Coney Island Baby
The Music Box's #5 reissue of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2006, Volume 13, #10
Written by John Metzger
Released in 1975, Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music commonly is considered to be one of the worst albums ever made, and its four sides of guitar noise frequently are deemed unlistenable. Short on cash, sued by his manager, and in debt to virtually everyone with whom he had business dealings, Reed gently was nudged back into the studio by one of his few remaining friends — Ken Glancy, President of RCA — where he was directed to "make a rock record." The result was his oft-overlooked gem Coney Island Baby, but as several of the bonus tracks that are featured on the latest incarnation of the outing indicate, Reed’s return to the chugging, stripped-down sound of The Velvet Underground already was in the works before Metal Machine Music hit store shelves.
It all began in January 1975 when Reed ventured into Electric Lady Studios with producer Steve Katz as well as bass player and second guitarist Doug Yule, who had replaced John Cale in The Velvet Underground. Together, the team devised the template for what became Coney Island Baby by recording the rarity Downtown Dirt along with early versions of Crazy Feeling, She’s My Best Friend, and the title track. Although none of these songs surpasses the material that was featured on the final rendition of the album, their existence proves that the public trouncing that Reed took over Metal Machine Music wasn’t really the impetus for his new project, but rather it provided the push that he needed to complete it.
Regardless of how it came into being, Coney Island Baby was precisely the album that Reed had to make. Despite the glam-y guitars that lapped at the edges of Ooohhh Baby, the echoes of Walk on the Wild Side that strutted through Charley’s Girl, and the Bowie-esque backing vocals that clung to She’s My Best Friend, the bulk of the endeavor bent the experimental textures of The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat as well as its self-titled third outing around the pop-oriented framework of Loaded. Consequently, it provided a place where the ebullient refrains and chiming bells of Crazy Feeling could commingle with the slow-building intensity of She’s My Best Friend, the sarcasm of The Gift, and the introspective honesty of the title track. Elsewhere, Nobody’s Business evolved from its ominously dramatic opening into an easy-going, country-blues-colored motif that boasted shades of the Grateful Dead’s early ’70s Americana musings, and, anchored by a nervous, skittering beat, the grisly Kicks, with its razor-sharp sound effects, suitably updated the aural collage of The Velvet Underground’s The Murder Mystery.
Throughout Coney Island Baby, the guitars tangled and twirled with crisp precision around the music’s tight-knit rhythmic drive, and given the startling clarity of the newly remastered rendition of the endeavor, this notion holds truer than ever. There’s little doubt that when Reed began working on the project, he was plummeting into the darkness at a rapid pace, but the sentimental reflection that shines through even the grimiest corners of the affair succeeded in pulling him back to reality, thus allowing him to reestablish a much-needed emotional connection to his fans.
Coney Island Baby is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box