Patti Smith, the punk poet laureate herself, once performed a special version of Velvet Underground song ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ while on tour in 1976 and, as one might expect, the meeting of these two New York powerhouses is absolutely brilliant.
The now-iconic track, written by and sung by the late and great Lou Reed, was included on the band’s 1969 album The Velvet Underground. Reed, who later confirmed that the song was actually written about a woman with hazel coloured eyes, is said to have been inspired by Shelley Albin, his first love who at the time was married to another man. Whatever the origination, the power of the song is undeniable.
The track has been covered by a number of well-known figures within the music industry over the years, but Patti Smith’s version gained a rightful dose of notoriety as she performed the song live from the 1960s and throughout the 1970s.
Smith, who is famously close friends with Lou Reed, has never been shy to show her admiration for the Velvet Underground frontman. “His consciousness infiltrated and illuminated our cultural voice,” she said when she was chosen to give a speech while Reed was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Lou was a poet, able to fold his poetry within his music in the most poignant and plainspoken manner. Oh, such a perfect day.”
Revisiting one specific rendition in 1976, Smith, who had just released her critically acclaimed Horses in late 1975, was touring the record around the States and Europe when she landed in Stockholm late on in 1976. Perhaps feeling like she had extra leeway in Europe, it seemed the perfect place for a favoured cover.
Warming to the crowd, she performed the Velvet Underground track and incorporated a bit of The Kingsmen’s iconic number ‘Louie Louie’ toward the end of the performance to add just a little bit of extra spice to proceedings.
The performance is that of a professional punk. Not bound by genre or precision, Smith’s performance is impassioned and impulsive, it reeks of the kind of creative spirit that emboldened The Velvet Underground in the first place. It is one of her finest covers and a stark reminder of the talent and power she had within her grasp.