Leave Her for Me { listen }
The Jades 1958
(Lewis Reed)

So Blue { listen }
The Jades 1958
(Lewis Reed/Phil Harris)

Do the Ostrich { listen }
The Primitives 1964

Sneaky Pete{ listen }
The Primitives 1964

Cycle Annie{ listen }
The Beachnuts 1965

I’ve Got a Tiger in My Tank{ listen }
The Beachnuts 1965

You’re Driving Me Insane{ listen }
The Roughnecks 1965

Why Don’t You Smile Now{ listen }
The All-Night Workers 1965

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Please visit The "Wild" Side of Lou Reed. Olivier Landemaine has put together a great website with more information about these early recordings, including a a pre-VU discography and more!

Legend has it that Lou, in his one and only guitar lesson, insisted on being taught the chords to a Carl Perkins song. Mastering those simple three chords was all it took. You might say Lou's been consistently perfecting and redefining the three-chord rock n' roll song for almost three decades now.

Long before the first ear-shredding strains of the VU shook the walls of a suburban New Jersey high school gym in 1965, Lou Reed was forging a career as a rock n roll singer/songwriter. At the tender age of 14, he sang and played guitar on a 45" single recorded with the Jades in 1958, "Leave Her For Me." It was a simple tune that owed much to the doo-wop and teen rock stylings found on the radio at the time. Manhattan Dj Murray the K gave the single it's first airplay, and it was eventually picked up by a prominent major label, Dot recordings.

After fronting many a rough-n-tumble Long Island and Syracuse bar band, Reed obtained his English degree from Syracuse University in 1964. Soon afterwards, Reed joined a team of pop songwriters at Pickwick records. This Long Island City record label churned out highly commercial, often camp pastiches of whatever pop style was currently the rage: surf, doo-wop, songs about motorcycles, automobiles, etc. Pickwick was loosely modeled on the mainstream Brill Building-pop ruling the airwaves at the time. During his brief stint at Pickwick, Reed was to have his first collaboration with future VU songwriting partner John Cale. Pickwick recruited Cale, along with select others, to form a touring band. "Why Don't You Smile Now" co-written by Cale and Reed, and recorded under the name The All-Night Workers, first appeared as a single in early 1965.

"Cycle Annie," was a song co-written by Reed and found on the Pickwick compilations, Soundsville and Out Of Sight!. Recorded under the moniker The Beachnuts, "Cycle Annie" is an uptempo Chuck Berry-influenced rocker, and not unlike much of Lou's recorded Pickwick output. In this characteristically simple three-chord romp, Reed handles vocals and cranks out the guitar parts (the song sounds vaguely like an early blueprint of the VU's "Foggy Notion," in fact). The song even comes complete with the din of crowd noise mingling with Reed's guitar and vocals - the producers obviously going for the live feel of some rowdy teenage shindig.

For Reed, the Pickwick gig would prove to be short-lived. Lou, however, honed his craft as a songwriter and became extremely efficient in the recording studio. From the ashes of this Pickwick experience sprung relationships with John Cale, Tony Conrad and drummer Angus MacLise. Lou's influences at the time - marked by both a love of rock n roll and the free-jazz aesthetic of Ornette Coleman - found an appropriate counterbalance in the radical postmodernist and neo-classical influences of the other three members. The group laid the initial groundwork for what soon became the Velvet Underground's effortless hybridization of greasy rock n' roll and avant-garde minimalism on The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light White Heat.

From the earliest beginnings, Lou exhibited a rare economy with both chords and words. And his penchant for writing sophisticated, yet undeniably catchy pop songs would later lead to all those countless classics we now know and hum: "Beginning to See The Light," "Pale Blue Eyes," "Sweet Jane" and "Rock n Roll," "Walk On the Wild Side," and so on, and so on.

- Michael Sandlin, 1999