When David Bowie covered The Velvet Underground “before anyone else”

David Bowie never hid his love for Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. Across his career, Bowie covered the band’s material, co-produced Reed’s 1972 opus Transformer, and heaped endless praise on the band in interviews. In fact, there’s solid evidence that Bowie might have been one of the first-ever fans of the Velvets. Thanks to an inside source, Bowie was one of the first people to hear the band’s debut, 1967’s The Velvet Underground and Nico.

“[The album was] brought back from New York by a former manager of mine, Ken Pitt,” Bowie recalled to Vanity Fair in 2003. “Pitt had done some kind of work as a PR man that had brought him into contact with the Factory. Warhol had given him this coverless test pressing (I still have it, no label, just a small sticker with Warhol’s name on it) and said, ‘You like weird stuff – see what you think of this.’ What I ‘thought of this’ was that here was the best band in the world.”

“In December of that year, my band Buzz broke up, but not without my demanding we play ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ as one of the encore songs at our last gig,” he added. “Amusingly, not only was I to cover a Velvets song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that’s the essence of Mod.”

The early pressing opened up a new world of possibilities for Bowie. “Everything I both felt and didn’t know about rock music was opened to me on one unreleased disc,” he told New York Magazine that same year. “It was The Velvet Underground and Nico.”

“The first track glided by innocuously enough and didn’t register. However, from that point on, with the opening, throbbing, sarcastic bass and guitar of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, the linchpin, the keystone of my ambition was driven home,” Bowie claimed. “This music was so savagely indifferent to my feelings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It could give a fuck. It was completely preoccupied with a world unseen by my suburban eyes.”

“Actually, though only 19, I had seen rather a lot but had accepted it quite enthusiastically as all a bit of a laugh. Apparently, the laughing was now over,” he concluded. “I was hearing a degree of cool that I had no idea was humanly sustainable. Ravishing. One after another, tracks squirmed and slid their tentacles around my mind. Evil and sexual, the violin of ‘Venus In Furs’, like some pre-Christian pagan-revival music. The distant, icy, ‘Fuck me if you want, I really don’t give a damn’ voice of Nico’s ‘Femme Fatale’. What an extraordinary one-two knockout punch this affair was. By the time ‘European Son’ was done, I was so excited I couldn’t move. It was late in the evening and I couldn’t think of anyone to call, so I played it again and again and again.”

Throughout his solo career, Bowie made sure to keep ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ in his repertoire. From his 1970 band The Hype to his solo performances at the BBC in 1972, Bowie always kept the song in his setlists. It appeared on numerous tours, the ‘Ziggy Stardust Tour’, 1976’s ‘Isolar Tour’ and the 1990 ‘Sound + Vision Tour’. Bowie even performed the song with Reed at the latter’s 50th birthday party in 1997.

Check out Bowie’s take on ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ down below.

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