Sunday, March 9, 2014


The songs of Lou Reed combine a spareness, a lyricism and an urgency that is difficult to achieve if one knows too much about poetry and music. In some ways his songs feel like the songs a poet writes upon first learning the guitar.

On the topic of songwriting, Reed once said "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz," which had me thinking about one chords songs in the popular culture. The closest I came were the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966), from their ground-breaking Revolver album, and Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On" (1967).

What is interesting about these songs is their respective orientations. While "Tomorrow Never Knows" concerns the internal world (the world LSD advocates like Timothy Leary told us we had to change before we could change the world around us), "The Beat Goes On" focuses on the external world, where trends (be they clothing styles or political interventions) come and go, but the underlying structure remains the same (something Leary would have cited as a reason to expand one's mind through the careful and considered use of drugs).

Something else worth noting: after recording their compositions, The Beatles left England for an extended visit to India, to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, while Sonny & Cher took their act to Vegas.

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