Heroin (song)

Heroin (song)

Song infobox
Name = Heroin

Artist = The Velvet Underground
Album = The Velvet Underground and Nico
track_no = 7
Released = March 1967
Recorded = May 1966 T.T.G. Studios, Hollywood, California
Genre = Avant-garde, rock, experimental
Length = 7:12
Writer = Lou Reed
Composer = Lou Reed
Label = Verve Records
Producer = Andy Warhol
Tracks =
#"Sunday Morning"
#"I'm Waiting for the Man"
#"Femme Fatale"
#"Venus In Furs"
#"Run Run Run"
#"All Tomorrow's Parties"
#"There She Goes Again"
#"I'll Be Your Mirror"
#"The Black Angel's Death Song"
#"European Son"

"Heroin" is a song by The Velvet Underground, released on their 1967 debut album, "The Velvet Underground and Nico". Written by Lou Reed in 1964, the song is one of the band's most celebrated compositions, overtly depicting heroin use and abuse. Critic Mark Deming writes, "While 'Heroin' hardly endorses drug use, it doesn't clearly condemn it, either, which made it all the more troubling in the eyes of many listeners". [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=33:ot68mpba9foo "Heroin"] at Allmusic]

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it #448 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2006, Pitchfork Media ranked it #77 on their list of the 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s. In 2007 Mental Floss magazine listed it as one of ten songs that changed the world.


"Heroin" was among a three-song set to be re-recorded at T.T.G. Studios, Hollywood before being included on the final release of "The Velvet Underground and Nico" (along with "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Venus in Furs"). This recording of the song would be the album's second longest at 7 minutes and 12 seconds, being eclipsed only by "European Son" by about thirty seconds.

"Heroin" begins slowly with Lou Reed's quiet, melodic guitar and hypnotic drum patterns by Maureen Tucker, soon joined by John Cale's droning electric viola and Sterling Morrison's steady rhythm guitar. The tempo increases gradually, mimicking the high the narrator receives from the drug, until a frantic crescendo is reached, punctuated by Cale's shrieking viola and the more punctuated guitar strumming of Reed and Morrison. Tucker's drumming becomes hurried and louder. The song then slows to the original tempo, and repeats the same pattern before ending.

The song is based on a D flat and a G flat major chords. Like "Sister Ray", it features no bass guitar. "Rolling Stone" magazine said "It doesn't take much to make a great song," since the song only featured three chords.

Alternate versions

Ludlow Street Loft, July 1965

The earliest recorded version of "Heroin" was with Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and John Cale at the band's Ludlow Street loft in July 1965. Unlike songs such as "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Venus in Furs" which sound drastically different from their corresponding 1966 recordings on "The Velvet Underground and Nico", the '65 version of "Heroin" is nearly identical to the album version in structure. On the recording, Reed performs the song on an acoustic guitar. This version of the song can be found on the 1995 compilation album, "Peel Slowly and See".

cepter Studios, April 1966

The original take of "Heroin" that was intended for release on "The Velvet Underground and Nico" was at Scepter Studios in New York City, April 1966. This version of the song features slightly different lyrics and a more contained, less chaotic performance. Overall, the tempo of the song is at a steadier, quicker pace. It is about a minute shorter in length.

One notable difference in the lyrics is Lou Reed's opening — he sings "I know just where I'm going" rather than "I "don't" know just where I'm going" as on the final album recording. Reed was known to do this during subsequent performances of the song as well. [cite journal
last = Cannon
first = Geoffrey
year = 1971
month = March
title = The Insects of Someone Else's Thoughts
journal = Zigzag
issue = 18

The Velvet Underground and drugs

"Heroin", (along with songs like "I'm Waiting for the Man" which dealt with similar subject matter), was chiefly one of the reasons The Velvet Underground were tied to drug use in the media. Some critics declared the band were glorifying the use of drugs such as heroin.cite book |editor= Clinton Heylin |title= All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print 1966-1971 |edition= first edition |year= 2005 |publisher= De Capo Press |location= United States |isbn= 0-306-81477-3 |pages= / 138] However, members of the band (Lou Reed, in particular) frequently denied any claims that the song was advocating use of the drug; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Lou Reed's lyrics, such as they are on the majority of "The Velvet Underground and Nico", were more meant to focus on providing an objective description of the topic without taking a moral stance in the matter.cite book |last=Harvard |first=Joe |title="The Velvet Underground and Nico" |origyear=2004 |series=33⅓ |year=2007 |publisher=Continuum International Publishing Group |location=New York, NY |isbn=0-8264-1550-4 |pages=] Critics weren't the only ones who misunderstood the song's impartial message; fans would sometimes approach the band members after a live performance and tell them they "shot up to 'Heroin'", [cite journal | author = Lester Bangs | year = 1971 | month = May | title = Dead Lie The Velvets, Underground | journal = Creem | volume = 3 | issue = 2 | quote = I meant those songs to sort of exorcise the darkness, or the self-destrutive element in me, and hoped other people would take them the same way. But when I saw how people were responding to them it was disturbing. Because like people would come up and say, 'I shot up to "Heroin,'" things like that. For a while, I was even thinking that some of my songs might have contributed formatively to the consciousness of all these addictions and things going down with the kids today. But I don't think that anymore; it's really too awful a thing to consider. (Lou Reed) ] a phenomenon that deeply disturbed Reed. As a result, Reed was somewhat hesitant to play the song with the band through much of the band's later career.


*Lou Reed later performed "Heroin" live in his glam rock style, featuring the guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. The resulting eleven minute track is included on his live album "Rock 'n' Roll Animal", released in 1974.
*The song has been covered by several artists, including Mazzy Star, Human Drama, Iggy Pop, Echo & the Bunnymen, Billy Idol and Third Eye Blind
*In an interview on the Jonathan Richman DVD, "Take Me To The Plaza", he recounts trading a record by The Fugs for "The Velvet Underground and Nico" after hearing this song for the first time.
*Denis Johnson's short story collection "Jesus' Son", and the film based on it took its title from the lyrics of this song.
*Brian Bell and Patrick Wilson from Weezer covered the song.
*The song is featured in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie, "The Doors"
*According to Mick Jagger, the Beggar's Banquet track "Stray Cat Blues" by The Rolling Stones was inspired by "Heroin", Jagger going as far as to say that the whole sound of "Stray Cat Blues" was lifted from "Heroin". The intro's of both songs bear a distinct resemblance.


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