About The Song

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“Walk on the Wild Side” emerged from the mind of Lou Reed, frontman of the legendary rock band The Velvet Underground, in 1972. By this time, The Velvet Underground had achieved a cult following for their abrasive and experimental sound, yet commercially they remained on the fringes. Reed embarked on a solo career, and “Walk on the Wild Side” became the title track and lead single for his second solo album, Transformer. Produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the song marked a significant shift in Reed’s sound. It abandoned the raw, feedback-driven aesthetic of the Velvet Underground in favor of a more accessible glam rock style, featuring a catchy melody, prominent piano, and a driving beat.

The creation of the song itself is shrouded in some mystery. Reed has offered conflicting accounts, but it’s believed to be inspired by the characters he encountered living in Andy Warhol’s social circle in New York City. Warhol, a pop artist and cultural icon, was known for embracing the fringes of society, and his Factory studio became a meeting point for artists, drag queens, and hustlers. These characters, living on the edge of societal norms, became the inspiration for the song’s lyrical narratives.

Musical Style

“Walk on the Wild Side” is a prime example of glam rock. The genre, popular in the early 1970s, took elements of rock and roll and infused them with theatricality, androgyny, and a focus on catchy melodies. The song opens with a simple, yet effective piano riff by Mick Ronson, soon joined by a driving drumbeat and Lou Reed’s distinctive, deadpan vocals. A bed of strings adds a touch of sophistication, while the prominent bass line anchors the song’s groove.

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The song’s structure is deceptively simple. Each verse follows a similar pattern, with Reed introducing a character and offering a brief glimpse into their lives. The now-iconic line “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side” acts as a refrain, separating each vignette. The chorus itself is minimalist, featuring only the repeated line “The colored girls go do do do do, do do do do” (a reference to transgender sex workers), which would spark controversy for its use of potentially offensive language.

Despite its seemingly straightforward structure, the song’s brilliance lies in its subtle complexities. Reed’s nonchalant delivery adds a layer of ambiguity to the lyrics, leaving it up to the listener to interpret the characters’ motivations and desires. The musical arrangement, while catchy, has a certain melancholic undercurrent that reflects the struggles and dreams of the characters being portrayed.

Lyrics

The lyrics of “Walk on the Wild Side” are the song’s most defining element. Each verse introduces a new character, offering a snapshot of their lives in New York City’s underground scene. The characters, all based on real people Reed knew, included:

  • Heroin Judy: A transgender woman and Warhol associate known for her struggles with addiction.
  • Candy Darling: A transgender actress and Warhol superstar.
  • Jackie (inspired by Jackie Curtis): A drag queen and Warhol collaborator.
  • Little Joe: A hustler who sold amphetamines.
  • Sugar Plum Fairy: A gay hustler.
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Reed avoids judgment in his portrayal of these characters. He simply presents their stories, focusing on their dreams, desires, and struggles for survival. The lyrics, though seemingly straightforward, are laced with subtle social commentary. They touch upon themes of gender identity, sexuality, drug use, and poverty, all considered taboo subjects in mainstream culture at the time.

Cultural Impact

“Walk on the Wild Side” became an instant sensation. It was a massive commercial success, reaching number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a stark contrast to The Velvet Underground’s lack of mainstream recognition. The song’s success propelled Reed into the spotlight and established him as a solo artist.

However, the song’s impact went far beyond the charts. It became a cultural touchstone, capturing the zeitgeist of a society undergoing rapid social change. The song’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality resonated with marginalized communities, offering a rare glimpse of their lives in mainstream media. While the use of certain language sparked controversy, it also opened up a dialogue about previously taboo subjects.

“Walk on the Wild Side” also had a significant influence on music. It helped popularize glam rock, paving the way for artists like David Bowie and Iggy Pop. The song’s catchy melody and simple structure made it a staple on radio stations,

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Lyrics

🎵 Let’s sing along with the lyrics! 🎤

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.Plucked her eyebrows on the wayShaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey, babeTake a walk on the wild side”Said, “Hey, honeyTake a walk on the wild side”
Candy came from out on the IslandIn the back room she was everybody’s darlingBut she never lost her headEven when she was giving head
She says, “Hey, babeTake a walk on the wild side”Said, “Hey, babeTake a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls go“Doo do doo do doo do do doo…”
Little Joe never once gave it awayEverybody had to pay and payA hustle here and a hustle thereNew York City’s the place
Where they said, “Hey, babeTake a walk on the wild side”I said, “Hey, JoeTake a walk on the wild side”
Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streetsLooking for soul food and a place to eatWent to the ApolloYou should’ve seen them go, go, go
They said, “Hey, sugarTake a walk on the wild side”I said, “Hey, babeTake a walk on the wild side”, alrightHuh
Jackie is just speeding awayThought she was James Dean for a dayThen I guess she had to crashValium would have helped that bash
She said, “Hey, babeTake a walk on the wild side”I said, “Hey, honeyTake a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls say“Doo do doo do doo do do doo…”

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