Lou Reed’s influence on music is massive, his unique songwriting voice inimitable. Picking our favorite songs from Lou’s 50-year career is almost impossible, so we decided to look at the artists who interpreted Lou’s songs the best. Below are a selection of artists who owned up to the impact that Reed and the Velvet Underground had on their music while giving listeners a different look at the images and emotions wrapped in Reed’s songs.
R.E.M. – “Pale Blue Eyes”
For a lot of music fans in the 1980s, R.E.M. provided an introductory course to Reed’s work with the Velvet Underground. The band recorded more than a few Velvets covers in their early career, but their rendition of “Pale Blue Eyes” stands as their best. Replacing Reed’s gruff New York voice with a Southern twang, the band amplify the pangs of regret that Reed kept just below the surface on the original version.
Big Star – “Femme Fatale”
Alex Chilton’s career followed Reed’s in a few ways; both were impossibly talented songwriters whose fractured songs couldn’t find a popular audience in their time. It seems fitting, then, that Chilton would choose to cover one of Reed’s songs on Big Star’s shambolic Third/Sister Lovers. Singing in his broken falsetto, Chilton re-characterizes Reed’s tale of warning as coming from a man who’s had his heart broken in two one too many times.
David Bowie – “White Light/White Heat”
Bowie was one of Reed’s most enthusiastic disciples, so much so that he used his newfound celebrity to aid Reed’s struggling solo career in 1972. People often cite Reed one of the founders of glam rock, and you can hear why in Bowie’s rendition of “White Light/White Heat” with The Spiders From Mars. While not as gleefully anarchic as the Velvets were at their peak, Bowie’s band does their best to bring out the amphetamine rush of the song while Bowie himself tips his hand at who’s really behind the Ziggy Stardust makeup.
U2 – “Satellite Of Love”
U2 went all out for their version of Reed’s Transformer classic, even going so far as getting Reed to record a vocal track of the song for the band’s Zoo TV tour in 1993. U2 avoid doing a straight rendition of the song, replacing Reed’s gruffness with the smooth, sinewy sounds of the lower register of Bono’s voice.
Cowboy Junkies – “Sweet Jane”
Of all of Reed’s songs, “Sweet Jane” seems like the one that wouldn’t lend itself to re-interpretations. The original version on Loaded is one of those songs that just sounds definitive; you couldn’t imagine anyone doing anything different that could come close to the original’s power. But Cowboy Junkies found a way, recasting the song as a subdued slow-burner. Their understated version of the song is one that Reed himself would have definitely appreciated.