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“Pontificating on the Prospective Plausibility of The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Covers, and the Partial or Complete Confluence of the Three”

Danger Mouse is leaning back against a wall, sitting down, with no expression on his face. He’s got on an expensive-looking suit and a neatly trimmed beard. He sort of looks like a version of James Mercer, actually, whose eyes you never see.

Next to him, Karen O sits, with hair primly styled and face caked with foundation and eyeliner. The pair looks every bit ready to hit the night clubs in Lower Chelsea.

Well, that’s fine and great, but the story, made available on Spin’s Facebook feed, is pertaining to STUDIO exploits of theirs, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” which appears on Transformer, Reed’s sophomore solo album.

Actually, “Perfect Day” has been pretty popular this decade. Mere months after Reed died, in late ’13 or early ’14, so that he was no longer around to do legal battle, the song surfaced as soundtrack to a video game commercial.

It’s hard to pin down scientifically, but it seems like in general “covers” and “cover bands” are getting more and more popular all the time, especially after this ’90s craze we’ve gone through this decade. Grunge and alt-rock, after all, are pretty easy to emulate, less likely to use elaborate machinery like synthesizers, more often just oozed out from your basic garage-rock instrumentation, which is easy to transport and master, comparatively.

So we might be entering an age in which the easiest songs to cover are actually the most popular, maybe even the most meaningful. We live in an age when strangely Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ out” and Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls” seem more valid and applicable to everyday life than certain classic rock epics, say, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” or The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled again.” This is especially ironic given that we live in an age of such political turmoil and unrest, at least in America, and people have every right to want to be confrontational and to want their music to be confrontational. What explaineth the propulsion of the popularity of this pliable pop, then, and what is Danger Mouse doing covering an atrocious song like “Perfect Day?” And those Turntable Lab people didn’t really say “Who Loves the Sun?” was the best Velvet Underground song, did they? Can somebody please give them solitary confinement for that [1]?

Ok, here is a litany of classic Velvet Underground and Lou Reed songs, in chronological/album order, none of which is a horrendous faux-Motown etude in simplistic pop insipidity like “Who Loves the Sun?” and “Perfect Day” are: “Sunday Morning”; “I’m Waiting for the Man”; “Venus in Furs”; “Run Run Run”; “All Tomorrow’s Parties”; “Heroin”; “The Black Angel’s Death Song”; “Here She Comes Now”; “What Goes on”; “Some Kinda Love”; “Pale Blue Eyes”; “Beginning to See the Light”; “I’m Set Free”; “Sweet Jane”; “New Age”; “Train Round the Bend”; “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’”; “Lisa Says”; “Walk on the Wild Side”; “Satellite of Love.” Out of these songs, I’ve heard “I’m Waiting for the Man” covered by Cheap Trick, “Here She Comes Now” covered by The Velvet Underground, “Sweet Jane” covered by the Cowboy Junkies and “Satellite of Love” by U2. What’s more, all these selections for covers material are relatively SIMPLE. None of them contains the rich, textural electric viola of “Venus in Furs,” the extended, languid phrasings of the tenacious “All Tomorrow’s Parties” or the epic, fast/slow toggle of “Heroin.”

Yet, as I think any true Velvet Underground fan would argue, these early cuts from The Velvet Underground & Nico earmark the true “classic” VU grit, and that of the artist Lou Reed on the whole. They are distinct, each featuring some wrinkle which is hard for the everyday person to copy, or “cover,” and that is what makes them special, sidestepping the mundaneness of the mainstream for something that would push the art form forward. These poppy covers are more like a swivel chair in the middle of the room — you can take it wherever you want, but where can it take you?

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[1] First of all, why would the best Velvet Underground song not have John Cale on it? By that logic, Lou Reed’s solo stuff would be better than VU.

 

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