All week long I’ve been planning a tribute to Lou Reed (which will broadcast today from 4-6pm on KPFK), who passed away at the age of 71 exactly one week ago. As I’ve been listening to music from Reed. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out exactly when I heard music from his seminal group the Velvet Underground. I have a very vague memory of hearing “Walk On The Wild Side” sometime in middle school on the radio and even then realizing that there were things going on in that song that were far beyond my 9 or 10-year old understanding of the world. But for the life of me I can’t recall the moment I actually heard the Velvet Underground. By the time I’d gotten to college and began working at Album 88, it seems like I’d already heard of the group. Mo Tucker lived in Atlanta and would always come down to the station asking to be interviewed about some new project and people would complain that, “just cause she was in the Velvet Underground doesn’t mean we ‘should’ interview her now.” It’s a strange feeling with a band so iconic and with such a distinct sound, to not be sure when you heard it first. What I’ve basically figured out is that part of the reason that it seemed like I’d just always heard much of Lou Reed’s music was that it was all over the place, in terms of the massive influence his work had on musicians since the 1960s to the massive amount of covers that had been done of VU and Reed songs. Here are 5 of the ones that I’m sure I heard before I truly became a fan of the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed.
Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It
Now, I know this isn’t technically a cover or Lou Reed song, but it samples “Walk On The Wild Side,” (before Marky Mark’s version, which I wish I can actually unhear from my mind) and was probably one of the first Hip-Hop songs where I absolutely knew the sample and then could recognize that other aspects of the song weren’t from that sample, thus sending me out to find those other elements. So, there you have it, Lou Reed is partially responsible for much of the crate diggin’ I’ve done in my life.
Swervedriver – Jesus
Shortly after hearing the Tribe song above I feel in love with this shoegazey band from the UK. As remains the case when I fall head over heels for a group I try to get my ahnds and ears on every single bit of music I can from them and this cover of what now is one of my favorite VU songs was on a single release that included “Sandblasted,” called “Reel to Real.” I have the vaguest recollections of thinking to myself, “maybe I should check out the original version,” but I still don’t think that was what actually led me to discover the music of the Velvet Underground.
Jane’s Addiction – Rock’n’Roll
Around the same time I heard Swervedriver covering the VU, Jane’s Addiction was all the rage. It took me a little while to work backwards to their live recording, essentially their debut, from 1987. For sometime I just had this on a cassette, so it wasn’t until years later that I realized it was a cover. By that time I’m pretty sure I’d already heard the earlier stuff from the Velvets, but hadn’t really heard anything from Loaded. It was probably a few years later until I realized what a profound effect Lou Reed must have had on this band and so many others.
Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane
This was something that I didn’t hear until I made my way into college radio at Album 88, where the Cowboy Junkies and “Sweet Jane” were already staples of programming by the time I arrived in 1993. In a similar fashion to Jane’s Addiction above, there was a bit of ignorance on my part for quite a while before I realized that this was a cover and actually fully heard the original version, which also came from the album Loaded, which was both the last album from the group that I heard any music from, but strangely also THE album that finally made everything click for me and made a massive fan of the Velvet Underground.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – All Tomorrow’s Parties
Final cover of note comes from an artist who I now realize must have been profoundly influenced by Reed, Nick Cave. Around 1994, I heard “Do You Love Me” from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and was floored. Seeing them live at Lollapalooza later that year completely sealed the deal and I’ve been a major fan ever since. Over the course of a couple of months I got nearly every record Nick Cave and the boys had recorded, and eventually found my way to the collection of covers, Kicking Against The Pricks. “All Tomorrow’s Parties” wasn’t my favorite song on that album, turns out it also isn’t one of my favorite VU tracks, but knowing that this was a record of covers of people who influenced an artist that I was completely smitten with was likely the thing that got me to formally listen to the Velvet Underground’s first two records. That wild sound was what I associated with the group until years later picking up a copy of Loaded at Amoeba in Berkeley and hearing “Pale Blue Eyes” shortly after that and finally fully and completely understanding the power and the glory that was Lou Reed.