While I was watching the Olympics last night, I turned away to get a drink only to hear the sound of a familiar song on an AT&T Commercial. “Is that Lou Reed?” asked my wife correctly. I often wonder how advertising pitches must develop, especially when an idea to use an almost-40-year-old song by a proto-punk monotone singer is suggested. Granted, Reed’s music isn’t completely new to commercials; I remember his appearance on a Honda scooter ad in the 1980s. Still, as someone who knows and appreciates the song, I was delighted to hear it in this format.
“Perfect Day” appeared on Lou Reed’s second solo album Transformer in 1972 a couple of years after he left The Velvet Underground. The Velvets were a tremendously influential band on punk and alternative music though their albums barely dented the Billboard Album charts (their debut on original release made it all the way to #171). Reed’s self-titled first solo album (which he recorded after working as typist at an accounting firm) did no better, making the success or failure of his second album quite crucial.
Enter David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Ronson who were influenced by Reed’s Velvet Underground work. Both would produce Transformer which would become a top 40 album in both the US and the UK propelled by the success of the single “Walk On The Wild Side”. The album is a perfect mixture of Reed’s garage rock roots and Bowie/Ronson’s polish – a glam rock classic (Reed’s picture on the cover even fits the mold).
“Perfect Day”, using an uncharacteristically sparse arrangement by Ronson, begins slowly with simple piano and later crescendos using a string accompaniment. Reed’s vocals are atypically tuneful and wonderfully expressive. Of course, I chucked over how the commercial focused on the idyllic chorus (“Oh it’s such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you”) while ignoring both the undercurrent of emptiness (“You made me forget myself. I thought I was someone else. Someone good) as well as the cryptic final repetition (“You’re going to reap just what you sow”). Still, I was happy to just hear this great album track on network television. After all, when sitting with your family watching the Olympics and your wife surprises you by not only pointing out a Lou Reed song but also knowing it’s produced by Bowie, it really is a perfect day.