Tampering With Perfection – Lou Reed’s Perfect Day
By Madeline Bocaro
‘Perfect Day’ is a perfect song from a perfect album – Lou Reed’s Transformer (1972). Lou always had a knack for clearly illuminating urban underbellies, mainly New York and Berlin. Reed could eloquently condense the personalities and saga of a subculture into something just short of Haiku. He was a master of this – because he lived that life.
Transformer was the popular precursor to Reed’s early career killer – the ghostly, ghastly, beautiful and uber-depressing album Berlin, which concerned drugs, betrayal, abuse, suicide, sexual depravity, apathy – the whole gamut of song topics from his former band, The Velvet Underground converging in the lives of two wretched people in a decadent city.
Transformer was a portrait of early 1970s New York City. Andy Warhol’s superstars (Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis) are name-checked on the timeless track, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. The album was released on RCA’s orange label Dynaflex, made with re-ground rather than virgin vinyl – so flexible that you could practically see through it. Transformer was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson. Ronno especially outdid himself on piano, and the poignant string arrangements on ‘Perfect Day’.
The song has a contrasting duality – a lovely, serene melody with seemingly innocent lyrics. But, being a Lou Reed song, it’s really about a nasty guy having a nice date.
‘Such a perfect day, you made me forget myself
I thought I was someone else, someone good’
Further, we must question; is the date with someone dear, or with a substance of choice? Should the line, ‘I’m glad I spent it with you’ read, ‘I’m glad I spent it with drugs’? Could this be why his day is so perfect? One might think that Lou would be more blatant, as usual, and title the song ‘Heroin’ (again). The line ‘you just keep me hanging’ on’ must be about addiction, right? But Reed ex-wife says that the song is about a date they had before they got married.
1995 – Duran Duran covered ‘Perfect Day’ on their album Thank You, reaching No. 28 on the UK Singles Chart. Lou Reed famously went on record saying that this version was his favorite and much preferred it to his own. Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando recorded the song as a duet.
1996 – The song was used in the movie Trainspotting when the protagonist overdoses on heroin.
1997 – (Re-released in 2000) ‘Perfect Day’ was exploited for the BBC Children In Need Appeal video. Lou Reed joined the likes of 29 artists, including Bono, Elton John, Bowie , Tammy Wynette and a host of other unworthy folk, who over-sang and over-stepped their boundaries, amid sunny-day backdrops. It was sickening. However, it became the UK’s No. 1 single for three weeks.
2001 – It appears in the soundtrack of the independent film Prozac Nation, starring Christina Ricci.
2002 – Reed joins Luciano Pavarotti on ‘Perfect Day’ in May for his Pavarotti & Friends concert in Italy. Reed talked, Pavarotti sang. Lou was great. Pavarotti was another story.
2003 – Reed re-recorded the song for his album The Raven.
2007 – Patti Smith included the song on her covers album Twelve.
2010 – An AT&T commercial featuring snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler during the Winter Olympics featured the song.
2010 – Jamacian group The Jolly Boys did a cool reggae version on their album of cover versions, The Great Expectation.
My perfect day was ruined again in November 2010, when I heard that Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle was recording one of my favourite songs of all time. It is the lead song on her 2nd album, The Gift.
First there was some confusion when Reed supposedly refused Boyle permission to perform the song on live television (American Idol) at the last minute. Good for him, I thought. Boyle described Reed as “childish” during a UK TV interview.
But the next day, it was reported that Lou didn’t pull the plug at all. It was some other red tape issue. According to a Sony Music rep, SuBo took ‘creative direction’ from the Velvet Underground legend himself when shooting the video, so Lou Reed has been given co-director credit on the clip, which shows Boyle singing through the mist of Loch Lomond in Scotland.
How imperfect it all is! I’ll just stick to my pristine vision of the song – Lou at the zoo in the park, on heroin.
Reed’s version has never charted, but it was on the b-side of his single, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.