LOU REED – ” Berlin ” Released 44 Years Ago Today 14th October 1973

Posted: October 16, 2015 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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42 years ago “Berlin” by Lou Reed is released on  14th October 1973,  Berlin may be a great album, it’s just not an easy one to listen to. It’s intensely dark in its lyrical content, charting the doomed relationship of Caroline and Jim following them through drug addiction, domestic violence and suicide. Not the cheeriest of subjects for a concept album.  First released in 1973, it was a commercial failure but became a cult classic. Berlin came hot on the heels of Lou Reed’s glam rock masterpiece Transformer. Anyone expecting a commercial follow-up was non-plussed to say the least.

The album is a tragic Rock Opera about a doomed couple, Jim and Caroline, and addresses themes of drug use, prostitution,depression, domestic violence, and suicide.

“The Kids” tells of Caroline having her children taken from her by the authorities, and features the sounds of children crying for their mother. The UK group The Waterboys takes its name from a line in this song

Musically, Berlin differs greatly from the bulk of Reed’s work, due to the use of heavy orchestral arrangements, horns, and top session musicians. Instrumentally, Reed himself only contributes acoustic guitar.

As with Reed’s previous two studio albums, Berlin re-drafts several songs that had been written and recorded previously. The title track first appeared on Reeds Solo Debut album, only here it is simplified, the key changed, and re-arranged for solo piano. “Oh, Jim” makes use of the Velvet Underground outtake “Oh, Gin”.

Lou Reed has never been the most melodious of singers, but his gravelly, nasal, mumble-y singing suits the subject matter perfectly. His voice sounds like he has been there, done that, and adds an air of jaded, cynical depression to the tracks. Who else could carry off lyrics like, ‘Caroline says as she gets up off the floor/You can hit me all you want to, but I don’t love you anymore/ Caroline says while biting her lip/ Life is meant to be more than this, and this is a bum trip’?

“Caroline Says (II)” is a rewrite of “Stephanie Says” from the album VU. The Velvet Underground had also recorded an alternate demo of “Sad Song”, which had much milder lyrics in its original form. “Men of Good Fortune” had also been played by the Velvets as early as 1966; an archival CD featuring live performances of the band playing at Andy Warhols Factory provides the evidence of the song’s age. The CD featuring the early performance of “Men of Good Fortune” is not for sale and can only be heard at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

’The Bed’’ sounds like a love song, but is instead about Caroline’s suicide. The words are filled with regret and the soft acoustic sounds help you picture her drifting into unconsciousness.

Berlin is definitely a challenge, and is about as far away from pop, or dinner party music as you can get. But thanks to Ezrin’s production it has a rich, lush sound with the string and horn sections, and backing choir (and occasional cracking guitar solo), showcased best on ‘’Sad Song’’.

Caroline Says II” has been covered by several artists: the Soft Boys, Human Drama, Suede and Siouxsie Sioux in 1993, Mercury Rev and Antony and the Johnsons. Marc Almond also covered the song with his band Marc and the Mambas on the 1982 album Untitled.

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