Tuesday, February 26, 2013

#442: The Velvet Underground-I'm Waiting For The Man (Top 500 Modern Rock Songs Of All Time)

(Top Modern Rock Songs Of All Time)
Song: "I'm Waiting For The Man"
Artist: The Velvet Underground
Release Date: March,1967
From the Album: Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

Quick Take: The Velvet Underground's most famous (or infamous) song, "Heroin," displayed a laissez-faire attitude about drug use that was scandalous in 1966, but while that song portrayed the troubling lure of narcotics at face value, "I'm Waiting for the Man" confronted an even stickier issue -- the day-to-day realities of addiction. "I'm Waiting for the Man" hardly makes being a junkie sound like fun; feeling "sick and dirty/more dead than alive," the song's protagonist heads to a rough neighborhood uptown, where he's uncomfortably conspicuous as the only white guy around. His dealer, of course, doesn't show up on time (he apparently never does), and he becomes more and more nervous until he's able to score his 26 dollars worth of dope, shoot up, and wait for the process to start over again. While the details hardly sound inviting, the sneering cool of Lou Reed's vocal and the blotted-out bliss of the line "I'm feeling good/You know I'm gonna work it on out" might make some wonder if the thrill of the rush is worth the agony of the other 1,430 minutes of the day. In the song's original recording on the album The Velvet Underground and Nico, "I'm Waiting for the Man" had a frantic, staccato rhythm, nailed down by John Cale's hammering piano riffs. After Cale left the group and his keyboard left the arrangement, Maureen Tucker's drumming gained a bit more of a swing, and the tune took on a sturdy groove, as evidenced in a recording from Dallas, TX, featured on 1969 Velvet Underground Live (as well as the bootleg The End of Cole Avenue). In 1984, Cale took up the song again in his live shows, and his stark rendition appeared on the live set John Cale Comes Alive. Finally, in 1993, as the Velvet Underground mounted a reunion tour of Europe, the song found its way into their set once again -- and in a surprising gesture, Lou Reed deferred to John Cale's version of the song and let Cale take the lead vocal.

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