Certain Songs #975: Lou Reed – “Underneath The Bottle”

Album: The Blue Mask
Year: 1982

I know that this is going to get me thrown out of the fan club, but I’ve never been enamored of Lou Reed’s 1970s material. I appreciate the subversiveness of “Walk on the Wild Side,” the ambition of Berlin & “Street Hassle” (and Metal Machine Music), and the guitars of Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal.

But I don’t l-u-v love any of them, and while I thought about writing about a couple of songs just to provide some kind of overview or not get kicked out of the fan club, I decided to skip straight to the first Lou Reed solo album that totally and completely blew me away, 1982’s The Blue Mask.

Sticking guitar genius Robert Quine in one speaker, guitar genius Lou Reed in the other speaker, and allowing bass genius Fernando Saunders wander between them at will, The Blue Mask was a return to basics that also opened a new chapter in Lou Reed’s career. With the exception of one misfire, he absolutely killed it for the next decade or so.

Whether he was writing as character or confessing his soul, the result was a record that one of my friends joked he could replace his parents with. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I loved his harrowing portrait of an alcoholic, “Underneath The Bottle”

Oooohh whee, look at me, looking for some sympathy
It’s the same old story
Of a man and his search for glory
And he found it, underneath the bottle

Things are never good, things go from bad to weird
Hey gimme another Scotch with my beer
I’m sad to say, I feel the same today as I always do
Gimme a drink to relax me

Low-key and mid-tempo, what I love about “Underneath The Bottle,” is what I’ve always loved about Lou Reed’s great drug songs: the way he inhabits the person he’s singing about. And in this case, the guy isn’t quite at rock bottom, or anywhere near, really. He’s still having fun. Or pretending to have fun in any case, and that comes across in Reed’s vocal, which is positively giddy — or as giddy as Lou Reed gets, you have to parse these things — at points.

Oooohh whee, son of a B!
You get so down, you can’t get any lower
So long world, you play too rough
And it’s getting me all mixed up
I lost my pride and it’s hiddin’
There, underneath the bottle

That “son of a B!” kills me every time. There is no chorus or guitar solos, just straightforward reporting on one man’s dissolution. And while you hope he’s going to be OK, you don’t really expect it.

“Underneath The Bottle”

“Underneath The Bottle” performed live in 1986

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One Response to “Certain Songs #975: Lou Reed – “Underneath The Bottle””

  1. Ira Brooker says:

    “Seven days make a week / On two of them I sleep” is one of the great party lyrics ever written.

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