"My God is Rock 'n' Roll"

By Sergio Ariza

In 1973 Lou Reed had recorded the most ambitious and depressing album of his career, Berlin. An album in which he depended on a number of elite players such as Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood, Aynsley Dunbar, and the Brecker brothers, and also a pair of ace session guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. When Reed wanted to introduce the record live, the only thing he had clear was that he wanted to be a rock star, a “rock animal”, and there weren’t two more perfect guitarists than Wagner and Hunter for that.  

The first two shows of the tour were on European turf, mainly on the British Isles, the band was pure fire, and Wagner and Hunter seemed predestined to take the stage together. As for his part, the man who had invented the noise crossed over to be the epic ‘rock ‘n roll star’, and the suit felt marvelous, thanks to his flashy guitarists. When they took the tour to the U.S., Reed’s manager told them they would need to improvise something before the singer took the stage to the rhythm of one of his most legendary songs during his stint with the Velvet Underground, Sweet Jane. That’s how Hunter taught the band a little piece he had written years before. The magic emerged on his first try, and Hunter realised he had found the perfect band to play it. His way of connecting with Wagner is incredible, with Steve playing melody and Dick on the harmonies. On December 21, 1973 they gave their last show of the tour in New York and the event was recorded for posterity, resulting in 2 new records, Rock ‘N Roll Animal, released in 1974, and Lou Reed Live in 1975. Anyone who has heard Hunter’s intro on Sweet Jane would feel like picking up an electric guitar. What remains is history, those legendary notes off a Les Paul TV Special plugged into a 100/watt HiWatt amp.  


Yet, Rock ‘N Roll Animal goes farther beyond its first song, the record consists of just 5 songs, 4 of those from his time with Velvet and one, Lady Day, from Berlin. They were all written to be heard at maximum volume, this is the album where Reed pays homage to the music that saved his life: rock ‘n roll. Perhaps the covers of Heroin and White Light/White Heat don’t get as dirty and anarchic as the originals, but they are completely different songs, turned into a vehicle to showcase his two amazing guitarists, who momentarily become the record’s absolute stars on an album to the greater glory of the wildest side of Reed.

Rock’n’Roll is the perfect climax for the record, no wonder it was through the cover of this song alongside Mitch Ryder that the singer listened to Hunter for the first time. The guitarist doesn’t disappoint and together with Wagner they launch into a guitar duel worthy of the OK Corral. In so many places around the world did boys and girls turn on their radio, listened to these songs and just like Jenny in the song, couldn’t believe what they were hearing, started dancing as if possessed and their lives were saved by rock ’n roll. And they realised that just as some have God, we, like Lou Reed, have rock ‘n roll.