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Wild!: How RCA Records plugged Lou Reed’s subversion in 7 print ads

“I mimic me better than anyone else, so if everybody else is making money ripping me off, I figure maybe I better get in on it. Why not? I created Lou Reed. I have nothing even faintly in common with that guy but I can play him well—really well.”
Lou Reed, 1978

BY MIN CHEN


Back in the early ‘70s, RCA Records was tasked with the job of selling Lou Reed. More specifically, they produced print publicity that trumpeted the ex-Velvets frontman’s solo albums from 1972’s
Lou Reed to 1975’s Coney Island Baby (before he left the RCA for Arista, then rejoined RCA in the ‘80s). These artifacts trail the era’s dominant advertising hallmarks—clean layouts, colloquial copy, vivid pictures—though promoting Reed, downtown creature, fringe dweller, and author of “Heroin,” took less sex-centered imagery and earnest storytelling, more arch and brash straight-shooting.

RCA met the challenge. The company did, after all, denounce decorum, tame a rock ‘n’ roll animal, and brave the immense test of marketing the stubborn and opaque Metal Machine Music (an album Reed described in his liner notes as “not meant for the market”) with an equally inscrutable, yet no less expressive, line, “Combinations and permutations built upon constant harmonic density increase and melodic distractions.” Below, scroll through more of RCA’s concise and incisive efforts at selling Lou Reed’s record-length insurrections.


Print advertisement for Transformer by Lou Reed, 1972
Print advertisement for Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal by Lou Reed, 1974
Print advertisement for Sally Can’t Dance by Lou Reed, 1974
Print advertisement for Lou Reed: Live by Lou Reed, 1975
Print advertisement for Metal Machine Music by Lou Reed, 1975
Print advertisement for Coney Island Baby by Lou Reed, 1975
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