Oct 272023

Go back to the beginning.

35. R.E.M. – There She Goes Again

R.E.M. has always been a band that hasn’t shied away from influences and cover songs, and The Velvets are no exception. “There She Goes Again” was originally the B-side to “Radio Free Europe,” and wound up on Dead Letter Office (along with “Femme Fatale” and “Pale Blue Eyes”). “Listening to this album should be like browsing through a junkshop,” Peter Buck wrote in the liner notes, and like any good junkshop, there were hidden gems to be found. “There She Goes Again” is one of them. – Sean Balkwill

34. Půlnoc – All Tomorrow’s Parties

There was a time when a person could get arrested for owning a Velvet Underground album. (Ironic, considering the band couldn’t get arrested in its lifetime.) It was in Czechoslovakia, during Soviet rule; to make a long story short, Vaclav Havel smuggled a copy of White Light/White Heat home from New York, and it became the soundtrack to the revolution. (Click here for a fuller explanation, and here for Lou Reed’s account of his visit to Czechoslovakia and his interview with Havel.) The band Půlnoc, formed from the ashes of Plastic People of the Universe, was very well versed in the VU’s music; Reed played with them and later said, “It was as if Moe, John and Sterl were right there behind me and it was a glorious feeling.” Their cover of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” shows how infused they were with the music that literally changed history. – Patrick Robbins

33. Phish – Rock and Roll

From Loaded, the most accessible Velvet Underground album, and the last that featured Lou Reed, “Rock & Roll” is a personal song. Reed has acknowledged that “Rock & Roll is about me, If I hadn't heard rock and roll on the radio, I would have had no idea there was life on this planet.” The song is anthemic and even joyful, and it is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. And it is probably not even the best song on the album. In 1998, Phish continued its Halloween tradition of playing a full album cover (which many of us at Cover Me are thankful for when looking for deep track covers) by performing Loaded in its entirety. Their version of “Rock & Roll” is, of course, jammy, and appears to owe a great deal to the extended live version that Reed recorded on his 1974 live set, Rock 'n' Roll Animal. It’s remained an occasional feature in Phish setlists, appearing as recently as last August. – Jordan Becker

32. Emiliana Torrini – Stephanie Says

Lou Reed never sounded as gentle as he did for this smoochy swooner. But Iceland’s Emiliana Torrini is sweeter still. Sticking with the same fingerpicked guitar, there are the faintest chimes of vibraphone in the background. And, let’s just say it was a sensible decision to get rid of the very “of their time” backing vocals. When a delicately choogly rhythm section kicks in for the “So cold in Alaska” lines, it is a good touch. Torrini has performed a fair few covers over the course her solo career, often covering songs by strong female singers like Grace Slick and Sandy Denny, her voice well suited to a declamatory vocal. – Seuras Og

31. Strawberry Switchblade – Sunday Morning

Along with everything else the debut Velvets album did for us, it gave us a proto-goth song of the highest order in the form of “Sunday Morning.” Scottish duo Strawberry Switchblade recognized this all too well in the post-punk world of 1984, when they needed an extra track for the 12″ of their goth-pop masterpiece “Since Yesterday.” Here was Lou Read singing mournfully of deep regret and “all the wasted years.” Here was John Cale bringing the sorrowful sounds of celesta and viola. And here was goth icon Nico (for whom the song was originally intended) lending her none-more-melancholy and icy backing vocals. As such, Rose McDowell and the equally polka-dot-obsessed Jilly Bryson had no radical reinterpreting to do. McDowell simply brought to the song her captivating and vulnerable vocals, and Bryson added her mystical harmonies, on top of a simple guitar and organ backing. The result was dark beauty, indeed! – Adam Mason

30. Mathieu & Pauline – Femme Fatale

Mathieu & Pauline (Aka Mathieu Saikaly and Pauline De Tarragon) are a charming duo based in France. They have released several songs, including this cover, as well as the tune “Dans l’ombre de mes pupilles” (In the Shadow of My Pupils). Whereas The Velvet Underground with Nico’s version of the tune has a distinct sleepy feeling, these two bring an unexpected freshness and levity to the table. The duo kept the ’60s feel and seemed to pepper in some head-turning jazz chords with Matthieu’s guitar lines. Pauline’s vocals are bright and clear, and honestly, they’re far more technically solid than the original. There is a certain level of coyness that comes with this cover that renders it purely irresistible. Just like a “Femme Fatale” – a fatal woman. – Aleah Fitzwater

29. Blind Melon – Candy Says

The first song on The Velvet Underground album was sung by Doug Yule, who had recently replaced John Cale in the band, although it was written by Reed. It’s a quiet, contemplative song about trans actress Candy Darling, a member of Andy Warhol’s Factory, discussing the emotional pain she suffered due to her desire to escape her birth gender. Shannon Hoon, whose promising career with Blind Melon was tragically cut short from an overdose, was a fan of the song, and often performed it. Blind Melon released a more upbeat, loping version on the soundtrack to the movie The Cowboy Way in 1994, and there’s also an excellent acoustic take by the band on the Dutch music show 2 Meter Sessies that’s worth checking out. – Jordan Becker

28. Lone Justice – Sweet Jane

One injustice about Lone Justice is that they are so rarely part of the conversation. But with singer extraordinaire Marie McKee at its front and center, the band broke fresh alt-country ground long before the term “alt-country” was coined. The band could rock hard, too, and they found themselves plucked from L.A.’s bar scene to open for U2 on The Unforgettable Fire tour.

