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Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed

Album: TransformerReleased: 1972Charted:
  • This song is about cross-dressers who come to New York City and become prostitutes. "Take a walk on the wild side" is what they say to potential customers. Each verse introduces a new character. There is Holly, Candy, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy, and Jackie. The characters are all cronies of the infamous Andy Warhol Factory, as was Lou.

    Reed had an empathy for these characters that comes through in the song, as he struggled with his sexuality for most of his life. His parents even tried to "cure" his homosexuality when he was young. With this song, Reed presented a completely different view of gender roles in rock.
  • "Little Joe" refers to Joe Dallesandero, who was also one of Andy's kids in the factory. He was in several films by Warhol. Sugar Plum Fairy is the nickname of actor Joe Campbell. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jamie - New Orleans, LA; Laura - New York, NY
  • "Holly," "Candy," and "Jackie" are based on Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis. They are all real drag queens who appeared in Warhol's 1972 movie Women In Revolt. Woodlawn also appeared in Warhol's 1970 movie Trash, and Curtis was in Warhol's 1968 movie Flesh.

    Said Reed: "I always thought it would be kind of fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn't met before, or hadn't wanted to meet."
  • In an interview with The Guardian published December 13, 2008, Holly Woodlawn said: "My father got a job at a hotel, so we moved from New York to Miami Beach. I was going to school, getting stones thrown at me and being beaten up by homophobic rednecks. I felt I deserved better, and I hated football and baseball. So, aged 15, I decided to get the hell out of there and ran away from home. I had $27, so hitchhiked across the USA. I did pluck my eyebrows in Georgia. It hurt! My friend Georgette was plucking them and I was screaming, but all of a sudden I had these gorgeous eyebrows and she put mascara on my eyes. We ran into some marines in Lafayette in South Carolina. They tried to attack me. I was 15 and not used to this stuff. I was sitting in a car with this marine, terrified that he was going to rape me and kill me. I said, 'I've never done this before.' He said, 'You don't wanna have sex with me?' I said it wasn't that I didn't find him attractive, I just didn't want to do it. But he was wonderful. He protected me. While Georgette was in a motel screaming and yelling with 18 marines but having a good time, he said, 'When you're with me, nothing will happen to you.' And they drove us all the way to New Jersey.

    In New York I was living on the street. Then I met Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, and they'd watch Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo movies at 1am. There was this club called Max's Kansas City. Jackie and Candy had just done this movie called Flesh, and they said, 'You have to meet Andy [Warhol]. He's gonna make you a superstar.'

    I didn't want to be a superstar. My wig looked like yak hair. One day Jackie put on a show and I was in the chorus. I saw this bag of glitter and a jar of Vaseline, and smeared myself with it and got this boyfriend to throw the glitter on me. [Director] Paul Morrissey said, 'I don't know who she is but she's a star.' Next thing Paul's calling me up to star in a movie called Trash, and the rest is history.

