’s best album, you might not even know that at the time (and, brilliantly, you won’t care) but it will become the one you know best, refer back to, remember fondly. It’s your starting point…

My starting point with Lou Reed is Mistrial – possibly a strange one. A lot of people will have hunted down Transformer or even Berlin. Many probably started with New York – or hooked into the Velvet Underground material first. Not me, I started with Mistrial.

Of course I was about nine years old – and the album was brand new. My mum bought the vinyl when it was released.

I had no idea what I was listening to – but I loved it. The riff to the opening, title song was grunty, raw, and I loved the way he sang. Straight away I loved that.

And three tracks in, Outside, I found a song that was…well, it was a revelation…there was no other word. I was hooked. Here was a song that had lines like “outside, the politics of hate and greed” and “mindless repression dominates the street/while I kneel down and kiss your feet, baby when we come inside”. And I didn’t really know what this guy was saying, but I knew that it was something interesting and the way he married it to a bit of funky bass, normal rock/pop drums and a guitar was intriguing for me.

This album became one of my early favourites. A bizarre album to be hooked on at age 10? Sure. But I was hooked, that much was certain. I bestowed that proud honour on the album: I made a dub of it; had my own private, taped copy to listen to in my first Walkman. I twinked over my dad’s Hall & Oates and wrote Lou Reed and then ‘Mistrial’ in big, almost-angry, black vivid.

The guitar solo in Don’t Hurt a Woman was hardly one of Lou’s finest; it’s a watered-down version of a solo he has performed dozens of times. But it was my first time hearing that sound, so I loved it. And Video Violence had a commentary to it that, as with the song Mistrial, I knew I didn’t understand, but I knew I liked. “Down at a bar/some woman is topless/she’s acned and scared/her hair is a mess/While he shoves five dollars down her, ah, exotic panties/the video jukebox is playing Madonna”. This guy was singing a social diary and I was spellbound. The song would go on to describe an “age of Video Violence” with “currents raging so deep inside us”. It was heady stuff.

I never tried to share the music with anyone. I just absorbed it. Listened to it alone, loved it.

In my first year of high school an English assignment to analyse the lyrics to a favourite song provided me with the first chance to share a love of this album. I copied out the lyrics to Outside and wrote an accompanying commentary filled with 13-year-old insight. The teacher rang my mother to ask if she knew the sort of music her son was listening to. “I should do,” mum replied, “I bought the album.” Awesome

The Original Wrapper, arriving around a similar time as Run DMC’s reworking of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way entered my musical vocabulary, was another revelation on the album. I liked the popcorn-funk of the guitar (light and bouncy) and the way Lou pumped out the words was impressive. A singer mentioning the news on cable-TV in a song and there was mention of President Reagan, herpes, Aids, the Middle East being “at full throttle”, MTV, the politics-of-hate and abortion – again, all in a song; a tune that wouldn’t be a hit on the radio, but was not a million miles from the sound of songs on the radio. And then again, it was precisely that distance from it.

Every song on this 35-minute album is etched in my brain. Most Lou Reed compilations will not feature a single track from this collection (Mama’s Got a Lover is surely one of his best songs, I love the bit, “mama’s got a lover/we met him yesterday/she says she’s starting a new chapter/I wish she was on the last page” and my first instance noticing Lou’s brilliant deadpan humour mixed with ennui and nonchalance: “she says she hopes I like him/I guess I’ll send him a card on father’s day”) and most Lou Reed biographies/feature articles are either not kind to the album or neglect to even mention it.

Mistrial will, for me, always be the starting point – you can see that he was following up the strong-but-mostly-ignored work of Legendary Hearts and New Sensations and listening to it now, in context, it hints at where he would get to with New York – and the mid-80s production may just hold it back from the rawness of New York but it might also be the album’s hidden strength, allowing it to sit, with Jordan-like air time, in the place and time when and where it was created but never quite co-existing comfortably with anything else around it.

So, that was the starting point.

From there I got hooked on a Lou Reed best-of, which was courtesy of another relative (click here for that tale). And then I ploughed into the world of the Velvet Underground after hearing the Retro compilation and two VU songs on the soundtrack to Oliver Stone’s film The Doors.

And then it was New York and everything before and after – and I talked a wee bit about Lou Reed in reaction to a Matt Couper artwork here. So it’s been love/hate every since. But Mistrial (I still have mum’s LP and I bought it on CD, importing it from Germany via a music store in the now archaic-seeming way) is – and will always be – the starting point.

So were you enticed in to the world of Lou Reed via something random (say, Metal Machine Music maybe?!) or were you sucked in to Bob Dylan’s realm due to Saved? Was Landing on Water your entry in to Neil Young’s recorded works? Maybe Presence was how Led Zeppelin became known to you? Did you discover The Rolling Stones because of Dirty Work? You get the idea…maybe you have a starting point with an artist that is not their best-known, most revered work. If so, do tell.

22 comments
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mike74   #1   10:02 am Feb 04 2009

I discovered Lou Reed through the work of that legendary artist Jamie J Morgan. His cover of "Walk on the Wild side" came out when I was about 15. Shamefully I thought this was pretty cool until someone pointed out this was a cover. Me being of a curious nature sought out the original and hence a Lou Reed fan was born/created.

