Sep 142011

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Andy Warhol’s vision of the perfect rock band, The Velvet Underground wrote the book on cool. With Nico, their aloof European vocalist, and the dark lyrics of Lou Reed, they were fixtures in Warhol’s Factory scene. When Warhol suggested that Reed should write a song about fellow Factory scenestress Edie Sedgwick, youthquaker, socialite, and all-around trouble with a capital T, Reed asked what kind of song. Warhol said, “Oh, don’t you think she’s a femme fatale, Lou?” Of such conversations are deathless works of art made.

First released on the Velvet Underground’s debut in 1967 and first sung by you-can’t-spell-Teutonic-without Nico, “Femme Fatale” was as mysterious and seductive as the female archetype it was named for. Much like its subject, the song drew flocks of entranced artists. Artists like…

Tracey Thorn – Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)

Tracey Thorn, who was all of 19 years old when she covered “Femme Fatale” on 1982’s A Distant Shore. Her voice may not have the chanteusian chill of Nico’s, but its spare warmth combines well with the delicate acoustic guitars to give it the sound of a favorite around moody campfires everywhere.

Elvis Costello – Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)

Elvis Costello, who has matured from Angry Young Punk into a curator of the 20th century songbook. He’s proven willing to try his hand at every genre, from Tin Pan Alley to the Brill Building; a side trip to Warhol’s Factory building for a Velvet Underground song is a natural part of his journey. His take on the song, from 2009’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, has an Americana flavor, with just a small clove of Gallic.

Beck – Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)

Beck, whose Record Club series we’ve talked about before. On his complete cover of the Velvet Underground & Nico album, he walks a tightrope between faithful recreations and shambling reworkings, both of which serve both the song and the artist well. He makes “Femme Fatale” sound like a genius falling down the stairs at quarter of five in the morning.

Girl in a Coma – Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)

Girl in a Coma, a Tex/Mex all-girl trio who have a San Antonio-Smiths kind of thing going on. Their Adventures in Coverland album was one of the best covers albums to come out in 2010; you may remember when we wrote about their throwing the Ramones, Joan Jett, and Ritchie Valens in a blender and serving up a nice tall glass of “Come On, Let’s Go.” Here, they give “Femme Fatale” the power pop-punk treatment we all know it always deserved.

Aloe Blacc – Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)

…and Aloe Blacc, who did a neo-soul remake of “Femme Fatale” on 2010’s Good Things that, unbelievably, turned it into a whole new song. Blacc brings back the mystery, singing the words not like he loves the Velvet Underground, but like he’s been in this situation before. It brings a whole new set of roots to the “Femme Fatale” tree, assuring us that she’s going to smile just to make us frown for years to come.

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  6 Responses to “Five Good Covers: Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground)”

Comments (6)
  1. How could you leave out Owen’s cover of the song, which, in my humble opinion, outshines all of the above?

  2. Believe me, he was ascloseasthis to being in; if this article was called “Six Good Covers,” he would have been on there. The power of eenie-meanie is a terrible thing.

  3. Just wanted to share an Israeli artist’s version of the song (sung in Hebrew), which I quite like.

  4. Seems very odd not to mention Alex Chilton/Big Star’s version….

  5. Really should have included Duran Duran’s cover as well.

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