Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The Velvet Underground are making one of their regular visits to current-events music magazines, what with the Todd Haynes documentary that wowed Cannes and the impending Hal Willner tribute album. Of course, they’ve never left the annals of influence – not since all those few who bought their first album went out and formed bands.
But it’s their third album we’re going to look at today. A complete one-eighty from White Light / White Heat, the album that preceded it, The Velvet Underground saw Lou Reed embracing his inner balladeer, writing and playing slower and so much sweeter. With Doug Yule replacing the singular John Cale, and with Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker both as simpatico with bucolic Lou as brusque Lou, the band was more united than ever, and just as powerful in a whole new way. (Quick aside: Happy birthday to Maureen Tucker, who turns 77 today, and a moment of silence for Sterling Morrison, who was born one August 29 and died one August 30.)
Despite not making the Billboard charts until sixteen years after its release – and even then, only getting as high as #197 – The Velvet Underground has proven its value to be enduring, connecting with its listeners for over half a century and continuing to send many of them down the path to performing their own songs in the studio and elsewhere. While there, more than a few have taken the opportunity to pay their respects to a band that dared to strike out on their own path, in their own fashion.
Blind Melon – Candy Says (The Velvet Underground cover)
“Candy Says” begins The Velvet Underground not with a bang, but with a whisper. Sung by Yule, the song uses the voice of Warhol superstar Candy Darling to express “a universal feeling I think all of us have at some point,” said Reed. “We look in the mirror and we don’t like what we see…I don’t know a person alive who doesn’t feel that way.” This may account for why the song sounds as good as it does in whatever threads it tries on. For instance, Blind Melon gave it an alt-country lope, with Shannon Hoon in peak keening form. Result: Candy moves from NYC to the midwest, without once sounding a thousand miles away from home.
Texas – What Goes On (The Velvet Underground cover)
On the 1969: Live with Lou Reed album, “What Goes On” is nine minutes of transcendence (if you’ve never heard it, enjoy). It takes some guts to do a live cover of it, but the Scottish band Texas has guts to spare. Their cover is just too big to stand in anyone’s shadow.
Annabelle Chvostek Ensemble – Some Kinda Love (The Velvet Underground cover)
In 2008, Toronto’s Annabelle Chvostek took a blast of feedback during a soundcheck. The damage it did to her ears left her having to create at a slower and quieter pace. Fortunately, it didn’t lead to any lessening of the quality of her work, as her cover of “Some Kinda Love” proves. Reminiscent of the “closet mix” of the original, it will make your eyes moist more than it will make you recoil.
The Kills – Pale Blue Eyes (The Velvet Underground cover)
Arguably the centerpiece of The Velvet Underground, “Pale Blue Eyes” tells the story of an adulterous affair with true delicacy, and ranks as one of Reed’s finest songs. The Kills’ cover has a little more aggression to it, but that’s truly truly not a sin. The song has the intensity of a gathering storm, and is just as likely to linger on.
David Sanborn – Jesus (The Velvet Underground cover)
We’ve talked about “Jesus” here before. In fact, the challenge here became tracking down another cover and finding it worthy. Mission accomplished, thanks to David Sanborn. The jazz saxophonist performed this instrumental cover on 1991’s Another Hand, and if the song was an unexpected presence on a jazz album, Sanborn made it sound like it belonged there.
Factrix – Beginning to See the Light (The Velvet Underground cover)
Factrix was a California band of the postpunk years; bands would emulate their experimental industrial sound without realizing it was Factrix they were emulating. Their cover of “Beginning to See the Light” sounds like it would make a better fit on the VU’s second album than their third.
Sugartown – I’m Set Free (The Velvet Underground cover)
The Scottish band Sugartown pull of a remarkable feat with their cover of “I’m Set Free.” They make it sound as though Reed wrote it in 2005, not 1969, for a young 21st century Velvet Underground. It doesn’t hurt that Sugartown includes a sly quote from “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Too, vocalist Gwen Stewart has an ideal voice for the song, and she uses it beautifully here.
Lesa Aldridge – That’s the Story of My Life (The Velvet Underground cover)
Lesa Aldridge is a footnote in rock history, but a significant one – she was Alex Chilton’s girlfriend and muse in the ’70s, inspiring his work on Big Star’s third album (sometimes called Sister Lovers, as drummer Jody Stephens was dating Lesa’s sister). She also gets the credit for introducing him to the Velvet Underground. He returned the favor by playing on her cover of “That’s the Story of My Life,” a ramshackle, barely-there performance that serves as one-third of Aldridge’s complete discography.
Medicine 8 – Mystery Murdered (The Velvet Underground cover)
“The Murder Mystery” is The Velvet Underground‘s very own “Revolution 9.” Like the Beatles before them, the band recorded eight-plus minutes of experimentation and had it serve as the penultimate track, one that proved the most eminently skippable song on the album. But it does have its defenders and embracers. Two of them are brothers Luke and Liam May, who as Medicine 8 brought their alt-acid house stylings to “The Murder Mystery.” Less a cover than an interpolation, it also served as an improvement to no less a listener than Lou Reed. “One time,” he said in an interview, “this band called Medicine 8 sent me a new version of a track that only a Velvet Underground aficionado would know existed. They did it so much better than I did and I love when that happens.”
Ingrid Lucia and The Flying Neutrinos – After Hours (The Velvet Underground cover)
Maureen Tucker sang “After Hours” at Lou Reed’s insistence; he felt her little warble more appropriate than his streetwise sneer. It was the right move. She makes the super-lonely lyrics far more than bearable–now they’re flat-out sweet. The song has become a favorite way for bands to close their final encore of the night; the White Stripes did an especially sweet version. But I was very taken with Ingrid Lucia and the Flying Neutrinos’ cover from their 2000 album The Hotel Child. They give “After Hours” the New Orleans jazz treatment, and it’s almost no surprise how well it adapts. After all, if there’s a city that knows about people dancing and having such fun and looking well in the dark, it’s got to be New Orleans.