Aside from fluke hit "Walk on the Wild Side," the recently departed Lou Reed was probably one of the lowest selling "rock stars" in history: he moved few volumes during his four-decade solo career, and showed no indication of caring. So it's probably fair to surmise the cranky rock elder wouldn't have cared about how many copies he's selling in death, either.
No matter—the numbers are in, and the music world is enthralled: Reed's catalog of solo albums sold 3,000 copies last week, up from under a thousand the previous week, and his records with the Velvet Underground sold about the same, Billboard reports. This is likely the first time any mainstream publication has run a report on how well Lou Reed albums are selling. But if those numbers still seem rather underwhelming, it may be because the album industry is dying.
Or, on second thought, it may be because if you read the fine print, Nielsen SoundScan's tracking week ended October 27, the day Reed passed away, so that accounts for less than one full day after news of the artist's death first broke. There's a famous line that the first Velvet Underground album sold just 30,000 copies in its first five years, but each of those 30,000 people started a band; if these numbers are to continue apace for a little while, it'll take just a few weeks for sales of Reed's full catalog to match that figure.
Not that we know if that oft-repeated quip is really based in fact. The Wall Street Journal did a little digging and managed to definitively attribute it to Brian Eno, based on a conversation he claimed to have had with Reed. But, because MGM Records lost its sales data in 1972, no one even knows if that pre-SoundScan figure is accurate. "My best guess as to pre-1984 domestic sales…is that the album sold perhaps 50,000 units," estimated the group's attorney.
Meanwhile, producers and advertisers are clamoring to get a hold of Reed's catalog. Did we mention how little he would care about any of this? As he snapped at one Vulture interviewer who dared turn the subject to money, "What are you, a fucking asshole?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.