Liner Note Author: Street Hassle.
Recording information: CTS Studios, London (10/1975); Delta Studio, Wilster, West Germany (10/1975); Dierks Mobile Studio (10/1975); Electric Lady, NYC (10/1975); Howard Stein's Academy of Music, NYC (10/1975); Mediasound, New York (10/1975); Morgan Studios, London (10/1975); RCA Studios, New York (10/1975); Skyline Studios, New York City (10/1975); The Record Plant, New York (10/1975); CTS Studios, London (12/21/1973); Delta Studio, Wilster, West Germany (12/21/1973); Dierks Mobile Studio (12/21/1973); Electric Lady, NYC (12/21/1973); Howard Stein's Academy of Music, NYC (12/21/1973); Mediasound, New York (12/21/1973); Morgan Studios, London (12/21/1973); RCA Studios, New York (12/21/1973); Skyline Studios, New York City (12/21/1973); The Record Plant, New York (12/21/1973).
Directors: Don Fleming; Tom Burleigh.
Photographer: Allen Ginsberg.
In 1972, Lou Reed was a minor cult hero to a handful of rock critics and left-of-center music fans who championed his former band, the Velvet Underground, but he was unknown to the mainstream music audience. By 1986, Reed was a rock & roll icon, widely hailed as a master songwriter and one of the founding fathers of punk, glam, noise rock, and any number of other vital rock subgenres; he even scored a few hits along the way. If you want to know what happened during those 14 years to make such a difference, the answer can be found in The RCA & Arista Album Collection, a 17-disc box set that brings together nearly all of Reed's recorded work from this period. This set includes seven albums Reed cut for RCA Records from 1972 to 1975 (Lou Reed, Transformer, Berlin, Rock n' Roll Animal, Sally Can't Dance, Metal Machine Music, and Coney Island Baby), five he recorded while signed to Arista from 1976 to 1980 (Rock and Roll Heart, Street Hassle, Live: Take No Prisoners, The Bells, Growing Up in Public), and four more Reed made after re-signing to RCA in 1982 (The Blue Mask, Legendary Hearts, New Sensations, Mistrial). Despite the bulk of this set, it isn't quite complete; two live albums are missing, 1975's Lou Reed Live (outtakes from the shows recorded for Rock n' Roll Animal that were released without Reed's input) and 1984's Live in Italy (a flawed but enjoyable concert recording with guitarist Robert Quine anchoring one of Reed's best live bands). But this set beautifully charts the formative years of Reed's solo career. The early RCA albums see him finding his feet, slipping into self-indulgence and decadence before making his way back to his strong suits. The Arista albums herald Reed's return to strong, personal songwriting, even as he struggles with his demons and his ego. And a newly sober Lou returned to RCA to make some of his strongest and bravest music since leaving the VU (even if Mistrial ended that run on a stumble). Reed supervised the remastering of these albums for this release, and for the most part the sound is observably cleaner and more present, especially the LPs recorded using binaural sound, which have lost some of their murk. And the packaging is lovely; each CD is housed in a reproduction of its original vinyl jacket, and the hardcover book is full of rare photos, clippings, original liner notes, and interviews, including some candid conversations between Reed and Danny Fields. The RCA & Arista Album Collection doesn't include any rare or unreleased material (and the bonus cuts that appeared on the previous CD releases of some of these albums aren't here), but for serious fans who want to reacquaint themselves with Reed's catalog of the '70s and '80s, it has rarely been presented with this degree of care, and there's plenty of brilliant music to be found here. ~ Mark Deming