Words & Music, May 1965 is a captivating examination of Lou Reed’s early talent

Accompanied by a booklet that’s longer than most bands’ careers, this collection of demos, mostly recorded in – you guessed it – May 1965, has been given almost reverential treatment, in the great rock tradition of these things. 

Lou Reed is without doubt part of rock’s richest tapestry, the kind of person who has his guitars displayed at the Hard Rock Café and his band inducted into a pretend hall in Cleveland, and the treatment meted out to these early songwriting demos is merited. 

Each song is accompanied by an acoustic guitar, there are vocal contributions from John Cale, and many of the songs here – Heroin, I’m Waiting For The Man, Pale Blue Eyes – are cornerstones of the alternative music pantheon, each recorded in almost-completed form, perfect displays of Reed’s songwriting talent (as opposed to his talent for making forceful noise or just annoying critics). 

Filled up with curios and covers – a 1958 Gee Whiz, a 1963 Michael Row The Boat Ashore, this collection (cleaned up beautifully) suggests a quieter, more lyrical songwriter than Velvets Lou would become, and is nevertheless a fascinating and entirely listenable record of an imminently great talent.

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