The Andy Warhol-masterminded avant-garde rock group The Velvet Underground brought Lou Reed to the attention of a generation — it and all of Reed’s artistically wide-ranging projects would draw notice from generations thereafter. But such a singular personality couldn’t have simply appeared, fully formed, along with the Velvets. What, then, had he done before that epochal band began playing together in 1965?
The answer, as you can hear in 1962’s “Merry Go Round” and “Your Love,” the pair of singles embedded at the top of the post: doo-wop. Though not released in their day, the songs find a certain “Lewis Reed” laying down his very first lead vocals. Years before, in 1958, the producer of those songs put out a 45 by the The Jades, the high-school band in which Reed had played but not sung. You can hear the doo-wop trio’s “So Blue” below:
“The Jades wasn’t a band, it was just one guitar and two other guys singing,” Reed later said. “I was in the background. I wrote the stuff, I didn’t sing it. We would play shopping malls and some really bad violent places. I was always, like, tremendously under age, which was pretty cool.” You can hear more reminiscences of The Jades’ heyday, such as they had, in this interview with lead singer (and Reed’s high-school classmate) Phil Harris. “One evening, at Lou’s house, we started fooling around with some lyrics and during that evening, both ‘So Blue’ and ‘Leave Her for Me’ were written. In those days, it didn’t take much imagination to come up with something. You just thought of an experience that you might have gone through and wrote it down.” Instead of continuing with music, Harris opted for the U.S. Navy and what he calls “a typical life in the work-a-day world.” His bandmate, on the other hand, went on to a long career that seemed to demand no small amount of imagination: being Lou Reed.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.