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Saturday, 10 December 2022

Linger On

'Sometimes I feel so happy/ Sometimes I feel so sad', Lou Reed croons softly at the start of Pale Blue Eyes, the most brokenly beautiful song on the most brokenly beautiful Velvet Underground album. Written and demoed with John Cale in May 1965 it wasn't released until 1969 by which point Cale had left the band. 'Thought of you as everything/ I had but couldn't keep', Lou goes on and in the final verse it becomes clear this isn't just about lost love but infidelity too- 'It was good what we did yesterday/ And I'd do it again/ The fact that you are married/ Only proves that you're my best friend/ But it's truly, truly a sin'. In his memoir, Lou Reed said he wrote it for his first love, Shelley Albin, a married woman (who had hazel eyes  but poetic license and making lines scan saw her eyes change to blue). 

Pale Blue Eyes

It's one of those songs that is so right, so perfect- the singing, the playing, the production, the tone of the guitar and the repeating riff, the tambourine rattle, the solo- that you wouldn't want to change a note or a second of it. But it also cries out to be covered. This cover came back to me recently while I was looking through my 10" singles (looking for something else but it caught my eye). I put it on and it jumped out of the speakers, simplicity of the song hurtled forwards from the late 60s to 2012 by The Kills, a raw version of the song. Alison Mosshart's husky, small hours vocal is spot on, the drums thump and shake and Jamie Hince's guitar snarls as the amp distorts. You can smell the practice room. The guitar break and the juddering effect between the second and third verses is electrifying and the way they cut back in for the 'skip a light completely/ Stuff it in a cup' verse is thrilling.

Pale Blue Eyes

In 1984 Edwyn Collins and Paul Quinn released a version as a single, taken from the soundtrack to the film Punk Rock Hotel. Edwyn croons, really croons, and the country and western guitar takes The Velvets to Nashville. The guitar solo is a joy and the song swells to the end, filled out and lush.

Edit: it is of course Paul Quinn crooning while Edwyn plays guitar. Thanks to JC for noting my error. 

Pale Blue Eyes

In the same year R.E.M. recorded a version that first saw the light of day as the B-side on the So. Central Rain 12" single and then later when it was compiled onto the Dead Letter Office album, a record that pulled together odds, ends, B-sides and drunken rehearsal room takes. Michael Stipe's voice was made for Pale Blue Eyes and Peter Buck's guitar is drenched in reverb. In the sleeve notes to Dead Letter Office Peter Buck says it was recorded live to two track and notes he added 'an exceedingly sloppy guitar solo'. Sloppy sounding just fine on this occasion. 

Pale Blue Eyes

Here R.E.M. play it live in New Jersey in 1984, the band caught brilliantly half a lifetime ago. 


Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

There were so many cover versions done back in the 80's but at the time with being that young, you never knew. The same with the Edwyn Collins/Paul Quinn version. It was only many years later discovering that, but dare I whisper it (I think this is the best version)

Swiss Adam said...

I was debating (with myself) which the best version is. Still not sure.

Nick L said...

I loved the Paul Quinn and Edwyn Collins version. However, there really is something heartbreaking about the way Lou Reed's voice cracks occasionally on the original. I think it might be the best vocal I've ever heard of his.

JC said...

It's Paul Quinn who is crooning away on that particular cover, with Edwyn sticking to playing guitar.

Yup, it was intended to be on the soundtrack to a Super 8 film called 'Punk Rock Hotel', but the project never came to fruition when Alan Horne got bored with the idea and abandoned it.

You won't be surprised to learn that the PQ/EC version is, by far, my favourite take on the song.

Adam Turner said...

Duh! Course it's Paul singing and Edwyn playing. Will correct.