The “Wild Side” Behind Lou Reed’s “Walk”

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Andy Warhol with Factory superstar Candy Darling in 1969

"Walk on the Wild Side” was released in 1972 on Lou Reed’s second solo album, “Transformer. Though musically this is the most pop-oriented tune on the record, and arguably of Lou Reed’s career, lyrically the song was bold for mainstream rock music.

The words talked about a lifestyle foreign to mainstream America. “You probably got these people who were really afraid of thinking about these subjects or thought it was wrong to sing about them, liking the song before they realized that they were listening to a song that was talking about unconventional sex and transvestites and drug use,” says rock historian Richie Unterberger.

The song pays tribute to Reed’s early days with the Velvet Underground, part of Andy Warhol’s Factory. The various characters in the song — Holly, Candy, Little Joe, Jackie — were all real people and part of the Factory scene — Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, and Jackie Curtis.

“They lived flamboyantly, yet they were in the shadows,” says Catherine O’Sullivan-Shorr, who wrote and directed a 3-hour television series and companion book called "Andy Warhol's Factory People."

Lou Reed’s first wife Bettye Kronstad not only heard the evolution of “Walk on the Wild Side” as Reed was writing it, but she also got to know a few of the song’s main figures. “I think the song screams ‘Have fun,’” says Kronstad. “’Embrace life,’ you know, just ‘walk down the street, have a great time.’”

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