For this episode of The Original vs. The Cover, we are going to talk about the song “Heroin” by the band The Velvet Underground. The song is off their 1967 debut album ‘The Velvet Underground & Nico” which I reviewed a few weeks back. The Cover version we will be bouncing up against the Original is by Billy Idol off his 1993 album ‘Cyberpunk’ which I have also reviewed on this site.
The song was written by Lou Reed and produced by Andy Warhol. That combination has to produce something interesting. And I am sure this is a shocker, but the song is about drug use. I know, I know, stunned right? According to Reed when he was working as a songwriter for a record company, the song was written when he was told to go in to a room and write some some surfing songs, well this is what came out. I think he missed the point and thankfully for us, he did. The song doesn’t condone or condemn drug use and seems to be about the effects of drug use. Whatever the meaning, the song works on so many levels.
We will go through each song and then at the end, I will tell you who I think has the better song…and it isn’t always the original which is why I like doing these posts. So sit back and enjoy.
If I thought the last album was a little daunting to review with The Beach Boys ‘Pet Sounds’, this one is just as daunting a task. This has also been called one of the greatest albums of all time and one of the most influential albums as well. Punk, grunge and numerous other genres all owe a tip of the hat to this album. With ‘Pet Sounds’, I found the album was really good, but I didn’t think it was one of the best ever although “God Only Knows” is one of the best songs. So how will this one fare? I will come out and just say it, I love this album! I mean this thing far exceeded any expectations especially since it has been labeled as art pop and experimental rock. I wasn’t sure what to expect and this wasn’t it. I have to say this thing kind of blew me away.
First up, what an awesome band. The Velvet Underground is the great Lou Reed and John Cale as well as Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker. And then you throw the German singer, Nico, in the mix and not a bad bunch of people to have sitting around playing music. And the strange part of the album is that Andy Warhol produced it. Andy does art, I didn’t realize he produced as well. The album came out on March 12, 1967 and sounds like a product of its time as you can tell it is an album of the 60’s, but there is so much more.
After ‘Charmed Life’, Billy wanted to do something different. He didn’t want to keep repeating his previous work over and over again. Let me tell you he completely succeeded. The album is nothing like his previous work and I think was way ahead of its time. ‘Cyberpunk’ delivered Billy’s most experimental and most controversial album.
Billy became fascinated with technology and the cyberpunk movement of the early 90’s. He saw how the advancement could be used to make music and in fact, this was one of the first albums to use ProTools for almost the entire recording of the album. He felt the use of the computers allowed him to do things faster and he felt it gave the whole feel of a garage band. I don’t know about that last part, but it was the very early stages of how albums and music would be recorded down the road.
When he released the single for “Shock to the System” he released it with a 3 1/2″ Floppy Disc. MP’s eat your heart out. The disc housed pictures, bios and all the things you now see issued in todays electronic press kits (EPK). He was also was one of the first albums to actually have an email address in the booklet that came with the album (don’t try it, it no longer works).