Walk On The Wild Side

Album: Transformer (1972)
Charted: 10 16
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  • 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. Both were big Lou Reed fans and part of the vibrant and transgressive artistic scene in London that included photographer Mick Rock, who shot the Transformer album cover. Rock took the photo at one of Reed's shows at Kings Cross Cinema in London, which was transformed into a concert venue on Friday and Saturday nights. "I remember David and I going backstage just to see him before he went on," Rock told Songfacts. "He was sitting in a corner like a bat – very quiet. He mumbled something at us, and David did a bit of his charm thing, and then he went on."
  • The sax solo at the end was played by Ronnie Ross, a jazz musician who lived near Bowie in England. When David 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.
  • In 1985, Reed appeared in a Honda scooter commercial that used this song. At the end of the ad, Reed takes off his sunglasses and says, "Hey, don't settle for walking."

    It seemed strange that someone with such artistic integrity would debase himself in a commercial, but Reed was very good at separating commerce from art, and he expected his fans to know the difference.
  • 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 chart for Reed, who was not known for hit singles. Thanks to the "doo dodoo" hook, it's his most accessible song, but it's not out of character in terms of subject matter, with Reed once again venturing into the dark corners of city life. His next single, "Satellite Of Love," was also from the Transformer album and charted at #119. His next album, Berlin, is a chilling concept piece about a drug-addled couple whose children are taken from them because they are unfit parents. It horrified many critics and listeners, but was one of Reed's proudest achievements. Reed only troubled the pop chart once more, when "Sally Can't Dance" went to #103 in 1974.
  • 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."
  • 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?"
  • In an interview with Bruce Pollock, Reed explained that he would wait until the end of the songwriting process to write the lyrics, and when he did, they would come out in clumps. "I write very fast," he said. "Just take each song and put a lyric to it, put it away. Take the next song, put a lyric to it, put it away. Do the next song. And just not even look at them. I look at them later to check, because I know the basic thing is perfect, for me. Sometimes one or two words have to be changed."

    Reed said there was a danger in this approach: sometimes he wrote so quickly he couldn't read his own handwriting.
  • Marky Mark's second single, after "Good Vibrations," was a remake of this song called "Wildside," released in 1991. He is now known as Mark Wahlberg and famous for movies like Boogie Nights and Rock Star.
  • This song appeared in three episodes of The Simpsons:

    "Lisa with an S" (2015)
    "Any Given Sundance" (2008)
    "Selma's Choice" (1993)

    It was also used in the TV series:

    Master of None ("The Other Man" - 2015)
    Medium ("Lady Killer" - 2008)
    Beverly Hills, 90210 ("The Game Is Chicken" - 1993)

    And in the following movies:

    The Confessions (2016)
    The Salton Sea (2002)
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
    Without Limits (1998)
    Beautiful Girls (1996)
    Opportunity Knocks (1990)
  • At Live Aid in 1985 at Wembley Stadium, while U2 was playing their song "Bad," Bono improvised two 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.
  • 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.
  • Albert Pla recorded a Spanish-language version of this song called "El Lado Más Bestia de la Vida" that appeared on his 1995 album Supone Fonollosa His version was used in the 2016 movie The Shallows.

Comments: 54

  • I Am The Hunter from The Frozen North Of The U.s.a.I have loved this song from the first time I heard it, while a soldier in the US Army. I have never really listened to the words, just the tunes as I did with most of the music I learned to love as I grew up and became a man in "this man's Army!" Today, I am a 70 year old veteran, disabled cop and I sit here in my old ricked recliner listening to this old time music on a WIFI radio that I built up using an ESP32 and some other boards, borrowing the sketch to keep it up and running from a dude on YouTube and powering it from a couple of old cell phone batteries from the days of the flip phone. I have a couple of nice speakers hooked up so it sounds almost good to the casual listener, through my VA furnished hearing aids, it sounds well a bit flat but overall brings back the memories of better days before the accident put me on the disabled list and furnished me with an unending supply of narcotics that sort of smoooooth out the pain that can only exist after some ill trained old Navy Doctors opened up my spine and cut out parts of broken disks. At any rate, as I sung along with this song, my youngest daughter who was over to check up on dear old dad said "I am surprised you are listening to that song, it's about trans genders!" Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against cross dressers or trans genders, I just don't want them sharing the same bathrooms with we who are straight, is that to much to ask? So I explained this to my daughter who is now approaching 50 years of age, and I think she understood. Then I had to look up the words to that classic rock song and there it was, it bold print a complete introduction to all the people named in the song, with their backgrounds. Made me feel sorry for them, as I grew up in an age where stoning gay's was a thing. I recall being stationed with "The Old Guard" out on the DC Metro are, members of this unit, the most prestigious unit in the US Army would plan nights to visit the Marine Memorial, just out side the back gate to Fort Meyer to, as they put it "roll queers!" This was an acceptable sport I guess, while I never participated, and perhaps it was just talk, I don't know but I was a bit disappointed in my unit back then. It was this matter that made me give up on TOG and volunteer to go recruiting duty, a move that led me to exit the US Army after 7 years 7 months and 14 days. Not that it was a bad thing I guess, but I did love the Army and police work, well it was great work but didn't pay worth a s--t had had zero future, sure I made it to the top of my department, retired as the Chief of Police but my retirement pay ended up being from Workman's Comp because of an accident that well ended my career and pretty much everything in life that I loved. Anyhow, I still love that song, but now that I understand it, well I love it in a bit different way. Guess I should begin studying other songs I thought I knew the meaning of in my younger days.
  • Rickie Furnal from Los Angeles Back in 1988 my date and I went to Knott's berry farm and at the circling of the wagons entertainment was being performed by a guitarist the told the whole audience that he was the originator of the song and said It was stolen from him and he sounded quite convincing.
    Could this be true?
  • Richard Benedict from IndianaLou Reed did not received electroconvulsive “therapy” (ECT) to try and “cure” him of homosexuality. He did receive ECT recommended to his parents for his anti-social behavior and they later regretted it and he became a critic of this procedure. It was apparently a terrible experience.
  • Mike from Berkeley, CaThree years prior to the release of this song, The Beatles released 'Get Back', which included these lyrics:

