"Walk on the Wild Side" is a Lou Reed song from his 1972 second solo album Transformer. It was produced by David Bowie. The song received wide radio coverage, despite its touching on topics such as transsexuality, drugs, male prostitutes and oral sex and the term "colored" to refer to African Americans. It is usually regarded as Reed's best-known solo work.
The lyrics tell of a series of individuals and their journeys to New York City, and is a thinly-veiled biography of several of the regular "superstars" at Andy Warhol's New York studio, The Factory, namely Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Joe Dallesandro, Jackie Curtis and Joe Campbell (referred to in the song by his nickname Sugar Plum Fairy). Candy Darling was also the subject of Reed's song "Candy Says".
The mellifluous saxophone solo played over the fadeout of the song was performed by Ronnie Ross, who had previously taught David Bowie to play the saxophone during Bowie's childhood.
The song is also noted for its twin interlocking bass lines played by Herbie Flowers on double-bass and overdubbed bass guitar, featuring the extensive use of a major tenth interval, which was unusual in pop music until then.
In the 2001 documentary Classic Albums: Lou Reed: Transformer, Reed says that it was Nelson Algren's 1956 novel, A Walk on the Wild Side, that was the launching off point for the song, even though the song grew to be inhabited by characters from his own life. As with several other Reed songs from the 1970s, the title may also be an allusion to an earlier song, in this case Mack David and Elmer Bernstein's song of the same name, the Academy Award-nominated title song of the 1962 film based on Algren's novel. Reed humorously explains the song's history during his performance of it on his 1978 live album Live: Take No Prisoners.
In 2003, the song was ranked #221 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Covers, samples and media references
- This song was covered by Company B, on their album "Jam on Me."
- In February 1990, two club/hiphop versions charted simultaneously in the UK - Jamie J. Morgan's cover produced by Richard Mazda reached #27, whilst Beat System got to #63.
- In 1985, 79-year old veteran German actress Gerty Molzen recorded her own version of the song, cleaning up some of the lyrics in the process. She performed it on the David Letterman show in the US and on Gay Byrne's Late Late Show in Ireland.
- Echo and the Bunnymen usually merge this in concert with Nothing Lasts Forever.
- A 2005 song by artist RX featured George W. Bush "singing" a mixture of John Lennon's "Imagine" and the chorus from "Walk on the Wild Side".
- Irish/Australian comedian Jimeoin covered the song in the early 90's. The song featured the line "You should have seen them go go go, I said G-O-G-G-O, take a walk on the wildside" as a reference to the popular Yellow Pages ad on TV at the time.
- The Strokes and Robbie Williams played the full song or a snippet during their last tours.
- The band Sponge have been known to break into the song in the middle of playing their hit "Have You Seen Mary?" in live performances.
- The Rentals also play it live before transitioning into their hit "Friends of P".
- Train sings this song for the Bay Area's local station KFOG, on a CD called Live From The Archives: Vol. 11, as a part of the KFOG Kaboom Medley.
- A SHORT PART of the song was often used by Bono during performances of Bad in the mid eighties. Most notably performed at Live Aid in London.
- At a charity event, Lou Reed played this song with comedians Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Adam Sandler, and Jack Black. Each person took on one verse of the song.
- Vanessa Paradis covered the song in her album Variations sur le même t'aime.
- Tubaína, a Brazilian rock band, made a Portuguese version of the song, "Walk on Paes de Barros" (Paes de Barros is the name of a street in São Paulo)
- In a scene from the film Hedwig and the Angry Inch Hedwig starts singing it while in an oven.
- This song is usually the opening to Danny Masterson's LA radio show, "Feel My Heat".
- Natalie Portman sings the line "And the colored girls go Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo" in the film Beautiful Girls.
- In the television show Medium, the episode "Lady Killer" featured the tune of "Walk on the Wild side" (with no lyrics) during Patricia Arquette's character's dreams about a woman seducing men, and perhaps gave a clue to who the actual killer was.
- In Walking With The King, an original musical by Dama Hanks and the students of Mount Douglas Secondary School, it is sung by the Queen Creole as she is introducing main character Priscilla Payne to the underworld of New Orleans.
- Rod Stewart's 1977 hit song "The Killing of Georgie" covers similar terrain as "Walk on the Wild Side", and also takes important elements of melody and backing vocals.