May 042012

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

When the third album by the Velvet Underground came out, the few people who had bought their last two albums and expected more of the same were stunned at what they heard. Lou Reed was determined not to lead a one-dimensional band, and with the poppier-minded Doug Yule taking over John Cale’s duties, they took a soft left turn and became a kinder, gentler quartet. Perhaps no cut better exemplified this change than side one’s closer, “Jesus.” Barely a year after the seventeen-minute cacophony of “Sister Ray,” Reed used just fifteen words to ask for help from above. The song’s delicacy may not hit as hard as a shot of “Heroin,” but its message goes deeper and stays a lot longer.

The bands that cover “Jesus” have a near-blank canvas to work with; any of their elaborations will quickly stamp their own imprint on the song. Witness these five versions, which prove that Reed’s prayer to a higher power resonated in many ears, and in many different ways.

Voice of the Beehive – Jesus (The Velvet Underground cover)

Voice of the Beehive were a part of the wave of late ’80s Anglo-pop bands with cool, sweet female voices (Primitives, Darling Buds, et al). Here, they start off with the gentility of the original “Jesus,” then add a marching drumbeat for gathering intensity and an “I’m Waiting For The Man” reference that works a lot better than it should.

Glen Campbell – Jesus (The Velvet Underground cover)

Glen Campbell is currently dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, which adds more than a hint of sadness to his last couple albums. Thankfully, both are filled with excellent work. 2008’s Meet Glen Campbell features a cover of “Jesus” that makes it the ideal recipient of the rich country-pop sound so identified with Campbell; anyone who comes to this song looking for ironic laughs will have to pay their respects and look elsewhere.

Caroline Henderson – Jesus (The Velvet Underground cover)

Caroline Henderson is a Scandinavian jazz singer; she gives “Jesus” the feel of a cool, attentive nightclub, arguably taking away some of the song’s vulnerability, but none of its inherent power.

Swervedriver – Jesus (The Velvet Underground cover)

Recorded 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 commonly associated with the Velvets, and doesn’t suffer one iota for it.

The Welcome Wagon – Jesus (The Velvet Underground cover)

The Welcome Wagon are a duo from Brooklyn – Presbyterian minister Vito Aiuto and his lovely wife Monique. Their first album, 2008’s Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, has Sufjan Stevens’s fingerprints all over it — he produced it, performed on it, released it on his Asthmatic Kitty label, and infused it with indie cred — but what comes through in the end is the Aiutos’ true testament of faith. Their version of “Jesus” may be the most spiritual one here; it carries a different kind of conviction than any of the others could ever really know.

The third Velvet Underground album can and should be found on iTunes and Amazon.

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  2 Responses to “Five Good Covers: Jesus (The Velvet Underground)”

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  1. Lou Reed also did it solo with The Blind Boys of Alabama

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