The best thing about Lou Reed's contribution to the history of music is that it was widely acknowledged during his lifetime. He could have suffered the same fate as Otis Redding or Nick Drake and died before the full extent of his musical genius and legacy (dreaded word) could be assessed.
It's been said hundreds of times that the number of bands influenced by the Velvet Underground debut album far exceeds the actual number of copies sold, that may be an urban myth but what cannot be disputed is that without the Velvets there would arguably, not have been The Pixies, Nirvana, R.E.M, Patti Smith, Television, Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Ultravox or Roxy Music. David Bowie would still be doing Tony Newley impersonations and The Jesus and Mary Chain wouldn't have discovered the joys of feedback and annoyed the hell out of everybody for a couple of years. Even Duran Duran cited Reed as a major influence, reflected in their music much in the same way that Carlton Palmer inspired Lionel Messi.
Like most people of my age my first exposure to Lou Reed's music was 'Walk on The Wild Side' the everyday story of a transvestcism, drug taking, oral sex and male prostitution that reached the UK late in 1972. I had a friend who when bored would suddenly start singing, "and all the coloured girls go...."
Reed had the reputation of being a cantankerous old sod in interviews, not a unique position for an artist, but he could be illumnating and fulsome in his praise of other musicians and artists. A recently shown interview with Elvis Costello on Sky Arts showed that whilst he never wanted to be a pop star he clearly wanted to be taken seriously as a musician and whether or not that influenced other musicians was beyond either his sphere of influence or his care.
The more recent offerings have shifted between the uneasy and the unlistenable but as a solo artist he produced at least three albums that will stand the test of time in Transformer, Berlin and Street Hassle and then of course there are the albums with the VU.