Classic Album covers : Transformer - Lou Reed

Released in December 1972, Transformer was The Velvet Underground frontman’s second album, after his self titled debut, where he covered his own Velvet Underground tracks

The album was produced by David Bowie, who himself had been influenced by Reed’s music in the Velvet Underground, even referencing the band on the cover notes for Hunky Dory

At release, the album gained critical acclaim, with reviewers being wowed with the albums lyrical content, playful melodies and stunning production. Despite this the highest position it reached in the album chart was number 29

Nevertheless Transformer cemented Reed’s position as an icon. Just as the music on Transformer remains some of his best known, the cover provides a defining image of Reed for posterity

With blackened eyes and an almost featureless face, Reed looks every inch the glamorous tortured artist

Yet this ghostly picture was an accident, according to photographer Mick Rock who was also responsible for creating album covers for The Stooges, Queen and The Ramones. He says, “Shot at Kings Cross Cinema. The Transformer Album Cover. It was Lou’s first ever concert in Europe. When I showed him the contact sheets, he was particularly keen to see a print of this shot…I didn’t notice the negative fall out of focus in the enlarger when I made the first test print, but the accident added another layer of mystery to the image. Lou knew immediately that this should be the cover for the album”

What did Reed mean by the title? Was it in reference to his music? Or was there something more? Well, on the back there’s ace berdache Ernie Thormahlen posing in archetypal butch, complete with cartoon erectile bulge (variously reputed to be a banana or a cucumber), short hair, motorcycle cap, and pack of Luckies up his T-shirt sleeve, and then again resplendent in high heels, panty hose, rouge, mascara, and long ebony locks; gives the title added connotations of finality and electro-magnetic perversity. We’ll never know now. Your preternatural instincts tell you it’s all there, but all you’re given is glint, flash and frottage


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