It’s been a few weeks now since Lou Reed passed away, and tributes to the legendary artist keep rolling in. The sheer volume of bands who chose to honor the late Velvet Underground frontman by covering one of his songs inspired us to revisit some of our favorites from over the years. Thus, without further ado, we give you 25 great Lou Reed/Velvet Underground covers.
25. Glen Campbell, “Jesus”
This one illustrates just how far outside of his wheelhouse Reed’s influence extended. Here the rhinestone cowboy himself does a straight country take on this track off of The Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album.
24. Yo La Tengo, “I’m Set Free”
Released on their rarities compilation, Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo, Ira Kaplan and company’s rendition of “I’m Set Free” remains pretty true to the Velvet Underground original.
23. Karen Elson, “Vicious”
Like Campbell, Karen Elson’s not someone you’d initially expect to be covering Lou Reed. But here she is delivering a surprisingly great cover of Transformer’s opening track, recorded for Record Store Day 2011.
22. Black Lips, Bradford Cox, BBQ, “Run Run Run”
“Run Run Run” is the perfect Velvet Underground song for the Black Lips, and their cover of it is exactly what you’d want from them: a driving good time threatening to fall apart at any moment.
21. The Feelies, “What Goes On”
The Feelies recorded this The Velvet Underground track and used it to close their own third album, Only Life.
20. Arctic Monkeys, “Walk on the Wild Side”
Swap out New York City for Sheffield, England, and the pimps, prostitutes and other victims of circumstance who inhabit your average Arctic Monkeys song (“When the Sun Goes Down,” especially) start to sound a lot like the characters you’d meet in a Lou Reed track. Their recent cover of “Walk on the Wild Side,” then, is a total no-brainer.
19. Rainy Day, “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
This Paisley Underground supergroup—comprised of members of Dream Syndicate, The Bangles, Rain Parade and The Three O’Clock—released just one album, a covers record paying tribute to all of their influences. Here, Susanna Hoffs handles lead vocals, bringing a gorgeous earnesty to the The Velvet Underground + Nico track.
18. Those Darlins, “White Light/White Heat”
have been playing this VU classic on their current tour, and frontwoman Jessi Darlin performs the hell out of it, pulling all the necessary faces and incorporating some delightfully manic body language (all of which, to be fair, are staples of any Those Darlins show).
17. Morrissey, “Satellite of Love”
They shared a reputation for being cranky, but beyond that, Lou Reed and Morrissey are both among the greatest talents of their respective generations, and Morrissey’s affinity for Reed can be heard as he tackles his solo song “Satellite of Love.”
16. of Montreal, “She’s My Best Friend”
Kevin Barnes and company’s take on this tune leans much closer to the Velvet Underground original outtake (released on VU) than the version Reed released on his 1976 solo album, Coney Island Baby.
15. Jim James, Neil Young, Elvis Costello and more, “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”
After receiving news of Reed’s death earlier that day, Neil Young closed his annual Bridge School Benefit on Oct. 27 with this Loaded track. James’ vocals in particular are heartbreaking.
14. Patti Smith, “Perfect Day”
Punk’s high priestess recorded her own rendition of Reed’s “Perfect Day” while working on Twelve, her covers album. It didn’t make the cut for the record, but thankfully it was later released on her Two More EP. (Sidenote: if you haven’t read Smith’s tribute to Reed in The New Yorker yet, check it out here)
13. The Kills, “Pale Blue Eyes”
The Kills are no strangers to the Velvet Underground catalog; they’ve also recorded solid covers of I’m Set Free and Venus in Furs. But their take on “Pale Blue Eyes” is the one that’ll stop you in your tracks.
12. Roky Erickson, “Heroin”
Roky Erickson’s had his own share of very public struggles, and on “Heroin” the former 13th Floor Elevators frontman swaps the slow build of the original for a balls-to-the-wall interpretation that…well, kinda rocks.
11. The Decemberists, “I’m Sticking With You”
On Always the Bridesmaid: A Singles Series, Colin Meloy and Jenny Conlee share vocal duties for the Velvet Underground’s most sweetly accessible track. Their version manages to be cute without veering off into saccharine territory.
10. Antony and the Johnsons, “Candy Says”
Antony Hegarty’s stunning version of “Candy Says” actually received the Lou Reed stamp of approval; the pair has performed it together, and Hegarty was a backup vocalist on Reed’s Animal Serenade tour.
9. The Runaways, “Rock N Roll”
The Runaways included this Loaded track on their 1976 self-titled debut, with Joan Jett handling lead vocals. Cherie Currie takes over lead vox on the Live in Japan version the band released the following year.
8. Beck, “Venus in Furs”
It’s tough to determine which of Beck’s Velvet Underground covers is best when there are so many to choose from; in 2009, he recorded a track-for-track cover of The Velvet Underground + Nico as part of his Record Club project. All of the songs are absolutely worth digging into, but you can’t go wrong with his take on “Venus in Furs.”
7. Joy Division, “Sister Ray”
This was recorded live at London’s Moonlight Club on April 2, 1980. At the track’s end, Ian Curtis can be heard joking “You should hear our version of ‘Louie Louie.’” Tragically, he’d be dead a little over a month later.
6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
Nick Cave’s gloomy baritone makes an excellent substitute for Nico’s German drone on this version of “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” which appears on the band’s Kicking Against the Pricks album.
5. Nirvana, “Here She Comes Now”
This version of the White Light/White Heat track was recorded in 1991 as part of a split single with The Melvins, who contributed their own insane cover of “Venus in Furs.”
4. Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane”
This The Trinity Session track wound up becoming Cowboy Junkies’ biggest single. They slow things down, basing their performance on the 1969: The Velvet Underground Live version instead of the one that appears on Loaded, giving Margo Timmins’ lovely vocals the room they need to breathe.
3. David Bowie, “I’m Waiting For The Man”
The admiration and respect David Bowie and Lou Reed shared should be obvious. Bowie—who produced Reed’s Transformer—has incorporated plenty of Reed’s songs into his live act over the years and cited him as a major influence. (Cameron Crowe pokes fun at this in Almost Famous, when Lester Bangs asks young William Miller “You like Lou Reed?” to which he responds “The early stuff. In his new stuff he’s trying to be Bowie, but he should just be himself.” Then, later in the movie, as if challenging William, it’s his cover of “I’m Waiting for the Man” rather than of any of his original material playing during the Bowie scene.)
2. R.E.M., “Pale Blue Eyes”
R.E.M.’s Dead Letter Office includes not one, not two, but three Velvet Underground covers. “Femme Fatale” and “There She Goes Again” are both great in their own right, but their gorgeous version of “Pale Blue Eyes” is the one we keep coming back to.
1. Big Star, “Femme Fatale”
Alex Chilton’s hauntingly beautiful vocals on this Third/Sister Lovers track are impossible to shake—so good they arguably give the original a run for its money.
Bonus: it’s not really a cover, but here’s the man himself performing “Perfect Day” with Pavarotti.