12 Great Covers of Lou Reed Songs
One of the greatest homages one musician can pay another is to perform one of their songs. As this list of Lou Reed covers demonstrates, the Velvet Underground and solo star was clearly one of the most respected and covered songwriters in all of rock music. The wide range of acts he and his work have inspired — and the variety of shapes they successfully bend and twist his songs into — speaks volumes about his talent. Here then are but a mere handful of interpretations of Reed classics, from the Velvet Underground days through his solo recordings.
Recorded live in 1974, this medley from Cheap Trick of ‘Waiting For The Man’ and ‘Heroin’ may come as a surprise to some. But in their early years playing the bar scene, the band often included an interesting variety of covers. On this one, the vocal duties are handed off to bassist Tom Petersson, who gives it his all, and comes up a winner.
In 1972, David Bowie was busy saving the careers of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople. Fitting then, that Mott should dip into the Reed songbook for a killer rendition of the Velvets’ ‘Sweet Jane’ to adorn their classic ‘All The Young Dudes’ album. Ian Hunter and company capture the vibe of the original, but manage to give it their own flavor.
Bowie’s love for Lou Reed was always shouted loud and proud, especially during the Ziggy Stardust era. Concerts from the Ziggy tour featured this rousing take on the VU classic ‘White Light White Heat’ which Bowie truly made his own. Be sure to check Mick Ronson’s blistering guitar work — talk about white heat!
U2 tackled this ‘Transformer’-era Lou Reed gem for the B-side of their 1992 ‘One’ single — and what a nice job they did. The song has been one of Reed’s most covered tracks over the years, with a wide variety of acts — including Perry Farrell — putting their name to it. Out of all those renditions, U2’s stands pretty tall. On the ‘Zoo TV’ Tour that followed, an on-stage duet would take place nightly between Bono and a pre-recorded Reed.
How do you get from New York to L.A. by way of Detroit? Ask the Runaways. On their legendary 1975 debut album, the ladies tear through a rousing version of the Velvets’ ‘Rock And Roll.’ The arrangement actually comes from a version done up by none other than Mitch Ryder, whose band Detroit recorded their own take on their one and only album.
OK, we’re cheating a bit — that guy on the left playing guitar and singing lead looks awfully familiar, right? But much more so than the seemingly intentionally perverse ‘Lulu,’ this live performance shows just how much Metallica loved Lou Reed and Velvet Underground.
The songbook of the Velvet Underground has long been a favorite for other artists to plunder, and R.E.M. might have dipped into the well more than any other group. The Athens-based band never made their love of Reed’s songs a secret, including songs like ‘There She Goes Again,’ ‘Femme Fatale’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ for the B-sides of their singles. Their take on ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ rates as one of their best.
Much like the Velvet Underground, Big Star recorded a mere handful of albums in their short existence, but those albums would inspire countless other bands along the way. It’s only fitting, then, that they would include a Reed number on their legendary and oh so wonderful ‘Third’ album. Dare we say, this take may be the definitive version of the song.
‘Venus In Furs’
Psychedelic groove rockers Monster Magnet know a thing or two about getting into a heavy trance-like vibe. On their 2004 album ‘Monolithic Baby!’ Dave Wyndorf and crew put their paws all over this classic from VU’s groundbreaking debut. They make it their own, but always remember to keep the original’s “dark side of ’67” vibe alive.
On their 1995 covers album, Duran Duran put together an impressive playlist of inspirations ranging from Bob Dylan to Grandmaster Flash. Somewhere in between we find a spot-on cover of another of Reed’s more durable songs, ‘Perfect Day’ which made for quite possibly the highlight of the album.
‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’
In the early ’80s, a cluster of Los Angeles-based bands heavily indebted to the sounds of the ’60s became tagged as the “Paisley Underground.” An album, ‘Rainy Day,’ that featured members of several of these bands, including the Three O’ Clock, Rain Parade and Bangles, was released featuring songs that inspired them. One of the highlights of the album is without question this take on ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror,’ originally sung by Nico on the first Velvets album. Bangle Susana Hoffs take the lead here and more than does it justice.
Lou Reed was infamous for making sudden left turns creatively, without any regard for the commercial ramifications. So as much as most people disliked Idol’s 1993 techno-heavy cover of this song — and we’re pretty sure one of our writers might quit in protest over this — we think if nothing else the song’s author would admire how big of a chance the ‘Rebel Yell’ star took with this one.