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Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side

Novembre 2022
L'artista newyorkese ci guida nella notte più selvaggia e libertina degli anni Settanta con testi che presentano una galleria di personaggi eccentrici come artisti, truffatori e disadattati.

di Fergal Kavanagh

File audio:

An unlikely radio hit in 1972, Walk On The Wild Side was Lou Reed’s only charting song in the US. Including references to cross-dressers, transsexuals, oral sex and drug use, the track was taken from Reed’s second solo album Transformer, co-produced by David Bowie. Each of the five verses tells an anecdote about the misfits who frequented artist Andy Warhol’s Factory studio in New York. 


Inspired by Nelson Algren’s 1956 novel of the same name, which describes the New Orleans underworld, the song opens with transvestite model Holly Woodlawn’s journey to the Big Apple. Further characters introduced are transgender actress Candy Darling from Long Island, who used to “give head” (slang for oral sex) at a local night club, and “Little” Joe D’Allesandro, a gay actor who appeared in a Warhol film as a rent boy. Another Warhol film mentioned is Sugar Plum Fairy, a euphemism for a drug dealer. The final verse is about drag queen Jackie Curtis, with “speed” and “crash” being wordplay references to drugs and actor James Dean’s death in a car crash.


Lyrically, as befits its storytelling format, the song is largely in the past simple. The chorus features scat singing inspired by the 1960s Motown girl groups, but was performed on the record by a trio of white girls from the UK. The word ‘coloured’ was edited from the song by some radio stations for reasons of political correctness — surprisingly this was the only edit to its controversial lyrics. Commenting on his signature song, Lou Reed said: “I thought it would be fun to introduce people you see at parties, but don’t dare approach.” 


Holly came from Miami, FLA

Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.

Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her legs and then he was a she

She says, “Hey, babe

Take a walk on the wild side”

Said, “Hey, honey

Take a walk on the wild side”

Candy came from out on the Island

In the back room she was everybody’s darling

But she never lost her head

Even when she was giving head



She says, “Hey, babe

Take a walk on the wild side”

Said, “Hey, babe

Take a walk on the wild side”

And the colored girls go

“Doo do doo do doo do do doo 

Doo do doo do doo do do doo

Doo do doo”


Little Joe never once gave it away

Everybody had to pay and pay

A hustle here and a hustle there

New York City’s the place

Where they said, “Hey, babe

Take a walk on the wild side”

I said, “Hey, Joe

Take a walk on the wild side”

Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets

Looking for soul food and a place to eat

Went to the Apollo

You should’ve seen them go, go, go

They said, “Hey, sugar

Take a walk on the wild side”

I said, “Hey, babe

Take a walk on the wild side”, alright


Jackie is just speeding away

Thought she was James Dean for a day

Then I guess she had to crash

Valium would have helped that bash



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