Oct 272023

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20. Cabaret Voltaire – Here She Comes Now

Nirvana win the prize for the most well-known cover of “Here She Comes Now” because they’re, well, Nirvana. But Cabaret Voltaire, those influential post-punk pioneers of British electronic music, offered the most adventurous take on probably the most conventionally structured of White Light/White Heat songs in 1978. The band lent the track some unspeakably weird and freaky synth noises which, combined with the sinister way in which Richard H. Kirk delivered the mystifying lyrics about a girl being “made out of wood,” made for a nightmarish piece of work. Fittingly, they put it on their debut EP of 1978 and used it as a springboard into an unchartered world of cutting-edge analog synthesizers, ferocious guitar work, and primitive drumming. – Adam Mason

19. Alejandro Escovedo – Pale Blue Eyes

The tale as old as time, unrequited love. The universality of it does not make it any less impactful in the hands of a skilled poet, who can always bring new insights from their period and art form. Reed’s tale of his love for Shelley Albin resonates for its raw simplicity. Bringing his exquisite guitar work to the piece, Escovedo brings the female protagonist directly into the story. With Kelly Hogan as the foil, Escovedo can add the proximity of his love, despite her still being unavailable, to the emotional mix. John Cale worked with Escovedo to explore his avant rock side for his classic album The Broken Mirror, but here we have are in country-influenced ballad territory, reliant on the musicianship of a maestro and the vocals of a lost couple. Escovedo joked that he had spent a career “ripping off” John Cale, but Cale was more than willing to help his friend when a tribute album was required to help pay his medical expenses. – Mike Tobyn

18. Ralph Stanley – White Light/White Heat

There is something that is just so affecting about the frailty that ekes out of every pore of Ralph Stanley’s rendition here, one of the select few singers to take full advantage of their age-faded tone. Whether producer Nick Cave ever let on to the God-fearing 85-year-old quite what the song was about, who knows, but the performance is stunning. His quavering voice wobbles all over the delivery, with just a solitary guitar backing. “The Old Rugged Cross” it ain’t, and it comes from the soundtrack of the film Lawless, an amiable romp about prohibition and bootleg liquor. With the OST helmed by Cave and his usual sidekick, Warren Ellis, there are a fair few other listenable covers there, songs by Townes Van Zandt, Link Wray and John Lee Hooker. Stanley also gets to cover Captain Beefheart, should we ever get around to featuring him in this series. – Seuras Og

17. Elizabeth Cook – Sunday Morning

“Sunday Morning” has a comfy-cozy sounding song with a secret urgency in the lyrics. The element of whimsy remains in this cover, but the tinkly music box accompaniment is traded for a fiddle. Although the song is not overtly country in style, there are folkish elements that permeate, including the old western rhythm to the guitar strums and the drawl on “wasted year,” that comes out like “way-sted”. – Sara Stoudt

16. The Runaways – Rock and Roll

Really, we could just as easily have put the Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels version of “Rock And Roll” here, as the Runaways copied their arrangement pretty much note for note. But there’s just something about picturing teenaged Joan Jett turning on an L.A. station one fine morning to discover the sound that would save her life. For one thing, you absolutely believe that it happened. For another, it really is fine, fine music. – Patrick Robbins

15. Meat Purveyors – What Goes On

“What Goes On,” the only single from the first post-John Cale VU self-titled album, is a pretty upbeat, peppy tune, and it is much covered (as you can see, in part, from this list). Austin’s Meat Purveyors did not sell brisket, but instead slung bluegrass with a rock and roll attitude, and their cover careens at a breakneck pace, sending the quintessential New York band’s sound south of the Mason-Dixon line. – Jordan Becker

14. Glen Campbell – Jesus

This earnest cover of The Velvet’s “Jesus” isn’t the weirdest or most off-kilter title living within the immense list of religiously-themed songs Glen Campbell ever recorded (that’d be the 1969 instrumental cover/shred-fest that is “Hava Nagila”), but it is one of the absolute best. Written by Lou Reed and Doug Yule, “Jesus” is highly interpretable depending on your personal beliefs i.e. Reed says it was more about the act of searching as opposed to a specific religion or deity. Still, the song’s simple lyrical beauty and title have ensured that any spiritually-driven artists looking for a certifiably cool cover are gorgeously covered. While the VU version is understated and whispery, Campbell’s is a trademark ball of sweet acoustic sunshine full of sweet pickin’ (naturally) and a handsome-as-Glen-himself vocal. – Hope Silverman

13. Joseph Arthur – Stephanie Says

Joseph Arthur counted Lou Reed as a personal friend, someone he turned to in times of trouble. And there were troubles. Reed’s death hit the singer-songwriter hard. Arthur’s response was to record and release Lou, a loving tribute album to his hero and pal; it consisted of Arthur’s (mostly) acoustic takes on Reed’s work.

The Velvets recorded “Stephanie Says” in 1968, but it remained unreleased until 1985. Arthur highlights its lullaby-gentle melody. For a song that deals with emotional distance, there’s a lot of genial warmth in this performance. Shedding the ironic detachment of the original, Arthur is present and attentive; he seems less interested in Stephanie as a character than in the enigmatic mind of her creator. – Tom McDonald

12. Anohni – Candy Says

“When (Anohni) sings,” Lou Reed said, “it is the most exquisite thing that you will hear in your life.” Reed did everything he could to introduce Anohni to the world, most notably featuring her vocals in live performances of “Candy Says.” The song was about Candy Darling, who appeared on the cover of Anohni’s second album I Am a Bird Now; clearly, the lyrics resonated. When Reed passed, Anohni said, “I have never felt so perceived and loved for who I actually am by a man than by Lou Reed.” – Patrick Robbins

11. Tracey Thorn – Femme Fatale

Almost a gentle bossa nova in the original, who better than Tracey Thorn to cover this one, bearing in mind the original style of Everything But The Girl long before they went huge with drum’n’bass electronica. Actually preceding EBTG, this is just guitars and voice, sone double tracking to add further ennui. A voice that has been described as being on the icier side of cool, Thorn has the perfect vehicle to bring a touch of distant emotion into this lovely song. Little is tinkered with, melodywise, other than to concentrate on the voice rather than the arrangement. – Seuras Og

The list continues on Page 4.

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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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