    One day a friend called me and said, 'Turn on the radio!' They were playing 'Walk On The Wild Side.' The funny thing is that, while I knew the Velvet Underground's music, I'd never met Lou Reed. I called him up and said, 'How do you know this stuff about me?' He said, 'Holly, you have the biggest mouth in town.' We met and we've been friends ever since."
  • In a 1972 interview with Disc and Music Echo, Reed described this as an "outright gay song," saying it was "from me to them, but they're carefully worded so the straights can miss out on the implications and enjoy them without being offended. I suppose though the album is going to offend some people."
  • This was not banned by the notoriously conservative BBC or by many US radio stations because censors did not understand phrases like "giving head." Depending on the regional US market, the song was, however, edited for what we now call political correctness. Reed leads into the female vocalists' "Doo, doo-doo" hook with the words, "And the colored girls say," but some stations played a version that replaced the phrase with, "And the girls all say."
  • Reed recorded this two years after leaving The Velvet Underground, a band that was very influential, but not commercially successful. Transformer was Reed's second solo album. His first album flopped, and for a while it looked like his music career was over.
  • David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced this track. They were big fans of Reed.
  • The sax solo at the end was played by Ronnie Ross, a Jazz musician who lived near Bowie in England. When Bowie was 12 years old, he wanted to learn the saxophone and begged Ross to give him lessons, which he eventually did. When they needed a sax player for this, Bowie made sure Ross was booked for the session, but didn't tell him he'd be there. Ross nailed the solo in one take and Bowie showed up to surprise his old friend.
  • The album version of this song runs 4:12. The single, which reached its US peak position of #16 on April 28, 1973, was edited down to 3:37 for radio play.
  • This came out at a time when audiences were intrigued by cross-dressing and homosexuality in music. "Glam Rock," where the performers wore feminine clothes, was big, and artists like David Bowie and Elton John were attracting fans both gay and straight.
  • This was a rare venture to the pop charts for Reed, who was not known for hit singles. This song provided his biggest hit, and it was his only Top 40 in the US.
  • The famous bass line was played by a session musician named Herbie Flowers. He was paid £17 for his work. Flowers was modest about his contribution to this and other songs. He once told Mojo writer Phil Sutcliffe about his role as a session musician, "You do the job and get your arse away. You take a £12 fee, you can't play a load of bol--cks. Wouldn't it be awful if someone came up to me on the street and congratulated me for Transformer."
  • Three songs on Transformer were commissioned by Andy Warhol for a Broadway musical he was planning based on Nelson Algren's novel A Walk On The Wild Side. The show was never materialized, but Reed kept the title and applied it to characters he knew from Andy Warhol's Factory to create this song. . >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • The female vocalists singing backup on this track were Karen Friedman, Dari Lalou and Casey Synge. In 1974, they recorded as "Thunderthighs" and had a UK hit with "Central Park Arrest."
  • Rap and Hip-Hop artists frequently sample this track. The most famous appropriation is by A Tribe Called Quest on their 1990 song "Can I Kick It?"
  • Marky Mark's second single, after "Good Vibrations," was a remake of this called "Wildside." He is now known as Mark Wahlberg and famous for movies like Boogie Nights and Rock Star.
  • At Live Aid in 1985 at Wembley Stadium, while U2 was playing their song "Bad," Bono improvised 2 Rolling Stones' songs and then this song into the end, changing the lyrics of "Walk On The Wild Side" to: "Holly came from Miami F.L.A., hitchhiked all the way across the USA, she could feel the satellite coming down, pretty soon she was in London town... Wembley Stadium, and all the people went, Doo-Doo-Doo-Doo-Doo." He then had the audience sing this line while he walked offstage and the band finished playing. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    katie - somewhere, NJ
  • Reed's musical influence extends to Third Eye Blind: they got the idea for the doot doot doot hook on their hit "Semi-Charmed Life" from this song.
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Comments: 50

Cindy, I think your station is the exception here. Just heard the song the other day and they omitted the "giving head" verse.Harold - Tamaqua, Pa
I was wondering if the "backroom" ("in the backroom she was everybody's darling") wasn't a reference to the 70's gay bar in Provincetown, MA called the Back Room, and where Nan Goldin took lots of photographs.Alice - L.a., Ca
Cindy from Tempe, AZ... It was edited on the Pittsburgh PA stations too.Jim - Morgantown, Wv
Rest in peace, Lou Reed. You are and will always be one of the greatest musicians and poets.Roann - Apalachin, Ny
Since this was all before my time, I had never heard that Lou had undergone electroconvulsive therapy to "cure" his homosexual tendencies. I guess that makes Kurt Wild, Ewan McGregor's character in the movie Velvet Goldmine, a pastiche of not only Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger, but also Lou Reed.

That movie is great. A love letter to and lamentation of the glam rock scene, with fantastic performances by the actors and a soundtrack mixing a few of the original glam songs of the era with some amazing covers . Check it out if you really like the glam era.
Anne - Sanilac County, Mi
Sublime. That's the word I'd use to describe this song. Lou Reed sings the song, but his delivery of the words makes it seem like he's simply talking to you, telling you colorful stories about all these different people/prostitutes/transvestites. The most fabulous line to sing along to is "And the colored girls say..." Then those gals chime in with the "doo-de-doo-doo-doo-de-doos", and the stellar saxophone takes the song to that sublime spot. Somehow the seamier side of life don''t seem so seamy when Lou Reed sings the song.Camille - Toronto, Oh
One of my personal three coolest songs of all time! I've always loved the fact that Lou slipped all the sex and drug references past the censors by using NYC hipster lingo! As for the great bass-line, Herbie Flowers is also responsible for the fabulous bass playing on "Rock On" by David Essex, also one of the coolest songs ever. Add "Get It On" by T. Rex and there's my Top 3.Jim - Johnsonburg, Ny
Herbie Flowers will have been on very many recordings given he did so much session work. he is probably best known in UK for being part of the band Blue Mink whose biggest hit was Melting Pot.Alistair - Daventry, United Kingdom
In The Simpsons' episode "Selma's Choice", the singers at Duff Gardens, Hooray for Everything (a tribute to Up with People) performe a kid friendly version of Walk On The Wild Side.

