Ignored Obscured Restored
Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Michael Paquette. It’s his third post this year!
This song seems even more relevant now than it did when it was released in 1989. Lou Reed’s 15th studio release New York was highly critically acclaimed. It even spawned a reunion of the Velvet Underground due to its popularity. The Village Voice rated it the third best album of 1989 in its annual Pazz and Jop critics poll.
Lou Reed had a bit of a rocky period before being signed by Seymour Stein to his Sire label in 1989. Sire records had earned a reputation for its progressive taste and having the ability to translate those tastes into mainstream media. The label propelled the careers of the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Smiths, the Pretenders, the Cure, and Depeche Mode. Notably, the label signed an underground dance artist from New York named Madonna and turned her into a superstar. Lou Reed definitely fit the model.
New York is a stripped down, raw, and hard hitting album. The band consisted of Lou Reed, guitarist Mike Rathke, bassist Rob Wasserman, and drummer Fred Maher. Lou reached out to Maher who had been playing in England with the band Scritti Politti, a new wave act. Maher was behind the drums on Reed’s New Sensations release. Lou asked Maher who might be a good producer and Maher, noting that Reed had had several tempestuous relationships with former producers responded with “how about me.” Thus, Maher produced this release. The album was done in six weeks and Maher said he found Lou easy to work with.
The raw, stripped down sound was not to everyone’s taste. The singer songwriter James McMurty asked John Mellencamp what he thought of the work and Mellencamp replied that it sounded like it was produced by an eighth grader but I like it. The AIDS epidemic was raging at the time of the release and these were people Lou Reed had long standing ties to, gays, IV drug users, and artists. The song “Halloween Parade” pays homage to this era.
The song I chose from this breakthrough work is “Busload of Faith,” a song that is conceptually bold and simple. A stark reminder of where we are in this politically divided nation.
The song opens side two and begins without apology.
You can’t depend on your family
You can’t depend on a beginning
You can’t depend on an end
You can’t depend on intelligence
You can’t depend on God
You can only depend on one thing
you need a busload of faith to get by
When the album was recorded Lou had given up drugs and alcohol. With his life turned around he felt he had the stamina and concentration to produce a concept album. The album was a great artistic success for him even though it was not a huge hit. It remains my favorite album of this legendary artist. It was voted the 19th best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone magazine. Lou performed all the songs on the album at the Theatre Saint-Denis in Montreal which was released as a DVD entitled The New York Album.
It was released as a box set in September of last year with a second CD of previously unreleased live performances of his 1989 tour and some alternate mixes. Bob Seger covered “Busload of Faith” on his 2017 release dedicated to Eagles’ Glenn Frey called I Knew You When. This song continues to work as a political anthem.
Enjoy… until next week.