20131030

Lou Reed Week - This Magic Moment





I saw Lou Reed live twice. The first time was in Liverpool in 2005, on the same tour from which I believe the songs on the Animal Serenade album would ultimately be drawn. The second time was as part of the Manchester International Festival in 2009, and it was incredible.

That night he performed with Laurie Anderson, and it was the first time the two had ever played together in the UK. Was it also the last? I'm not sure.

The night was full of stunning moments. A heartbreaking performance of Who Am I?, an early version of Laurie Anderson's Only An Expert, blistering guitar solos on Mystic Child and, best of all, Laurie singing lead to Lou's accompaniment on Pale Blue Eyes and I'll Be Your Mirror.

But the weirdest point of the evening was a sudden segue, at the end of a punishing feedback onslaught, into Jean Knight's Mr. Big Stuff.

It was more a lighthearted, throwaway moment than a serious cover, as we only got a few bars of the chorus. But remembering the moment, I was struck with a sudden realisation – you can almost count Lou Reed's covers on one hand.

Maybe he had so much to say that he never saw the need to indulge in covers, or maybe he knew that his voice was simply too idiosyncratic to suit any style other than his own. In any case, it's extremely rare that such an influential artist with such an extensive career in any genre should leave behind such a dearth of covers.

According to The Covers Project, Lou Reed recorded just six covers across his career. We can discount All Tomorrow's Parties (as it's ostensibly his song), but beyond that we have covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Kurt Weill and Victoria Williams – all of which were recorded for compilation albums celebrating the songwriters in question.

To this list we can now add his rendition of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill, for the And I'll Scratch Yours album.



Beyond the multitude of standards you inevitably encounter when you listen to jazz and folk, I'm not usually interested in covers. Too few songwriters leave their own mark when handling the material of others, and I'm always much more interested in what they have to say themselves than I am in their interpretive skills.

But that said, it just so happens that one of my favourite ever Lou Reed recordings also happens to be one of his only covers.

With 1992's Magic And Loss, Lou Reed recorded an entire album of elegies to late songwriter Doc Pomus. The two were good friends, so in 1995, he contributed a song to a Doc Pomus tribute album entitled Til The Night Is Gone.

Reed's offering is This Magic Moment, a song originally recorded by Ben E. King with The Drifters.

It's a curio for two reasons. Not only is it a very rare example of Lou Reed interpreting someone else's words, it's also an even rarer example of him tackling a love song with no ambiguity or dark undertones. The result is sweet and endearing, and the dingy yet effervescent arrangement, drenched in feedback, makes for exactly the sort of thing I often want to hear when I want to hear music.

That I first heard the song in the background to the love scene in David Lynch's Lost Highway suggests that my feelings were always going to be strong for this one.

Here it is again, set to a montage of clips from David Lynch films. Sometimes life is so beautiful.



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