Lou Reed | I’m So Free – The 1971 RCA Demos

Fifty years on from his self-titled solo debut album, and nine years since his untimely death, Lou Reed is still nabbing headlines with a collection of rare demos released over the holidays and just as quickly withdrawn in an apparent copyright dump.

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The 17-track album of Lou Reed demos was uploaded by RCA/Sony Music to iTunes in Europe on 23 December 2021, titled I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos. The collection was swiftly removed just a couple of days later and the reason for the album’s very brief release appears to be an apparent copyright dump done in order to extend RCA/Sony Music’s ownership of Reed’s recordings.

Captured on the eve of becoming a 70s rock star, Lou can be heard flexing his considerable songwriting muscle and reinventing his musical career after leaving the Velvet Underground, one of the greatest and most influential bands in rock history.

In 1970, Lou found himself a penniless, strung-out wreck nursing a career on the wane. He famously took a break from the music biz to work in his father’s tax accounting firm as a typist in Long Island. A year later, RCA signed him to a solo contract and sent him to London to record his debut solo LP, accompanied by top-flight session musicians including guitarist Steve Howe, and Rick Wakeman who were both about to join Yes.

I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos contains low-key demo versions of songs that appeared on that album (released in 1972 as Lou Reed) and his breakthrough follow-up – the Bowie-produced Transformer (1972). Two of the tracks, ‘Kill Your Sons’ and ‘She’s My Best Friend’ eventually appeared on Sally Can’t Dance (1974) and Coney Island Baby (1976) respectively, and the collection includes songs that may have appeared in demo form doing the rounds for several years, but most now seeing the light of day for the first time.

Lou Reed – I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos mp3

I'm So Free_ The 1971 RCA Demos

TRACKS

1. Perfect Day (Demo – Takes 1 & 2). An audibly nervous Lou commences with, “Ok“, then starts a quietly ascending acoustic guitar line “Just a summer’s day/drink sangria in the park” before a bum note brings things to an abrupt halt: “Fuck. Sorry about that. I’ll leave out the tricky guitar bits I think. Ok?“. It’s a beautiful version of a song that fully flourished on Transformer with only some minor lyric changes.

2. I’m So Free (Demo). Another track that ended up on Transformer and a favourite. This solo acoustic version is spot on to the recorded version we know and love, minus the Bowie backing vocals and driving Ronson electric guitar.

3. Wild Child (Demo). A lyrical mix of the prosaic and the poetic with a constantly shifting cast of street characters, the kind who would become increasingly familiar over the course of Reed’s subsequent releases. This great song off the solo debut was rightly included on his first compilation album in 1977, the impeccable Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed.

4. I’m Sticking with You (Demo – Take 2). A song the Velvet Underground performed and recorded, and sung by drummer Maureen Tucker.

5. Lisa Says (Demo). Lou has settled into this recording session beautifully. In good voice and still playing an acoustic guitar for the whole session thus far. Another late-era Velvets ballad that Lou revisited for his solo debut.

6. Going Down (Demo – Take 2). A great underrated classic off Lou Reed, performed beautifully here with Lou in great form on the vocal.

7. I Love You (Demo). This Loaded-era song sounds like it is still in early-draft form: “Smiling faces they can’t be forgotten“, as it sounds clunky lyrically and misses the groove of the lovely full band version (off Lou Reed) which rightly wound up on Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. At the end Lou cues a fade-out “Ok Richard.

8. New York Telephone Conversation (Demo). A Transformer joke song, but a clever and amusing one. Does not differ wildly from the Bowie-produced version.

9. She’s My Best Friend (Demo). A song that was originally recorded by the Velvet Underground in 1969, it ended up on Lou’s Coney Island Baby in 1975. It’s one of the standouts on that album. Lou in great voice again here, sounding very comfortable with the piece.

10. Kill Your Sons (Demo). A brutal anti-war song in its early stages: “Kill your sons before they reclaim the land“. This early awkward version was rewritten about his childhood electro-shock therapy and re-recorded from a position of dark drug-addled rock stardom in the early 70s, appearing on the hit album Sally Can’t Dance in 1974.

11. Berlin (Demo). A faithful acoustic version but doesn’t come close to what he achieved on his solo debut. This would appear on a later Reed album too, providing the title track to his 1973 cult-classic song suite.

12. Ocean (Demo – Takes 1 & 2). Another song that was performed by the Velvets, and later crucially by Michael Plater, and was the big closing number on Lou’s solo debut. You can hear Lou feeling around for the essence of this great song.

