Monday, April 5, 2021

Choose To Choose - The Velvet Underground & Nico In A Funhouse Mirror

Easter Sunday, on a whim I went poking around YouTube to see if anyone I liked had posted anything new. When I say "new" I mean "in the last couple of years" because that's about how long it takes me to go back around, sometimes.

Something put Petite Meller in my mind. Can't imagine what and it was all of eighteen hours ago, so no use expecting me to remember. I watched a couple of hers I hadn't seen. They were just as I expected. Mildly unsettling. Not quite as they should be. It's her thing.

Then I noticed she'd done a cover. Of the Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning. That seemed out of character. I wondered if it was any good. I thought it might be. It was.

And it gave me an idea. Beck had a project going for a while, called Beck's Record Club. The idea was, he'd get some musicians together and knock out covers of whole albums in a single day. He only managed five. I imagine the appeal wore off quite soon. 

The first he chose was, perhaps predictably, the VU's first: The Velvet Underground & Nico, sometimes known as the Banana album. Just on the off chance anyone hasn't heard the original, something that seems both unlikely and irresponsible, here's a link to the Velvets album. And here's Beck's canter through it in video playlist form.

As I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear, I'm not planning on replicating Beck's efforts. I'm just going to steal his idea. I spent a couple of hours yesterday trawling through YouTube for covers of every track so I could put together a patchwork version of this all-time classic. 

Oh boy, are there a lot of covers of some of those songs. At least half of them have become bona fide rock standards. Everyone has to have a go. The ballads seem to attract vocalists like honey. Just like honey, you could say. Hmm. That gives me another idea...

No, one thing at a time. Stay focused!

So, I tried to steer clear of the super-obvious choices. No ex-Velvets, no Bowie, no Jeff Buckley or Japan. Of course, some of the best-known are also the best but I think I managed to dig out a few good alternatives. 

Not that it was easy. If there's one thing YouTube makes painfully clear it's that some of these songs, especially the fast, loud ones, are way, way more difficult to pull off than they sound like they would be. Waiting For The Man in particular degenrates into a tedious, turgid plod in the hands of just about everyone other than Mr. Bowie. I'd be happy never to hear another version of that one. As for Heroin, well, words fail me.

Enough preamble. Let's get to it. Here's The Velvet Underground & Nico as performed by anyone but.

Sunday Morning  - Petite Meller

I just love this. It's so ridiculously happy. She turns a song about existential angst into a toddler jumping on her parents' bed at dawn. There's another version she's done with BØRNS that's also really good but I prefer Petite on her own.

Waiting For The Man - Dan Lyons  

You should have to get a license before you're allowed to cover this. And you wouldn't get one. Honorable mention to Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark for at least trying to get away from the obvious, although it's clear they lose heart about halfway through. Richard Hawley turns it into a slow blues, which kind of works (I hate to admit it but recordings exist of me singing it in a very similar fashion). The Dan Lyons version really stood out for me. Not only does it show some genuine energy but he actually looks like he knows what he's singing about. And where.


Femme Fatale - Sasha Belyaeva - I'm sure when John and Lou wrote this one, what they were really hoping was that one day it would end up being used in a Vogue photo-shoot. Okay, maybe that was just Andy. It's good, though. I wish it didn't cut off so suddenly at the end but I guess that's how long the commercial was. There are a lot of strong covers of Femme Fatale. It's a beautiful melody. The best there ever was or ever will be, of course, is by Dolly Mixture. It's possible I may be being partisan but I think it's probably just objectively true.

Venus In Furs - Ängie 

This is another of the easy-to-cover numbers on the album. Lots of not-terrible tries on YouTube. I'd not encountered Ängie with her annoying-to-type diacritic before but boy howdy! I'm going to be paying attention from now on. After I saw this I watched a whole load of videos of her doing her own stuff and it's all fantastic. She does like to talk about drugs, doesn't she? No wonder she likes Lou enough to get a tat of his name.

Run Run Run - Emily Loizeau -  If Waiting For The Man is a tough cover, this is next to impossible. Everyone turns it into a dirge. Everyone except Emily Loizeau, that is. She opens her hour-long tribute to Lou Reed with Run Run Run and makes it sound clean and new. Before I found her I was toying with Lena Deluxe, who's also covered half the album (the French just love the Velvets) but I realized I was just mesmerized by her amazing hair and the great lighting.

All Tomorrow's Parties - A. B. B. A. feat. Elfin Bow - Yeah, not that ABBA. There are a surprising number of instrumental covers of this one, including a surf version and one featuring bagpipes. Nick Cave took a run at it. I won't say he missed but it's a bit on the nose for my taste. This at least has a light touch. Kind of proves that much-overused "slow it down to make it sound like you've done something different" trick works even on songs that are slow to begin with.

Heroin - Opal feat. Hope Sandoval -This ought to be an impossible ask. It's been my favorite song for more than half a century and I love it so much I never listen to it for fear it could go stale. Surely no-one can do it justice? Yeah, well, you'd be surprised. Unlike the out-and-out rockers on the album that seem to trip most people up this, with its inexorable momentum and lyrics that literally never stop coming, seems better able to cope with copycats than could be expected. The sound isn't great on this but the quality comes through. For a clearer, shorter version you could do worse than give Ras Evelyn a listen. 

There She Goes Again - Hatsune Miku - For such a sweet pop song there aren't as many big-name takes as you'd imagine. Most of the unknowns I gave an ear to weren't at all bad. The Crawdaddys or The Bombay Ducks  for example. The Hatsune Miku vocaloid just goes places the others can't hope to follow. I'm guessing Lou would have hated it but it's so hard to know. I hope he would. He so loved to hate things.

I'll Be Your Mirror - Emma Elisabeth - This was perhaps the hardest choice of all. It's yet another of the extremely popular ballads and lots of people have made a very fair fist of it. I found a couple that I didn't know and really liked. One was by Lowland Hum and I may even prefer it but they've ended up with the text link because they didn't make a video like Emma did. 

Black Angel's Death Song - You Can't Win, Charlie Brown - And we're back with the difficult, loud ones... or you'd think so. Only, for a surprise, Black Angel's Death Song seems to attract an artier crowd than Waiting For The Man. I guess that's obvious. Bettie Serveert, a Dutch outfit named after the tennis player Bettie Stove, once released an entire album of Velvets covers. Once again, I could have filled half this post with their interpretations. That was never going to happen. They're very nineties indie.  I would have used Bud Benderbe's loungecore version if he hadn't clipped it halfway in to push you onto his website to buy a copy.  In the end I went with You Can't Win, Charlie Brown as much for the name as anything. That and it's pretty good.


European Son - Matt Berninger - Of The National, apparently, although I didn't realize that until I'd already decided on him. European Son is a really hard choice of cover. It's mostly noise after the first minute. Noise songs are a rock staple now but they certainly weren't when this first appeared. The thing about noise, as opposed to music, is that it's very much sui generis. One band really can't make another band's noise. The trick when covering a noise song is to make your own noise. Matt does that perfectly and his noise is melody.

And there we are. All done. That was fun. I enjoyed it a lot. 

In fact, I think I'm going to do it again. All I have to do is think of an album I like that has enough covers of all the tracks on it to make it worth doing. 

That shouldn't be hard, right?


  1. I'm always kind of glad when you post one of these things, because they remind me there's so much music I've never heard of. (Like, any of these, or any of the artists/songs in your March post.)

    1. For me it's kinda like having a radio show only without all the hassle of actually, y'know, doing one. Which, I guess, would be possible, these days. I don't imagine many people click through the links but at least it puts some names out there.

      Most posts, many of them are always new to me as well. Of the videos in this post I only really knew Hope Sandoval and Petite Meller. I'd vaguely heard of Emily Loizeau but I couldn't have said how or why. Obviously I knew who/what Hatsune Miku is. I bet you do, too.

      I'm probably never going to follow up on most of these people and their careers but every time I do posts like this I pick up one or two new favorites. Petite Meller, who I found while doing a blog post a couple of years back, was one and this time it's going to be Ängie that sticks, I think.

      All my life I've always tried to hear as much new and unfamiliar music as possible but the internet has just proved how hopeless a goal it is. Still gotta try, though.


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