Session File: Recording The "Sad Song" Solos

One of my favorite songs on Lou Reed’s Berlin album is “Sad Song.”
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One of my favorite songs on Lou Reed’s Berlin album is “Sad Song.” That entire album, in my opinion, is one of the most brilliantly written pieces of art in rock history, so it’s difficult to have a favorite song. But there is something about “Sad Song”—lyrically and musically—that really makes it genius. Playing it years later with Lou live, and with a real children’s choir singing behind me, came close to bringing me to tears many times.

As I’ve mentioned before, [producer] Bob Ezrin had this ability to hear the final completed album in his head before we even started recording. But he always allowed some wiggle room so that spontaneous things could happen when the players got in the room together. A major part of producing—especially in those days—was putting together the right musicians for the job, and Bob was (and still is) brilliant at that.

I had already put a Univibe rhythm-guitar part on “Sad Song,” and now it was time for the two solo sections. I think Bob and I had assumed the solo would be a melodic one, as opposed to a jammed or improvised one. That suited me just fine, because I always loved coming up with those kinds of solos, but I had an odd way of doing that. (Well, it was odd to me, at least.) I would play through the solo section and improvise different melodies. Then, Bob would then say something like, “Okay, we have a good beginning, but the middle and end aren’t there yet.”

So I would learn the beginning part we liked, and then go on from there. When we finally had all of the pieces we liked, I would then learn the entire solo, and play it all as one continuous and seamless piece. In the case of “Sad Song,” I doubled the first solo, but then, on the second solo, I played a harmony to the original line. I meant to play the solo harmony a third above the original, but I went to a fifth a couple of times, which seemed to work fine. You see, my music theory was pretty much non-existent back then, so I had to rely on my ears. I think that, in some cases, this had its advantages and wasn’t a bad thing.

Bob and I did lots of solos by improvising pieces, and then putting them together into a cohesive solo. Although I have increased my knowledge of music theory a bunch since those days, I still rely on my ears—which is precisely what my teacher, the late Ted Greene, always told me to do.