While discussing the impact of 1967's The Velvet Underground & Nico, the debut album by the influential Lou Reed-led group, Brian Eno acknowledged in a 1982 interview that the album had only sold 30,000 copies, but added "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."
You might add that everyone that started one of those bands went on to cover a Velvet Underground or Lou Reed song.
In tribute to Reed, who died Sunday of liver disease, here's a look back at some of the greatest covers of his songs.
"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'," Neil Young & Friends
On the same day that Reed died, an allstar cast of musicians gathered onstage at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts in Mountain View, California and paid homage to Reed. As an introduction to this allstar rendition of "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'," originally recorded by the Velvets for their 1970 album Loaded, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James calls Reed "one of the greatest composers/musicians/artists that ever walked the face of the earth." He's joined by Young, Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis, and others. Even Lou would be proud.
"Pale Blue Eyes," R.E.M.
The roots of R.E.M. lie in Athens, Georgia's Wuxtry Records, where guitarist Peter Buck worked. He'd turn customer and future R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe on to seminal recordings, among them were titles by the Velvet Underground. Early in their career, R.E.M. released versions of four different Velvet Underground tunes as B-sides of singles and frequently name dropped the Velvets in interviews, turning a whole new generation onto the band and Reed. Here's a folksy live take of "Pale Blue Eyes." The Velvet's version was first featured on 1969's The Velvet Underground. R.E.M. first released it as the B-side of "So. Central Rain" 12-inch single and later turned up on the compilation Dead Letter Office.
"Femme Fatale," Big Star
In a sense, Big Star and the Velvet Underground were kindred spirits. Both bands were commercial failures whose influence and legend has grown over the years. Big Star did a strikingly beautiful version of "Femme Fatale" on their troubled lost album, Third/Sister Lovers. The Velvets first released "Femme Fatlale" on their 1967 debut with Nico handling lead vocals. Here Alex Chilton flips the script with a vulnerable reading that's every bit as classic.
"White Light /White Heat," David Bowie
Reed had a huge impact on David Bowie. Some say that his influence was directly responsible for the creation of Bowie's famed alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. In fact, Bowie's cover of the Velvet's "White Light/White Heat" was a highlight of Bowie's Ziggy-era shows and remained in his repertoire through the next century.
"Sweet Jane," Cowboy Junkies
Before the icy cool of Lana Del Rey and even Hope Sandoval and Mazzy Star, there was Margo Timmins and the Cowboy Junkies. Their hypnotic 1988 take of this Velvets tune may make you feel like nodding off, but you'll drift off with a smile on your face.
"Sweet Jane," Metallica with Lou Reed
If you found the Cowboy Junkies' version a bit sleepy, this'll wake you up. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Show in 2009, Reed turned up to do "Sweet Jane" backed by Metallica. The unlikely pairing would later record what — as of now — is Reed's final release, 2011's Lulu, a collection that garnered Reed his worst reviews since his 1975 exercise in noise experimentalism, Metal Machine Music. Say what you will about it, but at the very least Reed wasn't afraid to take chances, almost to the very end.
"Here She Comes Now," Nirvana
You've probably noticed that some of the greatest and most influential rock acts of the four decades were influenced by Reed and the Velvet Underground. You can count Kurt Cobain and Nirvana among them. Their version of "Here She Comes Now" was included on the 1994 Velvet Underground tribute album 15 Minutes, which also featured covers by such notables as James, Echo & the Bunnymen, Screaming Trees, and Ride. Here's Nirvana performing a blistering take live in 1991.
"Sunday Morning," Beck and friends
Beck even went further than R.E.M. in covering the Velvet Underground. In 2010, he and a group of friends covered The Velvet Underground and Nico in its entirely for his Record Club project. Here's their beautiful take of "Sunday Morning," which only seems appropriate because that's when most of the world learned of Reed's death.
"Rock and Roll," Detroit
Way back in 1971, Mitch Ryder scored a minor album-rock with his band Detroit on this funky cover of "Rock and Roll." Here's Ryder and company performing it in 1979 on the German TV show "Live at Rockpalast."
"Wildside," Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
Whoa. I know what you're thinking. We just jumped the shark, but this track — not a cover per se, but a song that heavily samples Reed's biggest hit, "Walk On The Wild Side" — is worth of inclusion for two reason. First, Reed confirmed in a 1992 interview with Entertainment Weekly that he "approved it ." Secondly, Reed, the ultimate New York street poet, was a fan of hip-hop. In fact, one of the last things we saw from Reed was his rave review of Kanye West's Yeezus, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
"Satellite of Love," U2 with Lou Reed
When the biggest band in the world (at the time) covers your song, sometimes you just have to turn up and do it with them, even if it means being piped in via video. Here's U2 on their Zoo TV tour doing "Satellite of Love" with Lou himself chiming in as if from the heavens.
"Perfect Day," Lou Reed, Bono, Dr. John, Elton John, David Bowie & others
Another allstar collaboration with the caliber of artists involved confirming Reed's legend. This cover of Reed's 1972 song was recorded and released in 1997 for a charity single and ended up topping the U.K. singles chart. Duran Duran also had a minor British hit with the song in 1995, and Reed liked the tune so much, he recorded another version for his 2003 album The Raven.
Now that you've been inspired, get off your computer and go out and form a band! RIP, sweet Lou.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Lou Reed
- Velvet Underground
- David Bowie