Lou Reed
Lou Reed

Walk on the Wild Side” is a song by Lou Reed from his second solo album, Transformer (1972). It was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and released as a double A-side with “Perfect Day“. The song received wide radio coverage, despite its touching on taboo topics such as transsexuality, drugs, male prostitution, and oral sex. In the United States, RCA released the single using an edited version of the song without the reference to oral sex.

In the 2001 documentary Classic Albums: Lou Reed: Transformer, Reed says that it was Nelson Algren’s 1956 novel, A Walk on the Wild Side, that was the launching point for the song, even though, as it grew, the song became inhabited by characters from his own life. As with several other Reed songs from the 1970s, the title may also be an allusion to an earlier song, in this case Mack David and Elmer Bernstein’s song of the same name, the Academy Award-nominated title song of the 1962 film based on Algren’s novel. During his performance of the song on his 1978 Live: Take No Prisoners album, Reed humorously explains the song’s development from a request that he write the music for the never-completed musical version of Algren’s novel.

lou reed
Lou Reed

Each verse refers to one of the “superstars” at Andy Warhol’s New York studio, The Factory.

  • “Holly” is based on Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who lived in Miami Beach, Florida as a child. In 1962, after being bullied by transphobes, the fifteen-year-old ran away from home; and, as in the lyrics, learned how to pluck her eyebrows while hitchhiking to New York.
  • “Candy” is based on Candy Darling, a transgender actress and the subject of an earlier song by Lou Reed, “Candy Says”. She grew up on Long Island (“the island”) and was a regular at “the back room” of Max’s Kansas City.
  • “Little Joe” was the nickname of Joe Dallesandro, an actor who starred in Flesh, a 1968 film about a teenage hustler. Dallesandro said in 2014 that he had never met Reed when the song was written, and that the lyrics were based on the film character, not himself personally.
  • “Sugar Plum Fairy” was a reference to actor Joe Campbell, who played a character by that name in Warhol’s 1965 film, My Hustler. The term was a euphemism for “drug dealer”.
  • “Jackie” is based on Jackie Curtis, another Warhol actor. “Speeding” and “crashing” are drug references. Curtis at one time hoped to play the role of James Dean in a movie; Dean was killed in a car crash.

The lyrics were groundbreaking and risqué for their time, telling stories not usually told in rock songs up to then, and containing references to prostitution, transsexuals, and oral sex. “I always thought it would be kinda fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet,” Reed said. The original release was a worldwide hit.

Take a walk on the Wild Side
Take a walk on the Wild Side

In the United States, RCA released the single using an edited version of the song without the reference to oral sex. In the UK, the reference slipped past the censors, who were apparently unfamiliar with the term “giving head”. The term “colored girls” was also an

issue in the US; RCA provided radio stations with a version in which it was edited out.

The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in early 1973. After the announcement of Reed’s death in October 2013, both the song and the Transformer album re-charted via iTunes.

Lyrics:

Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,
Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.

Candy came from out on the island,
In the backroom she was everybody’s darling,
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She sayes, hey baby, take a walk on the wild side
Said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
And the colored girls go,

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City is the place where they said:
Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
I said hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side

Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets
Lookin’ for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo
You should have seen him go, go, go
They said, hey Sugar, take a walk on the wild side
I said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side, alright, huh

Jackie is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would have helped that bash
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
I said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side
And the colored girls say

Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo

 

Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side
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