Song of the Week – Busload of Faith, Lou Reed

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.

Song of the Week – Pale Blue Eyes, Velvet Underground

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

It’s coming up on 5 years since Lou Reed passed away. When he died, many of my readers were asking me to pay him a tribute with a SotW selection. At the time, Reed received so much press that I didn’t feel like I had anything new or worthwhile to add to the coverage.

With the distance of time, I’m ready to weigh in by sharing my passion for a beautiful song that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground’s third, self-titled album (1969) – “Pale Blue Eyes.”

The song has a very sparse arrangement – an organ lingers on long notes, simple bass figures, an electric guitar strums simple chords (and bends a few strings) and a tambourine keeps time with single shakes on the 2 and 4.

The delicate music is a perfect complement to the lyric about a passionate relationship that sounds like it’s ending. But the kicker comes in the last verse where Reed reveals the person he loves and wants to keep so badly is married.

It was good what we did yesterday
And I’d do it once again
The fact that you are married
Only proves you’re my best friend
But it’s truly, truly a sin

The influence of “Pale Blue Eyes” is justified through many great bands that have covered it. R.E.M. gave us a version on their 1987 rarities album, Dead Letter Office. (DLO also had 2 other VU songs on it – “There She Goes Again” and “Femme Fatale.”) A diverse group of other artists has performed the song live, including Patti Smith, Hole, Alejandro Escovedo, The Killers, and Crowded House(!).

“Linger on…”

Enjoy… until next week.