Tune du Jour: “Heroin” – The Velvet Underground & Nico
THE CLASH of Cover Tunes: Beck vs. The Vitamin String Quartet
Peruse, Comment and Vote (I Beseech, Implore and Urge Thee, respectively)
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I've been a Puppet, a Pauper, a Pirate, a Poet, a Broccoli Man ...

I’ve been a Puppet, a Pauper, a Pirate, a Poet, a Broccoli Man …

Here’s a nice and cheery TGIF song. Heroin was first released in 1967 on the self-titled album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. Coming in at over seven minutes long, the song changes tempos from slow to fast to frenetic before reverting back to slow to begin the cycle anew. This turbulent process imitates in a very effective way, the anticipation, the high and ultimately the frenzy of a heroin trip. There’s been much debate as to what Lou Reed was trying to convey about heroin in the song. Many critics assailed it for supposedly glorifying the use of heroin. But Reed claimed the song neither glorified or condemned the use of heroin; it sought only to portray the effect of the drug as closely as possible. In Reed’s words “Heroin is very close to the feeling you get from smack. It starts on a certain level, it’s deceptive. You think you’re enjoying it. But by the time it hits you, it’s too late. You don’t have any choice. It comes at you harder and faster and it keeps on coming. The song is everything but the real thing.” Music critic, Mark Deming, of AllMusic concluded, “While Heroin hardly endorses drug use, it doesn’t clearly condemn it, either, which made it all the more troubling in the eyes of many listeners.”

Heroin is one of The Velvet Underground’s most influential compositions. In 2004, Rolling Stone placed it #455 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In addition, Heroin is included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.


The Original

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The Velvet Underground & Nico:

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THE CLASH of Cover Tunes

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Beck vs. The Vitamin String Quartet

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The Vitamin String Quartet:

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Oh the disharmony! Much like Harlan County there are no neutrals here. Only one cover tune will live to play another day and it is your solemn responsibility to decide which one prevails. So tell me … Which Side Are You On?!!?

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Votes can be cast up to three months from the day and time of the original post.

Disclaimer: Votes cast from Florida may or may not be counted.

  1. Cuspid says:

    I could never figure out why this song received so many accolades, except for perhaps being one of the first prominent songs to deal with the subject matter. Musically-speaking, it’s totally boring, IMO. The minimum number of chords to be a great rock song is three; think Louie Louie, Blitzkrieg Bop, Satisfaction, and Sometimes When We Touch. But Heroine has only two chords, which is a recipe for causing drowsiness and ennui. (How ’bout that word, Plotty?)

    I suppose that VU’s original is a bit compelling at certain points, if for only because you know it’s Lou Reed wearing dark, sunglasses indoors, singing as only he can, and playing that cool Grestch guitar. But Beck’s version has all of the boredom and none of the cool. The Vitamin String Quartet’s version is far more interesting, and mercifully, 2-minutes shorter.

    • RDubbs says:

      Cuspid paraphrasing Woody Allen:

      “What is that song? Can you hear it? Listen. It sounds like somebody’s playing the trumpet. Or somebody sawing… Like a man sawing a trumpet in half…God, and I think there’s only two chords!”

  2. Kerry Black says:

    If Beck wins this competition, be sure to have plenty of security at the awards ceremony.

    • RDubbs says:

      Why? Has Kanye West started showing up on the blog? Damn! Kanye, listen, you gotta believe me. I didn’t even know that Beyonce covered Heroin…

  3. Historic Haralson says:

    I do not have the courage to say it, but if I did, I would say that Lou Reed is highly over-rated. He exudes so much cool that I think non-NewYorkers are afraid that they will be declared not “it-getters” from the boonies.

    So count me a clueless, non-cool rube, but beyond wild side and femme fatale, just more trippy navel-gazing,

    There, I feel better, and incredibly vulnerable to attack. But somebody had to comment on the Emporer’s attire!


  4. Historic Haralson says:

    And I voted for the string guys because they pull back the curtain and illustrate how inane the tune really is

    Double gulp

  5. Arnie Plotnick says:

    Well, as y’all know, I’m a HUGE Velvet Underground and Lou Reed fan. I even have the leather jacket that President Clinton gave to Lou Reed as a thank-you for performing at the inaugural in 1992. (Seriously). I agree with Doug that much of the acclaim for the song is simply the fact that Lou Reed chose to address such edgy subject matter. The original version’s multiple changes in tempo, John Cale’s screechy viola, and the evocative lyrics…. great big clipper ship, spike into my vein, it’s my wife and it’s my life… it’s memorable, if nothing else. but I do think it’s overrated. Sadly, the original version is very poorly recorded. If the recording had been done well, the song would have had a much bigger impact, I think.

    Is that really Beck covering this song? It neither looks nor sounds like him. It’s a terrible version. I’m givin’ it to the Vitamin String Quartet.

    I will allow Doug to use the word ennui here, however, if he ever uses the word oeuvre or milieu, I will travel to Israel and strangle him.

  6. Pete Black says:

    I normally don’t read what others say first but this time I did and had not agreed with much that anyone said until Arnie questioned whether Beck is involved here. It doesn’t sound anything like his vocals, his music in any of its many forms…only that he can be a joker. Velvets overrated? No chance. Incredibly seminal. Lou Reed solo career? Very spotty.

    • RDubbs says:

      Beck is not doing vocals. The drummer, Brian Lebarton, is doing the vocals. There is “an alternate” version in which Beck does the vocals but I did not like it as much:

      And by the way, you did too agree with most everything I wrote!

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