Tag Archives: velvet underground
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Lou Reed: Sunday Morning After the Sunday Mourning Before

3 Nov

It was Kim Gordon who told me that Lou Reed had died, I swear.

LOU_REED_Edad_de_oro

I turned on Twitter and there it was.

The words “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed s passing this is a huge shock!” from the blue-tick @kimletgordon account suggested this was not another of these tiresome internet death hoaxes but actually something very real. Why would the Sonic Youth (and now Body / Head) songsmith and latterday queen of NYC cool fall for such a dumb stunt if it were merely that? Indeed, Ms. Gordon went on to write a whole magazine article here in memory of the man she called “the first real anti-hero in rock”.

Lou Reed was one of these old gnarled, grumpy anti-heroes who you probably presumed would go on living forever, despite having smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected all manner of illicit substances for years (despite being “clean” for a fair few years) washed down, one would imagine, by plentiful quantities of liquor and strong coffee.

Not unlike Keef, Iggy, David or Julian, the craggy face of Lou Reed in his latter years seemed to be like one of those old trees standing strong in the middle of a storm, having absorbed years of battering from the “elements”. But in the end he died at the age of 71 – hardly a rock ‘n’ roll casualty – but still younger than my mum is now. And despite some pathetic tabloids trying to paint him as a poster boy victim of drug abuse he had been “on the wagon” for a fair while.

There is really no need for me to sum up Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground as most of you reading who are fans will know the backstory already while those who have a merely cursory interest in the fellow will have probably gleaned the relevant information in the many obituaries that were written after his demise.

You will already know that his parents sent him for electro-shock therapy at the age of 17 to “cure” him of his burgeoning, “worrying” homosexuality, that he was part of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and got Andy to paint a cheeky banana on the cover of his band’s debut album, that he was a good mate of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and later championed Antony Hegarty of “and-the-Johnsons” fame), probably took hard drugs and certainly wrote songs about it and hated giving interviews. We all know that John Peel championed The Velvet Underground in their early days because that’s what he did with most culturally important artists.

The fact that his most instantly recognised worldwide hit was about a series of transvestites and / or transexuals and contained a line about “giving head” is to the man’s eternal credit.

It took me YEARS to twig the innuendo in the album title of “Transformer”, which I’d always naívely presumed was some electrical power reference.

lou corn flakes

To be frank, of the man’s relatively ample catalogue, I only own four physical albums of his, although others have resided on my hard-drive for some time, a few extrapolated “for personal use” from record library borrowings.

And yet it is probably in the influence of The Velvet Underground that many of the favourite bands of my teenage self in the 80’s that casts the longest shadow over my music collection.

Of my youthful “holy trinity” of The Smiths, New Order and The Cure, Morrissey has covered Satellite of Love, New Order covered Sister Ray (which they also did as Joy Division) and also performed Do The Ostrich pre-VU Lou band The Primitives (not Tracy Tracy’s band, more on THEM later), while there are photos of Robert Smith with Lou Reed and no doubt Cure performances of Velvet Underground material circulate beyond the realms of YouTube.

It was also through cover versions that I first came into contact with A LOT of Velvet Underground material that I probably didn’t know was actually by them in the first place at the time. Probably because I didn’t purchase “The Velvet Underground and Nico” until decades later, to my eternal shame. Like this wonderful Strawberry Switchblade version of Sunday Morning, probably the first of these aural delights (which you’ve already guessed I am going to catalogue):

Everyone from Ian McCulloch to Siouxsie to Japan to The Wedding Present to Ride to Nirvana to Bryan Ferry and back covered VU songs, and you could probably get a couple of complete compilations of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” with each track covered by a different artist, gleaned from a plethora of B-sides, album tracks, live recording and even the odd single.

Beck even covered the whole damn album.

The Cowboy Junkies‘ beautiful rendition of Sweet Jane is another case in point:

Could the glorious noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain have sounded quite the same without the sonic innovation of Reed, Cale, Tucker, Morrison and sometimes Yule? Although other bands have had a notable influence on UK indie and US “college rock”, I’d wager few would have had the impact on teenage ears if they themselves hadn’t been exposed to The Velvet Underground. Of course Gram and Neil and John and Paul and Alex and Jonathan and all the girl groups also left their mark, but Lou and his bandmates left a bloody great boot print.

Coventry’s recently-reformed Primitives not only nicked their monicker from Lou Reed’s pre- Velvets garage band incarnation (I may have mentioned them earlier) but also introduced my younger self to I’ll Be Your Mirror, another b-side.

As Brian Eno said, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” only sold 30,000 copies when it came out, but everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“.

Even in his post-Velvets solo career, Lou Reed still attracted many a fine cover version.

The House of Love covered I Can’t Stand It to great effect:

Away from the world of indie, Reed’s oeuvre both with and without the Velvet Underground has also been keen sampling fodder.

A Tribe Called Quest‘s lift of a snatch of  Walk on the Wild Side for their breakthrough radio hit Can I Kick It? is probably the most well-known (the entire track is credited to “L.Reed” alone), but Massive Attack, RZA (him out of the Wu-Tang Clan), Del The Funkee Homosapien, LCD Soundsystem and even Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch have sampled Lou Reed’s compositions.

Further afield Japanese artists Pizzicato Five, Takako Minekawa and Kahimi Karie all sampled THE SAME Lou Reed song.

It wasn’t anything off “Metal Machine Music” either.

The most curious Lou Reed sampling though has to come from Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, who managed to match Lou Reed with his future wife Laurie Anderson on a 1990 b-side, a full 18 years before they married in 2008.

For me personally, post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed had its highlights in “New York“: the man’s tribute to the city he loved with all its dirt and crime and seediness (and to his friend the wheelchair-bound songwriter Doc Pomus) and his reunion album with John Cale “Songs For Drella“: a two-man warts-and-all tribute to their late mentor Andy Warhol.

Here’s the whole concert-film-recording thing of “Songs For Drella”, a tremendous record.

I hear “Magic and Loss” is another highlight, but embarrassingly, I’ve yet to hear that in full.

One for the Christmas wishlist there.

So long Lou, and thanks for inventing indie along the way.

Oh, and as we started with Lou Reed subtitled in Spanish, here’s my favourite cover of Walk On The Wild Side, which just happens to be in Spanish as well,

 Courtesy of Albert Plà: