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Monday, 28 October 2013 09:37

Tracing the influence of Lou Reed in 10 great cover songs

Tracing the influence of Lou Reed in 10 great cover songs
Written by Matt Champion

The Velvet Underground only sold 30,000 copies of its first album during its initial release. Brian Eno once said that all 30,000 of the people who bought that original pressing started a band. That quote is often misapplied to Velvet Underground's primary songwriter Lou Reed. But Reed has proven the misapplication correct, influencing many an artist during his post-VU career.

In memory of the man, who recently died at the age of 71, here are 10 Lou Reed songs performed by artists who were influenced by his works. Feel free to chime in on the comments with your picks.

10. Pink Turtle - "Walk on the Wild Side"

Despite "Walk on the Wild Side" being something of a sonic departure from much of Lou Reed's musical output, it has become his signature song. France's Pink Turtle has a knack for taking rock and pop tunes and transforming them into jazz and blues. Here they've taken Reed's bluesy jazz track and given it some Dixieland flavor.

9. Porno for Pyros - "Satellite of Love"

You can hardly call Perry Farrell's vocal delivery monotone, but he gives it his best try in this cover of "Satellite of Love" that Porno for Pyros recorded for the soundtrack to the Jim Carrey film "The Cable Guy." I enjoy that PFP managed to take an already poppy tune and somehow increase the amount of bounce in it.

8. Duran Duran - "Perfect Day"

Masters of '80s synth pop, Duran Duran recorded Reed's "Perfect Day" for "Thank You," an album of cover tunes, back in 1995. Rather than comment I'll just let Lou speak for the cover in his own words, taken from the Duran Duran episode of VH1's "Behind the Music:" "I think Duran Duran's version of 'Perfect Day' is possibly the best rerecording of a song of mine. I'm not sure that I sang it as well as Simon sang it. I think he sings it better than I. If I could've sung it the way he did, I would've. It wasn't from lack of trying. They recorded it the way I meant it, which is a real big thrill for me, so thank you, Duran Duran."

7. R.E.M. - "There She Goes Again"

Originally an outtake from the "Murmur" album sessions, R.E.M. released its version of this Velvet Underground track on the "Dead Letter Office" album. I'd say that it's as faithful to the stripped-down, raw sound of the original as R.E.M. could get while still retaining the band's own sound.

6. Christian Death - "Kill Your Sons"

I think goth rock owes a lot to Lou Reed, who paved the way for monotone vocals and rough-sounding guitars. This cover of "Kill Your Sons" does a good job in repaying some of that debt. I'd stop the video at the 3:14 mark unless you enjoy five-minute-long, plodding, gothic rock.

5. Simple Minds - "Street Hassle"

Another tribute to Reed by an '80s synth band, this track by Simple Minds appears on their 1984 album "Sparkle in the Rain." It's a great example of how well Reed's songs "clean up" by throwing a little polish on them.

4. Blitz - "Vicious"

Yet another track from Lou Reed's "Transformer" album, Blitz's "Vicious" gives the original a hard-edged, punk kick in the pants. This is a great example of how Reed's tunes hold up when given sloppier treatment.

3. Nirvana/The Melvins - "Here She Comes Now" / "Venus in Furs"

In 1991 Nirvana and the Melvins released a split single of Velvet Underground covers. Kurt Cobain's dry delivery of "Here She Comes Now" was a direct descendent of Lou Reed and the jangly pop guitars are reminiscent of Reed's later VU and solo works. The B-side of this single was the Melvins giving "Venus in Furs" the "Metal Machine Music" treatment.

2. David Bowie - "White Light/White Heat"

David Bowie and Mick Ronson produced Reed's "Transformer" which was released in 1972. Bowie and Reed had a falling out during that time and wouldn't work together for another 25 years. That falling out didn't change Bowie's respect for Reed, as you can see and hear in this live version "White Light/White Heat," which takes Reed's coarse rock and buffs it up as smooth but never as slick as a marble statue.

1. Cowboy Junkies - "Sweet Jane"

The Junkies took this poppy tale of two city dwellers and stripped it down into a slow, haunting tale of a single city dweller hoping to escape to a better place. Margo Timmins' voice, coupled with the pared-down groove of the rest of the band, captures the feel of the parts of city life that remain hidden to most, something that Reed always captured so brilliantly.

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