Also in a scene from the film "Hedwig And The Angry Inch", the character Hedwig starts singing this song while his head is in an oven.
Tess - Ny, Ny
There is a rare recording of this song performed by The Strokes, I'm guessing it was at some club at the early performances of them in NY (I'm not sure about it, that's the impression I get from the background voices). You can find the song on the internet, Julian Casablancas sings both Lou's & the colored girls' Doo Doo part.Tess - Ny, Ny
Actually, according to Wikipedia, the backing vocals were performed by a group called Thunderthighs, a girl group that included founder: Dari Lallou; Karen Friedman; Jacki Campbell and Casey Synge. Just my two cents.Tonika - Cleveland Heights, Oh
I had always thought this had something to do with "Midnight Cowboy" especially the lines about hustling and the name Little Joe. Jon Voight played Joe Buck, a male prostitute living in New York.J.d. - Columbia, Sc
Rich----"Thrillington wasn't out in 1971.Micky - Los Angeles, Ca
On the back of this album, it states that the 'colored girls' are David Bowie and Mick Ronson.Debbie - Possum Kingdom, Tx
david bowie was one of the people who sings dut de dut in the background who was the other personCaris - Staten Island, Ny
Herbie Flowers insists that the 'double my pay' story is true in a BBC interview )but I forget the name of the show it was in!). He also claims that at the session, HE suggested adding the second bass part (but without mentioning the 'double my money' aspect to anyone else!). Everyone was blown away by the result, and it was only afterwards that they realised he would require to be paid double, having cleverly played the second part on bass guitar. If he'd played BOTH parts on double bass, he wouldn't have had the double paycheck!Cad - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Sad fact is our heterosexual dominated culture robbed me from knowing this great talent.Why did I only hear of this great song in 1982?seventeen years too late and I was 22 and very angry and frustrated.John - Brisbane, United States
As Aaron (New Glasgow, Canada) wrote, there are two bass tracks in this song. First, the upstraight bass was layed down. Then, Flowers suggested he put down a second bass track (electric). The aim was to double his pay, but the result is amazing.
The drum track was first played with sticks, but since it sounded like a marching band, they tried with brushes. These things were decided on the spot and really made the song. It's great when you think about it...
P.a. - Paris, --
In a interview Lou Reed said he was shocked that it was ever a hit at all. Apparently many older radio station managers didn't understand the song or the meaning "to giving head" so it was largely unedited in heavy radio play. As far as I know it is the only iconic song to reference oral sex and tranvestites.Nathan - Defiance, Oh
Stefanie from Rock Hill, SC - what are you talking about, "edited" in most radio versions? It most certainly is not. I've never heard anything BUT the real version on the radio, even in Salt Lake City UT. Is Rock Hill SC the only place this "edited" version is played?Cindy - Tempe, Az
My dad spread a rumor that my Grandma Dorcas, who absolutely can't carry a tune in a bucket, even if she tried, actually "sang" a karaoke version of this, while noodling around on an old pipe organ at Luray Caverns in Virginia.Annabelle - Eugene, Or
You can "see" what Lou's singing about.

For those who would like to get a sense of what the Andy Warhol scene that Lou sings about - rent "I Shot Andy Warhol" starring Lily Taylor. Lou (rightfully) didn't license any of his songs to the movie, but Candy is a major character. "Factory Girl" is also a good dramatization of that period and group. If you can find it, "Ciao, Manhattan" starring the factory girl herself - Edie Sedgewick, had authentic film from the 60's, and the additional material on the Disk has actual footage of the 'back room' at Max's
Larry Orchier - New York, Ny
good song, but needs more "doo"sSam - Seattle, Wa
very smoky undertones..make you stand up and take notice..great job~~Lou Reed.Beth - Pittsburgh, Pa
Herbie was also the bassist in T. Rex in 1977. You can hear him on the "Dandy in the Underworld" album.Paul - Rothesay, New Brunswick , Canada
Herbie Flowers also played on Paul McCartneys "Thrillington" album in 1971, He is on the back cover.Rich - Birmingham Uk, England
Although he wasn't the bassist in the Spiders From Mars, since that was Trevor Bolder. Get your facts right, CloudThe Cloud - London, England
Since Herbie Flowers was the bassist for The Spiders From Mars, the seventeen quid story may be apocryphal. Regardless, he would have more than made up for this since he wrote 'Grandad', a big #1 in Britain for Clive Dunn in 1970. In the same vein, Herbie played the oompah tuba on 'Goodnight Ladies', the closing track on 'Transformer'.The Cloud - London, England
He did get electroconvulsive therapy to "cure" him of homosexuality, thanks to his parents. He satires it in the song "Kill Your Sons" and is bisexual.

