You probably know him best as the leader of that initially obscure band whose first album supposedly inspired its limited audience to go out and form bands of their own. The late Lou Reed was the lead singer and songwriter for the Velvet Underground on four of their five albums, and while their discography pales in comparison to those of most other ’60s rock legends, their legacy remains strong as a group that influenced many bands and genres that emerged years after they disbanded.
Aside from his work with the Velvets, Reed was also known for his prolific solo career, which featured a number of high points — singles such as "Walk on the Wild Side," "Vicious," and "Sweet Jane" definitely count — and a few much-maligned moments. For better or for worse, we have him and Metallica to thank for that infamous "I Am the Table" meme. He also wasn’t shy about sharing his honest thoughts about many of his contemporaries. In early 2022, more than eight years after his October 2013 death, an excerpt from a 1970s magazine interview with Reed made the rounds on social media (via Open Culture), and here, he had high praise for David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and most of his ex-Velvet Underground bandmates. However, he absolutely roasted several other rock acts in that piece and in another notable interview, and these weren’t any ordinary musicians he was criticizing either.
The Beatles were ‘rubbish,’ according to Reed
Who doesn’t like the Beatles? Indeed, they were a band whose influence and popularity stretched across multiple generations. Still, not everyone was going "yeah, yeah, yeah" for their music, and Lou Reed was one of those individuals who had no love for the Fab Four.
At least that’s how he felt from the late ’80s onward; the Velvet Underground frontman was very complimentary toward the Beatles in the aforementioned 1970s magazine interview, talking in specific about how quickly they were able to write and create great music. "They just make the songs up, bing, bing, bing," Reed said. "They have to be the most incredible songwriters ever – just amazingly talented. I don’t think people realize just how sad it is that the Beatles broke up." Even those who weren’t born yet in 1970 would likely agree that the day the Beatles disbanded was an extremely difficult day in music history.
That said, Far Out Magazine speculated that Reed might have been sarcastic when he made those comments, especially considering his comments about the Beatles in a 1987 interview. "No, no, I never liked the Beatles," he succinctly remarked to PBS, as quoted by the outlet. "I thought they were rubbish." Reed didn’t elaborate on why he suddenly changed his tune on the band or why he felt their music was trash, but it’s hard not to hear their influence on some of the Velvet Underground’s more accessible songs.
The Doors were ‘stupid and pretentious’ and the San Francisco bands were ‘untalented’
Whether they were trolling Ed Sullivan on the way to getting banned from his "schew" or dropping the F-bomb repeatedly in recorded material and live performances alike, the Doors were a band designed to shock people (especially grown-ups) in an era that wasn’t that far removed from the squeaky-clean politeness of "Leave it to Beaver." In other words, they were the color that descended upon Pleasantville, and their antics, while oftentimes tame by today’s standards, were arguably helpful in making them one of the world’s biggest rock bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
As far as Lou Reed was concerned, though, the Doors were the epitome of pretentious California rock. "[They] were just painfully stupid and pretentious, and when they did try to get, ‘arty,’ it was worse than stupid rock and roll," Reed told PBS. "What I mean by ‘stupid,’ I mean, like, The Doors," he continued, making it painfully clear which Golden State band he wanted to call out. And speaking in a more general sense, Reed wasn’t a fan of the Bay Area psychedelic/hippie bands, as he revealed in the same ’70s interview where he shared his thoughts on various acts. "We had vast objections to the whole San Francisco scene," he said. "It’s just tedious, a lie, and untalented. They can’t play, and they certainly can’t write … People like the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, all those people are just the most untalented bores that ever came up."
Reed wasn’t gonna take it from The Who (and their famous rock opera)
And we have yet another 1960s and 1970s mainstream rock heavyweight whose music didn’t quite appeal to Lou Reed. Setting themselves apart from their peers with a wildman drummer in Keith Moon and a brilliant rock opera in the form of their 1969 album "Tommy," The Who evolved from their "mod" beginnings to become hard rock titans as the ’60s made way for the ’70s. However, Reed was unimpressed by "Tommy," and just as nonplussed by the man who was primarily responsible for the album’s creation — guitarist Pete Townshend.
The "Walk on the Wild Side" singer was almost speechless while complaining that there were too many people who were blown away by the greatness of "Tommy" as an album and a rock opera. He went on to unload on Townshend, doing so while blatantly whiffing on the name of one of The Who‘s most recognizable early ’70s songs. "So talentless, and as a lyricist, he’s so profoundly untalented, and, you know, philosophically boring to say the least … like the record ‘The Searcher’; ‘I ask Timothy Leary…’, I wouldn’t ask Timothy Leary the time of day, for cryin’ out loud," Reed complained, obviously referring to "The Seeker" and its name-dropping of the psychedelic influencer …if you can call Leary that.
He found Roxy Music boring and Frank Zappa untalented
Moving on from the big names to the niche acts, Roxy Music (pictured above) was another band that Lou Reed admitted to disliking, and he did so in the same article where he blasted The Who and their "Tommy" album. Led by singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music was among the many acts that spearheaded the early ’70s glam rock scene in the U.K., and it was there where Reed had first caught the band at a David Bowie concert.
"They bored me, and I went out half-way to get a drink," Reed said before acknowledging that his immediate post-Velvet Underground sound shared some parallels with Roxy Music. "I’ve heard some of the other stuff that’s supposed to be up my alley. But they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve been doing this stuff a long time, and all of a sudden people are starting to talk about it. They’re saying: ‘Hey, look, we’re civilized, man, and we want to know about it.’"
Frank Zappa was another niche performer who didn’t endear himself to Reed with his music, and he didn’t hold back when explaining why he felt that way. "He’s probably the single most untalented person I’ve heard in my life," he related. "He’s a two-bit pretentious academic, and he can’t play his way out of anything." Reed also insinuated that Zappa’s perceived inability to play rock music was the reason behind his unorthodox fashion sense and that he was a man who wasn’t happy with his lot in life.
Those are pretty strong words, but as Far Out Magazine pointed out, Reed’s dislike for Zappa as a musician seemed to fade over time, as he posthumously inducted the Mothers of Invention leader into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Reed didn’t like these iconic musicians either
The Lou Reed interview where he went from rock star to rock critic also featured a number of remarks about other soon-to-be-legendary acts that weren’t as explosive as the ones quoted above, but still worth mentioning nonetheless. Keeping it short but not-too-sweet, Reed referred to Alice Cooper (the band, not the man leading the band) as the "worst, most disgusting aspect of rock music." And while he didn’t say anything negative about his music, Reed admitted that Bob Dylan "[gets] on my nerves," adding that one would probably tell him to stop talking if they met him at a party.
During the interview, Reed mentioned another British band (aside from The Who, Roxy Music, and maybe the Beatles) in a less than flattering light, though he wasn’t nearly as vitriolic toward them as he was toward the first two acts. "Like an intellectual I sit and listen to the Kinks and really get off, then I just get bored after a while," he said, explaining why he can’t listen to Ray and Dave Davies’ band for an extended period of time.
That’s a lot of legends, and a lot of hot takes, but all that only proves one thing — no matter how iconic you are as a musician, you just can’t please everyone.