    "Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman
    But she was another man
    All the girls around her say she's got it coming
    But she gets it while she can"

    Also, McCartney in his 1988 autobiography 'Many Years From Now', said that "JoJo" was "an imaginary character, half-man and half-woman."

    So it would make sense that Lou Reed was inspired--or at least emboldened--to write 'Wild Side' a couple years later after the Beatles performed 'Get Back' on a roof top in the movie 'Let It Be'.
  • Harold from Tamaqua, PaCindy, I think your station is the exception here. Just heard the song the other day and they omitted the "giving head" verse.
  • Alice from L.a., CaI 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.
  • Jim from Morgantown, WvCindy from Tempe, AZ... It was edited on the Pittsburgh PA stations too.
  • Roann from Apalachin, NyRest in peace, Lou Reed. You are and will always be one of the greatest musicians and poets.
  • Anne from Sanilac County, MiSince 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.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhSublime. 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.
  • Jim from Johnsonburg, NyOne 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.
  • Alistair from Daventry, United KingdomHerbie 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.
  • Tess from Ny, NyIn 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 from Ny, NyThere 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.
  • Tonika from Cleveland Heights, OhActually, 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.
  • J.d. from Columbia, ScI 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.
  • Micky from Los Angeles, CaRich----"Thrillington wasn't out in 1971.
  • Debbie from Possum Kingdom, TxOn the back of this album, it states that the 'colored girls' are David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
  • Caris from Staten Island, Nydavid bowie was one of the people who sings dut de dut in the background who was the other person
  • Cad from Edinburgh, United KingdomHerbie 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!
  • John from Brisbane, United StatesSad 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.
  • P.a. from Paris, --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...
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhIn 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.
  • Cindy from Tempe, AzStefanie 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?
  • Annabelle from Eugene, OrMy 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.
  • Larry Orchier from New York, NyYou 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

  • Sam from Seattle, Wagood song, but needs more "doo"s
  • Beth from Pittsburgh, Pavery smoky undertones..make you stand up and take notice..great job~~Lou Reed.
  • Paul from Rothesay, New Brunswick , CanadaHerbie was also the bassist in T. Rex in 1977. You can hear him on the "Dandy in the Underworld" album.
  • Rich from Birmingham Uk, EnglandHerbie Flowers also played on Paul McCartneys "Thrillington" album in 1971, He is on the back cover.
  • The Cloud from London, EnglandAlthough he wasn't the bassist in the Spiders From Mars, since that was Trevor Bolder. Get your facts right, Cloud
  • The Cloud from London, EnglandSince 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'.
  • Warrinder from A Town, CanadaHe 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.
  • Amanda from Peace Riverwasn't lou reed, as a teenager, submitted to electroconvulsive therapy by his parents, who feared he was homosexual?
  • Don from Newmarket, CanadaSong arrangement by Mick Ronson. Backing vocal by Helen Terry (who sang on Culture Club's Church of the Poison Mind.")
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI 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 from Rock Hill, ScI 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 from Rock Hill, ScIt might not be the best ever, but it is cool anyway.
  • Jeff from BrisbaneThis was played on a Sunday night session by Father Joe Duffy for 4 weeks before he finally realised what it meant.
  • Steve from Naperville, IlAn 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.
  • Sammy from New York, NyI forgot to say that the stories Lou Reed creates with his lyrics are awesome. He's one of the singer/songwriter greats.
  • Sammy from New York, NyThe 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.
  • Mark from Hereford, EnglandHerbie 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!
  • Charley from San Francisco, CaWhich came first, Walk On The Wild Side or I'll Take You There by the Staples Singers?
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, Sccoolest bass line... probably ever!
  • Geoff from Southburough, MaThe "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.
  • Jack Lee from Nottingham, EnglandAfter 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 from Nottingham, EnglandBono sung the opening lines from this at Live Aid in the middle of 'Bad' but changed a few of the lyrics
  • C.c. from Lake Charles, LaEdie Brickell did justice to covering it on the
    soundtrack to "FLASHBACK" starring Keifer Sutherland and Dennis Hopper.
  • Dave from Holt, MiOf course this sound rocks.One of the best bass lines around.This and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone " by "the TEmptations". Dave T. Holt,MI
  • Aaron from New Glasgow, CanadaThere are two bass tracks in this song
  • Bryan from Philadelphia, PaWhen 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!"
  • Lou from New York, NyThis song is like...wow. The bass line is so smooth it's just like, drift away on it
  • Kaeovo from Zagreb, Europe"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.
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