Apr 062012

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Heaven & Hell, Volume 1 was the first of three tributes to The Velvet Underground released by the Imaginary label. They regularly used tributes as a way to move product, averaging three a year and paying homage to cult artists like Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart, and (unusually for 1992) Nick Drake. They were guaranteed sellers to tiny, rabid fanbases, and brought attention to the label’s own artists besides. But with H&HV1, they tapped into a richer vein than usual, and they landed one band that was ascloseasthis to superstardom.

James – Sunday Morning (The Velvet Underground cover)

Just starting to come into their own when they recorded “Sunday Morning,” James’ recording is a highlight of their own career as well as the album. One reviewer felt they ought to be “smacked” for turning the end into a medley of Velvet Underground titles, but today it comes across as an expression of true appreciation, rather than some kind of kitsch.

Buffalo Tom – All Tomorrow’s Parties (The Velvet Underground cover)

Buffalo Tom spent the first half of the nineties as rock’s Next Big Thing; their signature moment of the decade may have been when their song “Late at Night” played over the greatest scene in My So-Called Life. If they never quite snagged the brass ring, at least they had a lot of golden moments. One of these is “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which loses the insistent piano from the original and has a power that owes nothing whatsoever to the Velvets.

The Wedding Present – She’s My Best Friend (The Velvet Underground cover)

Known for loud, fast strumming and David Gedge’s barking vocals, The Wedding Present gave a performance of “She’s My Best Friend” that was an unexpected treat. Gedge sings in the barest near-whisper, and the band turns their amps from eleven to about four, turning what was already a quiet song into one so delicate it approaches ethereality.

Screaming Trees – What Goes On (The Velvet Underground cover)

Imaginary also dipped into the Pacific Northwest for a couple of bands. One, Screaming Trees, give “What Goes On” some thunder, somehow making it heavier without weighing it down. Were it not for friction within the band, they could have been more than contenders, but as it was, they’re now known as godfathers of grunge, which is certainly better than not being known at all.

Nirvana – Here She Comes Now (The Velvet Underground cover)

Ah, but that other Pacific Northwest band… they’re the primary reason why the album is still remembered. Nirvana, recording demos in April of 1990, agreed to cut “Here She Comes Now” for the record, despite the fact that drummer Chad Channing had never heard it (a couple months after recording this, he was out of the band). Bassist Krist Novoselic later said, “We had never played that song before and we hardly ever played it after. We just kind of hashed it out. We did that song in one take.” That one take features the quiet-to-loud aesthetic that became the band’s trademark, and Kurt Cobain’s anguished howl that would, eighteen months after recording this track, conquer the world.

The complete track listing:

Chapterhouse – “Lady Godiva’s Operation”
The Telescopes – “Candy Says”
Nirvana – “Here She Comes Now”
The Wedding Present – “She’s My Best Friend”
Buffalo Tom – “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
James – “Sunday Morning”
Screaming Trees – “What Goes On”
The Motorcycle Boy – “Run Run Run”
Terry Bickers/Bradleigh Smith – “I’m Set Free”
Ride – “European Son”

Out-of-print copies of Heaven & Hell, Volume One can be found on Amazon. They also offer Unpiecing the Jigsaw, which collects all three volumes of Heaven & Hell in one package.

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  6 Responses to “Cover Classics: Heaven & Hell: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground – Volume One”

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  1. […] as part of the Heaven and Hell series we’ve talked about before, “Jesus,” in Swervedriver’s hands, takes on an urban-landscape sound more […]

  2. […] were themselves destined to remain cult favorites; no future jackpots here like there were on Imaginary Records’ first Velvet Underground tribute. Instead, devotees expressed their devotion to other devotees, resulting in an album that was […]

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