New York Series: Lou Reed “Coney Island Baby”

Coney Island Baby is an album of love songs. In 1975, Lou Reed was recording it as a follow-up to the baffling Metal Machine Music. Coming from that formless and seemingly random experiment in noise exploration—which he did because he felt like it—this record was Reed’s response to some industry pressure, along with his reminder that he was talented as they come. It was borne from necessity as Reed found himself in a difficult position at the time. His career was in jeopardy for lack of new, accessible music, and his finances were suffering. 

Coney Island Baby
RCA/RCA • 1976/2021

So, Coney Island Baby was the rock record he needed. The title track, also titled “Coney Island Baby,” is a breezy, stroll of a song. Thematically, the lyrics muse about the power of love to wash away insecurity and provide a sense of stability in life’s unpredictable moments. The “glory of love” is Reed’s religion. It’s been said that his muse for much of the album was his girlfriend at the time, a trans woman named Rachel Humphreys, whom he mentions by name along with his local childhood school. 

“You know, man, when I was a young man in high school, you believe in or not—I wanted to play football for the coach.” Reed is right, his listeners would probably not believe it. But, he drives this memory home by mentioning it a few times. Football stars were supposedly strong, brave and popular. No one is immune to wanting to feel that way in high school, even Reed. He repeats this, giving listeners an insight into one of his main desires growing up: to be noticed. 

Coney Island Baby
Reed and Rachel Humphreys
Mick Rock

This entire monologue is backed by a steady 4/4 beat with only a few chord changes and a couple of members of Reed’s rotating band for the record. After each verse in which he describes feeling trapped or oppressed by his environment, the song opens into a chorus with Reed repeating “glory of love.” Whereas the verses describe different situations in which he’s felt uncomfortable emotions, even hate, during life—it’s love that saves him from falling. It’s also the promise of love from a “princess on the hill” that fills his desire for acceptance.

Lou Reed may have wanted to be on his high school football team. Or maybe not. But what is true, and fascinating, is that from this song we can imagine that Reed has faced the struggle to be embraced at points in his life, and has consistently found answers in love—a deeply human experience that unites us all. 

“Coney Island Baby” lyrics

You know, man, when I was a young man in high school
You believe in or not I wanted to play football for the coach
And all those older guys
They said he was mean and cruel, but you know
Wanted to play football for the coach
They said I was to little too light weight to play line-backer
So I say I’m playing right-end
Wanted to play football for the coach
Cause, you know some day, man
You gotta stand up straight unless you’re gonna fall
Then you’re gone to die
And the straightest dude
I ever knew was standing right for me all the time
So I had to play football for the coach
And I wanted to play football for the coach

When you’re all alone and lonely
In your midnight hour
And you find that your soul
It’s been up for sale

And you begin to think ’bout
All the things that you’ve done
And you begin to hate
Just ’bout everything

But remember the princess who lived on the hill
Who loved you even though she knew you was wrong
And right now she just might come shining through

And the -Glory of love, glory of love
Glory of love, just might come through

And all your two-bit friends
Have gone and ripped you off
They’re talking behind your back saying, man
You’re never going to be no human being
And you start thinking again
’bout all those things that you’ve done
And who it was and what it was
And all the different things you made every different scene

Ahhh, but remember that the city is a funny place
Something like a circus or a sewer
And just remember different people have peculiar tastes
And the –

Glory of love, the glory of love
The glory of love, might see you through
Yeah, but now, now
Glory of love, the glory of love
The glory of love, might see you through
Glory of love, ah, huh, huh, the glory of love
Glory of love, glory of love
Glory of love, now, glory of love, now
Glory of love, now, now, now, glory of love
Glory of love, give it to me now, glory of love see you through
Oh, my Coney Island baby, now
(I’m a Coney Island baby, now)
I’d like to send this one out for Lou and Rachel
And all the kids at P.S. 192
Coney Island baby
Man, I’d swear, I’d give the whole thing up for you

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