An interesting story involving Lou and AC/DC: In Europe ACDC (not AC/DC) is slang for bisexual. Early on in their career AC/DC opened for Lou which lead to some unfortunate confusion. After that a lot of gay clubs tried to book AC/DC.
Warrinder - A Town, Canada
wasn't lou reed, as a teenager, submitted to electroconvulsive therapy by his parents, who feared he was homosexual?Amanda - Peace River
Song arrangement by Mick Ronson. Backing vocal by Helen Terry (who sang on Culture Club's Church of the Poison Mind.")Don - Newmarket, Canada
I told my dad about Candy's verse, and how it was editted out of most radio versions, and when I told him what the lyrics were for it he obviously thought something was hilarious, because he started cracking up. I told him that I didn't get why that verse was taken out if the people in radio who dealt with those kinds of things didn't know what it meant. I think they knew what it meant, but just didn't want everyone to know.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
I thought this song was editted because of the verse about "Candy." That verse is pretty ummm... vulgar, and it's the verse that includes the "giving head" part. When I first heard a version with that verse, I was in the car with my sister who had it on a mixed cd. I wasn't offended to hear it, but I was shocked, if that makes sense. I had never heard it before, because that verse is editted out of most radio versions. In fact, I heard it for the first time last summer.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
It might not be the best ever, but it is cool anyway.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
This was played on a Sunday night session by Father Joe Duffy for 4 weeks before he finally realised what it meant.Jeff - Brisbane
An excellent account of the NY transvestite scene that this song is about appears in the 2004 documentary "Superstar in a Housedress" about the life of Jackie Curtis.Steve - Naperville, Il
I forgot to say that the stories Lou Reed creates with his lyrics are awesome. He's one of the singer/songwriter greats.Sammy - New York, Ny
The bass line is great indeed. I'm also a big fan of A Tribe Called Quest & they put great use to it in "Can I Kick It." I recommend their album 'The Low End Theory,' it's one of my favorite albums which creates a jazz-rap fusion with intellectual lyrics (rare in rap songs these days). With regard to the best bass line ever, it's got to be "Pusherman" by Curtis Mayfield; it's so funky and one can't help jamming along to it.Sammy - New York, Ny
Herbie Flowers doubled on acoustic and electric bass for the figured bass line. I'll never know how this was ever played on UK radio, except the suits in the BBC never worked out what it was about. The song was from the Transformer album, produced by Bowie when he could do no wrong. And the backing was by 'Thunder Thighs', Do, dee do, do, do dee do doooo!Mark - Hereford, England
Which came first, Walk On The Wild Side or I'll Take You There by the Staples Singers?Charley - San Francisco, Ca
coolest bass line... probably ever!Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
The "back room" he refers to was the back room of the club Max's Kansas city where a lot of excentric and artsy people of the time hung out including Andy Warhol and Allen ginsburg. The club was know to be the scene of some crazy music and crazy people. The back room was reserved for people like warhol and reed. Drugs were used and sex was regular in the back room which is what this song is about. The back room at Max's Kansas City. Check out there website its very interesting.Geoff - Southburough, Ma
After watching it again Bonos Lyrics are something like - 'Holly came from Miami FLA, hitchhiked all the way accross the USA, felt the satellite gunning down, pretty soon she was in London town, and all the girls went do do do....'Jack Lee - Nottingham, England
Bono sung the opening lines from this at Live Aid in the middle of 'Bad' but changed a few of the lyricsJack Lee - Nottingham, England
Edie Brickell did justice to covering it on the
soundtrack to "FLASHBACK" starring Keifer Sutherland and Dennis Hopper.
C.c. - Lake Charles, La
Of course this sound rocks.One of the best bass lines around.This and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone " by "the TEmptations". Dave T. Holt,MIDave - Holt, Mi
There are two bass tracks in this songAaron - New Glasgow, Canada
When David Bowie (then known as David Jones) was a little kid, Ronnie Ross would give him saxophone lessons every Saturday. Years later when they called Ronnie Ross to do the solo, he didn't know that his old student (David Jones)was David Bowie who was extremely popular at the time during his Ziggy-phase. When Ross came into the studio Bowie said, "Hello Mr. Ross. Should I come by Saturday for lessons?" Ross, who was completely shocked said, "Holy S--t! You're Ziggy Stardust!"Bryan - Philadelphia, Pa
This song is like...wow. The bass line is so smooth it's just like, drift away on itLou - New York, Ny
"Walk On The Wild Side" by Lou Reed was also covered by Jamie J. Morgan in 1990. It was his biggest hit and it did quite well on UK charts.Kaeovo - Zagreb, Europe
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