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Lou Reed’s Experimental Masterpiece: Metal Machine Music’s Brief Yet Lasting Impact

by Madonna

In 1975, Lou Reed embarked on a daring musical experiment that defied convention. His fifth studio album, Metal Machine Music, pushed boundaries by eschewing traditional song structures in favor of raw guitar feedback, white noise, and experimental guitar effects. Reed’s intention? “I was trying to do the ultimate guitar solo.”

The album, which contained no discernible songs, was born out of Reed’s desire for musical freedom. “I didn’t want to be locked into a particular drum beat, or pattern or a particular key or beat. Just guitars, guitars, guitars,” he explained in a 2013 interview.

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Recording the album involved Reed, his guitars, amps, microphones, and a tape machine. He meticulously manipulated feedback waves, creating a cacophony of sound that he saw as a continuation of his work with The Velvet Underground.

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Despite speculation that Reed created the album to fulfill a contractual obligation, he insisted that he genuinely loved it. However, his record label pulled it from shelves after just three weeks.

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Over time, Metal Machine Music gained recognition as a groundbreaking work, inspiring artists like Sonic Youth and Neil Young. Glenn Branca even hailed it as a late-20th-century classic, suggesting that Reed could have excelled as a serious composer.

In 2002, Metal Machine Music received a live performance in Berlin, arranged by contemporary composer Ulrich Kreiger and featuring the avant-garde ensemble Zeitkratzer. Reed expressed excitement at sharing the experience with others after 27 years.

Recently, a tribute album honoring Lou Reed’s solo career, titled The Power of the Heart, was released, featuring artists such as Joan Jett, Rickie Lee Jones, and Keith Richards. Unlike previous tributes focused on The Velvet Underground, this album celebrates Reed’s diverse solo repertoire.

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