The Classic Albums DVD of Transformer takes a look at where the album came from, how it was made, and the effect it has had. By interviewing key players, including Reed and Bowie (the late Ronson is shown in archival interviews) as well as engineers, studio musicians, and critics, the DVD really gets at where the sounds and songs had their origins. Numerous members of Warhol's crew weigh in on how their lives inspired Reed's words, including the folks who comprise "Walk on the Wild Side"'s memorable cast of characters.
Additionally, the music itself is presented a number of ways: Reed sings and plays the songs in the studio accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. His time worn groan of a voice and the quiet strumming bring out every nuance of the lyrics and melodies. He is also shown playing them in concert with his band, and the original masters are played in a mixing booth while Reed and Transformer engineer Ken Scott twiddle the knobs to single out specific instruments and vocal tracks. This sense of taking the music apart in order to put it back together is the best way to understand how it gets made in the first place. Plus, it is just fun: The look of joy on Reed's face when he isolates Bowie's high-pitched backing vocals on "Satellite of Love" shows that he is still transported by the music. When session bassist Herbie Flowers shows how he doubled the bass track to get "Walk on the Wild Side"'s unique sound, it's like a magician letting you in on a really cool trick.
All of this underscores the album's key strength, what makes it so great: Reed's songwriting. He writes, sort of like Bob Dylan, in a way that allows the songs to be performed in a wide variety of styles without losing their effectiveness. When a recent all-star rendition of "Perfect Day" plays, featuring Reed, Bono, and Bowie trading lines with a bevy of opera stars and other musicians, it becomes clear that it's the melancholy melody, poignantly simple lyrics, and spare instrumentation that make the song, and the rest of Transformer, so timeless.