Lou Reed is a name that scores a critical hit with many music fans. This is especially true for those that are aware of his Velvet Underground era, an era that underscored and gave life to that mystical layer of music that flourished in NYC during that ‘60s period and that which came after, always found outside the usual, comfortable, and acceptable formula of music. After the epic of “Heroin,” the speed of “White Light, White Heat,” the rock purity of “Sweet Jane,” and the experimentation of “Sunday Morning,” came his solo career. After a failed RCA debut with the self-titled Lou Reed album (try snagging a copy of this one now,) he met up with David Bowie and Mick Ronson, who produced Lou’s turnaround album, Transformer, yielding a Top 40 hit with “Walk On The Wild Side” (…and the colored girls go doo do doo…).
There were several more classic solo efforts (Berlin, Sally Can’t Dance) as well as the infamous and miserably received Metal Machine Music before Lou, who was materially busted, created his next in a line of excellent works, the sincere Coney Island Baby. Coney Island Baby would be his last album for his longtime label, RCA Records.
Coney Island Baby represented a distinct change in style for Lou Reed. He moved past his “wild side,” settling into a more reflective mode. The songs were playful (“Ooohhh Baby”,) full of a personal introspection (“Coney Island Baby”, “She’s My Best Friend,”) and exempted of the normal violence that accompanies a Lou Reed song save for a singular reference in “Charley’s Girl” (“…I’m gonna punch her face in…”). Lou Reed, with Coney Island Baby, discovered how to get past a way of music and expand his own musical horizon. Without losing the Reed magic, he effectively created an enduring work that resonates well today, some 30 years after its release.
This reissue of Coney Island Baby is not only musically remastered for cleaner sound (and it sounds great, just as the remastering of Transformer achieved, revealing every aspect of these tunes for the digital age,) it is also expanded to include six bonus session tracks, three of which are previously unreleased. Included is the B-side single of the familiar Reed sound in “Nowhere At All,” as well as “Downtown Dirt” and “Leave Me Alone,” both classically dark Reed tunes and found first on the Box Set, Between Thought and Expression, although “Leave Me Alone” is a different version of the same song found on Street Hassle while “Downtown Dirt” is a variation of “Dirt” also found on Street Hassle.
The rest of the bonus songs are working tracks of 3 of the songs found on Coney Island Baby. “Crazy Feeling” is clearly a demoed version of the opening song. The instrumentation is quite spare and the vocals are strained as he runs through the song that would ultimately become the gem that it is. It makes this track an interesting one in that it shows the formation of the song on its way to becoming something better. “She’s My Best Friend” started out as a harder-edged track before becoming the tune it became. The difference is so vast that you literally will have to switch back and forth to detect any similarities. But, as usual, Lou Reed’s final versions were the memorable ones. However, the unused version of “Coney Island Baby” found here is the most interesting, standing alone and in great contrast to the final version found on the album. Both have their voice. The major problem with this bonus version is that it is not musically in sync with the rest of the album, which likely led to its reinvention. But this particular bonus track is easily the diamond of the inclusions and well worth buying the album for by itself.
The expanded and remastered Legacy re-visitation of Coney Island Baby also has a reworked booklet with new notes from Lou Reed himself as well as extensive crediting. It was a new moment for Lou Reed and is essential for fans.