My Top 1000 Songs #512: Heroin
Sure, not much dispute on the historical significance, the unmitigated gall, the revolutionary impact of Lou Reed's "Heroin" and the balance of the 1967 Velvet Underground & Nico LP. (The work of the original incarnation of the band, of course, not the later version with Doug Yule inexplicably included on the EP pictured above!)
But is "Heroin" a song you actually want to listen to with any frequency? I've already chatted about "Sister Ray," the harrowing side-long epic from the follow-up LP, which is most certainly NOT something I play very often, yet remains a personal favorite. "Heroin" is a marginally smoother listen, though obviously with similar lyrical & musical challenges. But even if you can set aside how cool/groundbreaking it was to have a song which extolls heroin in non-judgmental, even alluring terms, it's... yeah... ultimately a great song on its own merits, one I still enjoy, even if that VU debut gets much less playtime these days than some of their later work.
You've got those quiet, almost pretty folk-tinged bits, laid-back Lou, and then the frenetic build-up to the jagged pay-off, and then back again... a rollercoaster rush you can viscerally appreciate without personal experience with the drug itself (just as a great psychedelic song can give you an acid vibe even if you're just speculating what that might be like).
More than anything else on the album, it reminds me of the nervous excitement I felt when I first bought the album, told by a high school classmate it was something I absolutely needed to check out, the sensation of tentative exploration and explosive discovery. Amazing.Live, 1993 Velvets reunion tour:Patti Smith, 2019:Opal/Mazzy Star in 1988:Echo & The Bunnymen, live 1983 (audio only):