My earliest recollection of Dylan was the perennially under-rated "Tight Connection" being played on the radio...always liked that tune, tho it never makes greatest hits compilations...

I've always loved the Stones as my dad was into them. The first tape I bought of theirs myself was Steel Wheels...which wasn't their best work.

Didn't get into Led Zep until University, the old Captain Cook dukebox was always belting out Zep tunes as we sank $4.80 jugs in the garden bar......aah the memories

Jonny   #2   10:05 am Feb 04 2009

One of the joys of a small town record shop is that generally you'll find canonical artists represented, but through their lesser albums. So here are a few I picked up between the ages of 13-19, and still dig, though I know they're not the cream of the crop:

Neil Young: Landing on Water, Hawks and Doves. Bob Dylan: Empire Burlesque, Live At Budokan, various bootlegs Iggy Pop: Instinct (OK, I don't actually listen to that any more) Lou Reed: The Bells John Cale: Artificial Intelligence Meat Puppets: Mirage Tom Verlaine: Cover McCartney/ Wings: Red Rose Speedway, Back to the Egg, London Town, Wings Wildlife...

I liked them all. And I'd buy them often alongside the truly great, like Setting Sons by the Jam, Costello's This Year's Model, the first Clash record, Van's It's Too Late To Stop Now, or Plastic Ono Band.

Cathi   #3   10:38 am Feb 04 2009

Totally unrelated to the blog, but I'm sure I saw you walking down Willis St yesterday..

And my introduction to Dylan was my mother playing guitar and singing Blowin' In The Wind, and Mr. Tambourine Man. Took me YEARS to figure out that they weren't just obscure folkish songs llike the rest of mum's repertoire.

Cafe Chick   #4   11:33 am Feb 04 2009

Slightly off topic, but kind of related ... sort of.

I remember being in the car when a strange song came on the radio. I had not idea what this weird stuff was, and was blown away when my mother started singing along "Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Figaro". (Now, if you know my mum, you'll realise why this is so strange.) That was my first introduction to <i>Bohemian Rhapsody</i>. We got home and I told my muso dad about it. He presented me with a copy of Queen's <i>Live Magic</i> and I was hooked. Suddenly, it all made sense, and <i>Crazy Little Thing Called Love</i> (which I apparently loved as a baby) fell into place!

I only wish we'd taken that car ride years earlier, so I could have started working on bugging my parents to take me to Queen's concert in Auckland. (I was 11 at the time, and figure it would have taken a few years of wearing them down before convincing them that someone should take me, but I doubt I would have succeeded anyway.)

JT   #5   12:30 pm Feb 04 2009

Introduction to Lou Reed was when I won a copy of Rock N Roll Animal in a radio competition - circa 73 or 74. I still have that copy - vinyl of course.

Introduction to the Stones, Beatles, Byrds ... was via my brother who bought a lot of great music in the 60s. I remember playing over and over the Stones' Out Of Our Heads (1965) - great bluesy rock and roll when I'd never heard blues before. Also the Byrds Mr Tambourine Man, and the Beatles first four albums. Music was a lot simpler - and a lot more enjoyable? - back then.

His Lordship   #6   02:21 pm Feb 04 2009

My long-lasting devotion to Jethro Tull began inauspiciously with <a href="http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?P=amg&amp;amp;sql=10:3xfixql5ldde&quot; rel="nofollow">The Broadsword and the Beast</a>, which I bought entirely because of the cool cover art (I was going through a D&amp;D phase). Never mind that most of it is "tuneless drivel" - there was enough there that I popped my head into A Passion Play and Thick As A Brick, and I never looked back. I freely acknowledge that BatB is not their finest work, but it still gets brought out from time to time.

And this reminds me, Simon - Tull was a runner-up to Pulp in your "have another look" competition/poll thing last year. How has the Pulp worked out for you?

Simon Sweetman   #7   02:42 pm Feb 04 2009

@ His Lordship - best intentions, I have collected up some Pulp, but haven't really got anyone in terms of listening. I like them more than I remember though...I'll get back to work on it. Thanks for the reminder.

B MacD   #8   02:44 pm Feb 04 2009

Haha - Metal Machine Music, now there is an interesting contribution to rock n roll history. I can sort of understand Reed making the album, given his affinity for mind altering substances combined with a disdain of his contractual obligations. But what I can't work out is how it ever got released commercially, got re-released on CD and that people reference it as being influential on their development???

john key   #9   02:51 pm Feb 04 2009

Yeah, I quite liked that Coldplay album. Didn't actually know what it was until someone threatened to sue me, some mumbo jumbo about copyright, which I now fully endorse.

Dr Dave   #10   03:41 pm Feb 04 2009

So many of my introductions to groups/artistes was through The Friday Rock Show on Radio 1 in the UK. Tommy Vance not only played tunes by well-known rock bands, but also more obscure stuff and studio sessions by new bands (Def Leppard particularly memorable). So many albums that I then bought based on one track heard (and many "accidentally" captured on cassette) on the wireless. Ah - happy days.


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