Rare audio of David Bowie being the first person to cover The Velvet Underground in the UK
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at the earliest moments of a torrid love affair as David Bowie provides perhaps the first ever Velvet Underground cover.
It’s fair to say that David Bowie and Lou Reed enjoyed the kind of relationship only a few of us will ever achieve. The songwriters were utterly enamoured with each other but, while Reed’s appreciation for Bowie would grow with time, David was completely besotted with Lou from the very beginning.
Sure, Reed was a nice guy, but the real reason Bowie was falling at the feet of the alt-pop God without a care for his knees was his powerful command of music. Bowie has always been a fan of Reed and the Velvet Underground’s music and this 1967 bootleg of Bowie covering ‘Waiting For The Man’ is proof of that. It may also be the first cover of the band ever.
The story goes, according to the ever-informative Bowie Songs, that back in the winter of 1966, during the cold days of December, Bowie’s manager Ken Pitt took artist and agitator Andy Warhol to lunch. Pitt was in town on a press junket and was keen to speak with Warhol about his “house” band, the Velvet Underground.
Naturally, Warhol was less than interested in anything Pitt had to say about moving the career of the group along and instead rather coldly suggested Pitt could promote the band using his own money but that was it.
As such, Warhol gave Pitt an acetate of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the band’s debut LP, and sent him off back to Blighty with perhaps one of the most influential records of all time. While nothing would ever come of the suggested promotion deal, Pitt did begin one of the most creative partnerships in rock and roll as he handed Bowie a copy of the album who instantly fell in love.
The band represented a charged intensity that had been lacking from the swinging sixties in London. While the Rolling Stones and The Beatles had triumphed during the decade their growing sales and commercialisation meant they increasingly represented the establishment.
The Velvet Underground, however, were the seedy underbelly of the streets—they were the real deal. It was something Bowie immediately connected with through the songs and especially the anthemic, ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’.
It was more than just a song for Bowie, the singer had finally found an influential figure of music worthy of his adoration. Reed had truly won over the Starman with one single record. Bowie later claimed that he began covering the album’s songs the day after hearing it for the first time. While he may have been joking, it’s certain that he was the first to begin covering the songs in the UK, even before the record came out.
As well as performing the song live, Bowie also toyed with the idea of recording a cover of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ while finishing up his debut LP. The result is what we’re bringing you below. It’s a cover from 1967 which highlights the lengths Bowie still had to go to match the creative intensity of Reed.
Bowie tries to take the track in a new direction by using harmonica and sax over the guitars of Reed and Sterling Morrison, he also demotes the piano accompaniment to a bit-part player—but, where he does succeed, is on the vocal.
Now, we’re not going to suggest this is Bowie’s best vocal, in fact, it probably doesn’t make it into the top 100 performances from The Thin White Duke. However, what we will say is that it is the most impressive Lou Reed impression we’ve ever heard.
So without further ado, listen back to David Bowie’s 1967 recording of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’.