In honor of what would have been Lou Reed’s 75th birthday, here’s the Yardbirds covering the Velvet Underground in 1968.
You may recall that Michelangelo Antonioni considered the Velvet Underground for the club scene in Blow-Up before choosing the Yardbirds, but the connection between the two bands does not end there. As I learn from Richie Unterberger, the Yardbirds’ last lineup—the one with Jimmy Page on lead guitar—had “I’m Waiting for the Man” in its repertoire. A recording survives from the May 31, 1968 gig at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles, one of the Yardbirds’ final shows.
“I’m Waiting for the Man” was a forward-looking selection in May ‘68. John Cale was still in the VU; White Light/White Heat had been out for a few months, The Velvet Underground & Nico about a year. Yardbird Chris Dreja, who remembers “hanging out with Andy Warhol at The Factory” on the Yardbirds’ first US tour, suggests the cover was Page’s idea. As a session musician and arranger, Page had worked on Nico’s 1965 debut single “I’m Not Sayin’,” whose B-side, “The Last Mile,” he co-wrote with Andrew Loog Oldham. The following year, as Unterberger points out, the Yardbirds and the VU both played at Detroit’s Carnaby Street Fun Festival.
Alas, as much of a head start as these interactions might have given the Yardbirds, it was not enough to scoop David Bowie, who recorded his own version of “I’m Waiting for the Man” with the Riot Squad in April ‘67, and was playing the song live in England even before it was released on The Velvet Underground & Nico. (His manager, Kenneth Pitt, brought him an acetate from the Factory in late ‘66.) But a fucking hip move for the Yardbirds nonetheless.
Caveat spectator: the footage below is in fact a clip of the Yardbirds live on Music Hall de France in ‘66 overlaid with sound from a bootleg of the Shrine show. This was not filmed at the Shrine; note the bass in Jimmy Page’s hands, and how nothing on the screen corresponds to the sounds you are hearing, just like life in 2017. Find all of the soixante-huitard Shrine audience tape and “Smokestack Lightning” here.