This roaring take on “Sweet Jane” comes from a stop on that tour. Bono’s cameo on the last verse doesn’t make or break the performance (unless you are one to think he can do no wrong, or no right). It’s mostly about McKee’s power. Her voice aims for the nose-bleed seats but it never loses its impish and intimate appeal. Biting guitar work from Tony Gilkyson hits the spot too–his playing taps into the spirit of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal version of “Sweet Jane.” That is, until Bono takes the mic. At that point he channels–who else?–The Edge. – Tom McDonald

27. The Queers – Sunday Morning

The Queers split a covers album with label mates the Manges (who contribute a great punk cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”) and when a punk band follows a Velvet Underground recipe, you make a Teenage Fanclub song. This is a Teenage Fanclub song. And that’s perfectly fine with me. – Sean Balkwill

26. Bryan Ferry – What Goes On

The original “What Goes On” is marked by an end to the lyrics halfway through, with a guitar that charges on for another couple of minutes. In this cover, Bryan Ferry goes for a double feature of Velvet Underground songs to make it to the four-minute mark, mixing in the outro of their song “Beginning to See the Light” to round out the song. The guitar is still an important player, but this one is more rock and less jaunty. – Sara Stoudt

25. Eater – Sweet Jane

Snotty, teenage punks Eater released their one full-length album in 1977 titled (what else but) The Album. It featured not one but two whole VU covers, “Waiting For The Man” and this dirty sweet version of “Sweet Jane.” Reverent and utterly infectious, Eater’s “Jane” is driven by simple, urgent riffage and arranged in a surprisingly neat and orderly fashion for a bunch of fevered young punk lads. And you can still spit and pogo to it. Sweet. – Hope Silverman

24. Joy Division – Sister Ray

Recorded less than two months before Ian Curtis’s death, “Sister Ray” is ten minutes shorter than the VU’s version, and several shades darker besides. The change from frantic to haunted feels natural, and Joy Division drive it home with their trademark intensity. I can’t be the only one who wishes that he could have heard their version of “Louie Louie.” – Patrick Robbins

23. Japan – All Tomorrow’s Parties

By the time of their (modest) breakthrough album Quiet Life, the UK band Japan were pegged as being part of the New Romantic wave, based on their use of synthesizers and the sharp fashion sense they displayed. The band themselves were less happy with the label. Their choices of cover versions indicated what they really loved. One was a cover of “I Second That Emotion,” by Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. The second was this cover of “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which they continued to work on and revise over a number of years. Japan wanted the whole package. The music, the presentation, the threads, the philosophy. Whether from Motown or the Velvets. You could not cosplay art using mere clothes–you had to live it. Lead singer’s David Sylvian’s long, fruitful, journey into the musical left field since those days is an ongoing expression of that.

This version is underpinned by Mick Karn’s fluid fretless bass. In their stage performances of the time Karn would flow across the stage, and his music does so here. It goes where it needs to, but you can’t fathom the steps to get there. The rest of the package is complete, with backing and Sylvian’s tenor moving and exploring at all times, with even some distorted guitars. A tribute and immersion in the Factory. – Mike Tobyn

22. Fontaines D.C. – Black Angel’s Death Song

Fontaines DC brings their punk mindset to this cover as they jack up the speed, drop in pounding drums, and turn the gains to the max on the guitars. Singer Grian Chatten rattles off the lyrics, unceasingly rolling out the words but also hisses and other noises. It’s heavy and intense and, fittingly, feels very much like the perfect example of a death song. – Mike Misch

21. The Black Crowes – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

Rich Robinson has been singing “Oh, Sweet Nuthin’” for years, but it’s these renditions with the Crowes, especially during the Luther Dickinson years, where things get especially great. Highlights in this Fillmore clip have Dickinson slides into “Hey Jude” on his solo, and Rich comes in later to extend this long song to a proper southern jam band length. – Sean Balkwill

The list continues on Page 3.

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  8 Responses to “The 35 Best Velvet Underground Covers Ever”

Comments (8)
  1. Thanks, I’ll look these up.
    The Cowboy Junkies cover of Sweet Jane is worth a listen

  2. Missed Billy Bragg and Courtney Barnett doing Sunday Morning, it’s joyous

  3. Not surprised it got missed (being way down in the radar), but everyone should check out Rachel Sweet’s version of “New Age” from her 2nd album “Protect the Innocent” in 1980.

  4. https://youtu.be/voV_e0IKwzs?si=RDn5USQRaLMecAsB
    the Riats , a dutch band cut this already in 67 or 68
    with spaced-out organ solo

  5. I’m still a huge fan of Dramarama’s Femme Fatale.

  6. I’m a little sad that Elizabeth Mitchell didn’t get a nod in this list. OK, it was on a children’s record, but her cover of What Goes On is just fucking fabulous. Still and quiet and really kind of brutal.

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