In his book, Miami And The Siege Of Chicago, about the 1968 Republican and Democratic national conventions that selected Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey as their respective party's candidates for President, Norman Mailer started a chapter in the section about Chicago with a quote from the Village Voice about electric guitars. To be honest, I can't remember the context — how it fit in with his reporting on the riots in the streets and the pall cast over the convention by the murder of Bobby Kennedy — but it was about how when you plugged into the wall your guitar became a channel for the electrical energy that flowed not only from the individual outlet, but the entire electrical grid. With this type of power at your disposal your potential should be limitless.
Well, it was a nice thought Norman, but aside from a few people like Hendrix who experimented with feedback, hardly anybody pushed the envelope of how a guitar could channel power. Even in those heady days of "rebellion" where that quote originated, not many were willing to look beyond variations on conventional rock guitar in an attempt to discover more of its potential. Then, in 1975, RCA records released an album that set records for the number of returns it generated as stores couldn't give it away and the majority of those who did buy it demanded their money back. While cynics say he only did it because he owed the label one more record under the terms of his contract and made the least commercially viable thing as possible in revenge, listening to the 35th anniversary edition of Metal Machine Music that Lou Reed is releasing, you realize how unlikely that is.
While there is no denying it could never have been a commercial success in 1975 considering what was popular at the time and how conservative the industry had become by then, Metal Machine Music was a serious piece of music by someone looking to explore the boundaries of what was accessible with his art. It's important to remember that Reed had been part of Andy Warhol's factory and would have had plenty of exposure to many different types of new music and an atmosphere that encouraged experimentation far more than most popular musicians of the day. It's not as if even his so-called popular music was what you would call readily accessible to the masses; I've often thought that commercial success wasn't something he strove for, it was just something that happened periodically by accident.