This past Sunday, musician and Velvet Underground songwriter Lou Reed passed away at the age of 71. He leaves behind a legacy of music, including influential act’s debut album, the Andy Warhol-produced Velvet Underground & Nico, the unhinged White Light/White Heat, and a solo career that included poetic rock records and ambient soundscapes. The man did it all, though one of his most affecting works may be on that played mildly to audiences in 1968. That’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” a hushed profession that never fails to provoke the sweet kind of tears.
Reed wrote a number of love songs in his time, but “Pale Blue Eyes” is the one that qualifies for superlatives, at once wistful and heartbreaking. The song was supposedly written for/inspired by Shelley Albin, the girl Reed dated while attending Syracuse University. And although Reed wrote the song, he was still impressed by its elegance, particularly Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison’s solo in the song. “It had that little stutter in it,” he told Rolling Stone. “I could never do that. I always wondered how the hell he did that. But it was just the way he played – intuitive, but intuitive matched with brain.”
“Pale Blue Eyes” will stand the test of time because it can’t be abused by romantics. In the end, it’s about an extramarital affair, passionate love but one that’s unrequited. It’s the type of song that can’t be abused by wedding ceremonies, embalmed in sap.
It was good what we did yesterday
And I’d do it once again.
The fact that you are married
Only proves, you’re my best friend.
Is Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes” the most romantic song of all time? You’ll think so once you listen to it.
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Matt Patches is a writer and reporter living in New York City. His work has been featured on Vulture, Time Out New York, and The Hollywood Reporter. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Operation Kino.