It has been 44 years since Lou Reed released his most famous song :
"Walk on the Wild Side" from his solo album, Transformer, produced by David Bowie. The song received wide radio coverage, despite touching on taboo topics such as transsexuals, drugs, male prostitution and oral sex. The lyrics were groundbreaking and risqué for their time, telling stories not usually told in rock songs up till then.
"I always thought it would be kinda fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn't met before, or hadn't wanted to meet," Reed said in an interview. In the U.S., RCA released the single using an edited version of the song without the reference to oral sex.
In the UK, the reference slipped past the censors, who were apparently unfamiliar with the term "giving head." The term "colored girls" was also an issue in the U.S.; RCA provided radio stations with a version in which it was edited out. The single peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in early 1973. After the announcement of Reed's death in October 2013, both the song and the Transformer album re-charted via iTunes
Each verse refers to one of the "superstars" at Andy Warhol's New York studio, The Factory.
"Holly" is based on Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who lived in Miami Beach, Florida as a child. In 1962, after being bullied by transphobes, the fifteen-year-old ran away from home; and, as in the lyrics, learned how to pluck her eyebrows while hitchhiking to New York.
"Candy" is based on Candy Darling, a transgender actress and the subject of an earlier song by Lou Reed, "Candy Says." She grew up on Long Island ("the island") and was a regular at "the back room" of Max's Kansas City.
"Little Joe" was the nickname of Joe Dallesandro, an actor who starred in Flesh, a 1968 film about a teenage hustler. Dallesandro said in 2014 that he had never met Reed when the song was written, and that the lyrics were based on the film character, not himself personally.
"Sugar Plum Fairy" was a reference to actor Joe Campbell who played a character by that name in Warhol's 1965 film, My Hustler. The term was a euphemism for "drug dealer."
"Jackie" is based on Jackie Curtis, another Warhol actor. "Speeding" and "crashing" are drug references. Curtis at one time hoped to play the role of James Dean in a movie; Dean was killed in a car crash.
Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,
- Candy came from out on the island,
In the backroom she was everybody's darling,
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, hey baby, take a walk on the wild side
- Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City is the place where they said:
Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
- Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets
Lookin' for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo
You should have seen him go, go, go
They said, hey Sugar, take a walk on the wild side
- Jackie is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would have helped that bash
She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
And the colored girls say
- Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo