With the passing of an artist that one admires, one always returns to favorite works by that artist in order to commemorate him or her; in this case, Lou Reed.
Around 1963 or so, after graduating from college in Syracuse, where he played in frat bands, Lou Reed returned to New York City and tried to get into the music business. Apparently he fell in with some musicians who worked for Pickwick International, a super budget music business conglomerate; meaning it was a record company that needed product, and a music publisher that needed songs. No teen fad was too lame for this company to exploit. Dance crazes, surf music, British invasion—Pickwick would be right there, usually a dollar short and a day late.
Although it yearned to be a Tin Pan Alley-type player, Pickwick was more like the dollar store equivalent of the Brill Building. Who knows if a single song it generated ever became a hit record? One of Pickwick’s methods of doing business seemed to be this: Watch the chart for hit artists, license available recordings by said hit artists—usually tracks cut long before artists were popular—and issue them on new LPs. If there were not enough material to fill an album, Pickwick songwriters would write, produce and record to order in a similar vein.
Lou Reed was such a songwriter for Pickwick. He co-wrote and recorded such songs as “Little Cycle Annie,” “You’re Driving Me Insane” and “But I’ll Getcha” and the songs were released on these kinds of albums under the names The Beachnuts, The Roughnecks and The J Brothers, respectively.
In 1964, another “group” he recorded with, The Primitives, released a single on Pickwick called “The Ostrich.” It’s a ridiculous dance number that nobody could ever do with Lou Reed talk/singing (as he did his whole career) impossible directions: “everybody get down on your face!” However, it starts with a hot, stinging, one-note guitar riff before going into a full-on “Then He Kissed Me” groove, complete with party noises, wild screams, pounding tambourines and gibberish singing. About a minute and twenty seconds into the track, a very Velvet Underground-like, one-note vamp is hit and John Cale’s viola is clearly heard for a couple seconds before returning to the regular groove—about fifteen seconds featuring shapes of things to come. The record is futuristic minimalism disguised as a disposable, simplistic, teen-dance romp! For all intents and purposes, there is little difference between “The Ostrich” and “Sister Ray,” except for the length of the track. Less than a year later, Reed, Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker were in a studio with Nico and Andy Warhol cutting the first Velvet Underground album.
“The Ostrich” has been known to exchange hands for vast amounts of money.
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Thank you so much for this interesting article on Lou Reed. I just found your blog and will be back!