13. Ride Into the Sun (Demo – Take 2). Recorded by the Velvets in 1969 when Lou gave Doug Yule singing duties, extinguishing the dark beauty of one of his most underrated songs. This low key demo is superior.

14. Hangin’ Around (Demo – Take 2). A slight ditty compared to the ultra-cool, rocking version from Transformer.

15. Love Makes You Feel (Demo – Take 2). A decent song off Lou Reed. Performed beautifully here with Lou again in great form on the vocals.

16. I Can’t Stand It (Demo). Another Loaded outtake, I Can’t Stand It was the opening song and a single off Lou Reed, and given the acoustic treatment here.

17. Walk It And Talk It (Demo). Similar to the Velvets’ 1970 demo, this single wound up edgy and rocking on Lou’s debut. For whatever reason, the record failed to connect. It staggered its way to the 189 spot on the Billboard album chart in 1972, and neither of the singles (“I Can’t Stand It,” “Walk and Talk It”) earned a foothold on either side of the Atlantic. With Transformer later in the year that Lou became a star with his “fluke” hit single Walk on the Wild Side

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Further Reading:

♥     Lou Reed – Top 50 Solo Songs

♥     #14: Lou Reed – Rock n Roll Animal (1974) / Live (1975)

♥    Average Guy – Lou in the 80s

♥    #15: Lou Reed – The Bells (1979)

♥    Lou Reed – Street Hassle

This entry was posted in Albums That Never Were, David Bowie, Downloads, Images, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Robert Quine. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Lou Reed | I’m So Free – The 1971 RCA Demos

  1. rabirius says:

    I really like his music.

  2. Dennis Pilon says:

    This looks amazing – looking forward to listening to it!

  3. Allan says:

    Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Jimbob says:

    Was it really a fluke when the late great David Bowie was involved? Just like All the Young Dudes. The Bowser had a Midas touch. Miss both him and Lou.

  5. odell01 says:

    I like this post. I was delighted to listen to the demos, as they were on Spotify, I think. In addition, I observed your viewpoint.

    Based on others’ remarks, I can tell you worked very hard on this post. Incredible blog. Much thanks to you for having an interest in mine.

  6. Good stuff Press. I wore out both those albums you posted. Like I said, I ate up his music.

    • Me too. I ate up every songle album he released. I certainly like some more than others. In fact lean more towards the 80s and 90s if anything. Stuff like New York, Magic & Loss, Legendary Hearts and of course New Sensations are my go to album these days.

      • That’s the thing with all the music he left. Can discover and rediscover it again. Im with you on those records. One that has always struck a chord with me is ‘Coney Island Baby’ I don’t know where it sits with his fans but I know how much I dig it. I remember my old man walking in while I was listening to ‘Kicks’. He actually laughed out loud and asked me if the guy (Lou) was crazy. I joined him in a chuckle.

        • Fair question. Kicks has the feel of an aural speed trip. Coney Island Baby is a standout 70s LP from Lou, one of my favourites. A big change from MMM the previous year.

          • I had and have most of his albums. MMM just couldnt happen. My buddy bought it and was very honest on how much he hated it. He got a little strung out at that time. I continued to be a fan. He bounced back well. Good stuff Press. Lots of common ground with Lou. I just recently found his Metallica collab. Tried a couple times. Maybe one more just because it’s Lou.

            • He bounced back well after MMM. I tried Lulu a number of times. The closing track Junior Dad is great, and should’ve been the basis of the entire LP. Let me know what you think of the album, when it happens.

            • I liked it more . It has lots going on that works for me. I like jams and spoken word so I get that plus a real edge. The last cut really tops it off for me. It is an album in itself like you mentioned.
              Lou along with a few other folks I followed back when are starting to resurge in my listening again. You got me back on the Lou train for a while.

  7. charredwind says:

    Hello, the link is expired. Could you reupload the music by any chance? I would really like to hear this album.

  8. Judy says:

    Love hearing Lou Reed”s songs. “I’m so Free” is just one of Lou’s great sounds. “Wagon Wheel” is not listed. This was a great song that got me to work smiling. Thank you for writing about LOU LOU

  9. wardo68 says:

    Thanks for the commentary on this. One thing — “I Love You” was recorded during the Loaded sessions, so it wasn’t just written before this demo session.

  10. manvmusic says:

    What a read, thank you for letting me get lost in the work of Lou Reed for a wee while. Take it breezy this weekend.

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