In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Not much can be said about Lou Reed that hasn’t already been said. When he died on October 27 at age 71, Reed left behind an indisputable legacy of influence that dwarfs some of the biggest names in rock and roll. You can ignore him, hate his music or his voice, dislike his politics or his openness with drugs and sexuality, or downplay his role in rock and roll history — but none of that matters. If you chopped down the tree of influence that grew from the roots of Reed and the Velvet Underground, what would come crashing down would take out most of the house of rock and roll as we know it. The leaf you listen to seems to be all its own, but the branches that hold it up are massive.
Reed’s career is so saturated, writing about him is like recording a cover song of what others have already written. If you have read recent recaps of his life, you know that Lester Bangs called him a hero (after a contentious start), and that Brian Eno famously said how everyone who bought the Velvets’ first album started a band. Of course it’s the covers that bring a new light to Reed’s work: R.E.M. (who, surprise, said they formed the band because of him) countrifying “Pale Blue Eyes,” Cowboy Junkies beautifying “Sweet Jane.” U2 recorded a b-side of “Satellite of Love” at arguably their critical and commercial peak, Bono singing a duet to a video of a prerecorded Reed on most of their Zoo TV tour.
After Reed’s death, the tributes started pouring in. So did the covers, from diverse bands such as the Boomtown Rats, the Waterboys, Arcade Fire, Phish, and various amateurs across the globe who uploaded their tributes to YouTube. We’ve picked out some of the best of these posthumous cover songs, which you can listen to below. (After listening to a bazillion covers of “Perfect Day,” popular due to its inclusion in the film Trainspotting, we’re giving that song a well-earned rest.)
My Morning Jacket — Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (Velvet Underground Cover)
My Morning Jacket played this widely blogged cover at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit Concert with Young, Jenny Lewis, Elvis Costello and a stage full of musicians. Drawing on the bluesy original, which might have sounded more at home on a Grateful Dead album, lead singer Jim James keeps the same relaxed vocal style that Doug Yule used on VU’s Loaded.
Amanda Palmer — Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed cover)
Amanda Palmer played this at a recent house party that was part of her successful Kickstarter campaign. Unamplified and bare, Palmer whips the song into domestication with just a piano and some help from her small room of funders.
Moby and Julie Mintz — Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground cover)
Moby’s arrangement takes on a gospel tinge; Mintz’s voice recalls Emmylou Harris in church.
A Rainmaker — Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground cover)
The French band A Rainmaker combines Capucine’s breathy vocal with a Mazzy Star-ish guitar that time-travels the song back to the 20th century.
Mark Lanegan — Satellite of Love (Lou Reed cover)
Lanegan recently performed “Satellite” in Brussels with accompaniment from a small string section. The resulting arrangement is easily one of the most elaborate tributes to come out since Reed’s death.
Bonus: Gov’t Mule decided to do a singalong to “Walk on the Wild Side,” with cue cards and everything, that starts a Lou Reed medley. Check it out:
If you’d like to read Lou Reed’s words instead of just hearing them, Pass Thru Fire: The Collected Lyrics is available on Amazon.