THE ORIGINAL: The Velvet Underground (1970)
It opens with 15 seconds of a jumbled babyshambles of multi-tracked guitars, some bells and drums. Calliope-ish and charming. Then, after a beat, you hear a loud Lou Reed come in with stable, strumming guitars and drums.
It’s a midtempo poem that he doesn’t sing. It’s more like a reading, or him telling you a story that just happens to have a band playing behind him as he does it. He yells to get some points across, the background vocals are harmonious and yelled. There’s lots of yelling.
Was he loaded while recording this? Were they loaded while recording this? I do know that the drums sound great because Mo Tucker was pregnant, so Doug Yule filled in.
This is a classic Velvet Underground song that I think was overplayed. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “SWEEEEEEET JAAAAAAANE!” screamed and yelled in the bars I drank at when I was in college. It was almost as bad as hearing “Brown Eyed Girl” 74 times a night.
THE COVER: The Cowboy Junkies (1988)
This cover by these one-hit wonders is the polar opposite of the original. This is 3:36 of funeral dirge that sounds like it was played by a bunch of junkies nodding out in the booth. The lead — and only — vocal, by Margo Timmins, is low in the mix, and she sounds half asleep.
The arrangement is the same, guitars and drums, nothing flashy. I remember people going just apeshit over this when it came out, and me yawning the first time I heard it. I thought she made up her own lyrics, except for the chorus.
I’ve sat here and listened to it 10 times, and I’m still not sure if she’s singing the original lyrics, and I’ve yawned 23 times.
WHO DOES IT BETTER?
Even though I’d be just fine never hearing this song ever again, I have to give this to the Velvet Underground.
NOW YOU DECIDE!