There She Goes Again, Pale Blue Eyes, Femme Fatale, and After Hours

July 9, 2008

You know that oft-quoted Brian Eno line about how the Velvet Underground‘s first album sold about a thousand copies when it was released, but everyone that heard it went out and started a band? R.E.M. are not one of those bands, but rather the progeny of that first wave of Velvet Underground acolytes. I’m pretty sure that the band, and most especially Peter Buck, were acutely aware of this lineage, and it comes through in all of the band’s VU covers.  Like a majority of R.E.M.’s cover versions in the ’80s, their arrangements for Velvet Underground tunes seemed intent on reverse-engineering them in order to uncover their connections to the mainstream pop of the 50s and early 60s, kinda like a form of musical genealogy. This is especially true of their take on “There She Goes Again” from the Velvets’ debut album — stripped of Lou Reed’s tough guy/poet affectations, the song is neat and streamlined into pure bubblegum.

“Pale Blue Eyes” and “Femme Fatale” are a slightly different matter. For both songs, the arrangements are reasonably close approximations of the Velvet Underground versions, but Michael Stipe’s approach to the vocals is rather sentimental and straight-forward compared to the original performances by Reed and Nico, respectively. I actually heard R.E.M.’s version of “Femme Fatale” before I’d encountered the VU recording, and I’ve got to tell you, I was pretty surprised when I realized that Stipe’s performance was a lot more traditionally feminine than Nico’s aloof Teutonic intonation. Stipe’s versions eliminate the more subversive qualities of the songs, but I have to be honest — I’ve always found his take on both songs to be far more emotionally affecting.

It’s a shame that R.E.M.’s best and most interesting Velvet Underground cover was never tracked in a studio. “After Hours,” a gem from the Velvets’ self-titled album, is a lonely, melancholy song about fantasizing about the fun and glamor in other peoples’ lives, but as covered by R.E.M., it’s all goof and fluff. It’s a rare case of a band gutting the most emotionally affecting aspects of a song, investing it with a completely different meaning, and making it work. In R.E.M.’s context, “After Hours” was their cheeky farewell song, the thing they played at the end of a majority of their concerts in the late 80s. They recast the tune as a music hall/cabaret showstopper, and often allowed the song to collapse upon itself in multiple fake-out endings. I can’t imagine how fun it must have been to see the band end their shows in this way — silly, giddy, humble, weird, and a tiny bit sad. Seeing in that it’s probably never going to be performed by the band ever again, I can only hope to experience it vicariously via the ending of the Tourfilm video.

61 Responses to “There She Goes Again, Pale Blue Eyes, Femme Fatale, and After Hours”

  1. Paul Alferink Says:

    I like Lou Reed. And I know that it’ll get me in trouble, but I was found Nico to be trite and affected. Like Andy Warhol said, “I know! We’ll put this emotionless bore and have her coldly sing song with a accent. Brilliant!” The REM versions, though sloppy, have way more character.

  2. Mr Cup Says:

    I imagine Nico provided the voice Warhol couldn’t, or couldn’t be bothered with.

    These versions were my introduction to The Velvet Underground. When people argue about best band ever it usually comes down to Beatles and Stones. The Velvets are it for me.

    They cover the divide between punishingly brutal and achingly tender effortlessly.

  3. davegassner Says:

    I’ve never heard a Velvet Underground song I dont think actually…any particular songs/albums I should listen to first?

  4. Mr Cup Says:

    The self titled album and the VU with Nico (the famous Banana cover) for my money. Loaded has Sweet Jane though (classic).

    They only made 4 albums studio albums.

  5. All of the Velvet Underground records have terrific songs on them. There are four albums with Lou Reed as the central songwriter, and two compilations of outtakes – VU and Another View. VU has some seriously amazing songs, namely “Stephanie Says” and the original version of “Andy’s Chest.”

  6. Mr Cup Says:

    So, do yourself a favour and collect them all.

  7. Kirsten Says:

    I much prefer the live version of There She Goes Again that they use to do back in the early 80’s. The sweet, soft voice on the recorded version (beautiful as it sounds) just doesn’t suit the tone of the song. It wasn’t until I heard it live that I even realized what he was singing.

    Pale Blue Eyes is a great song. Michael’s voice just relates the emotion so well. However, my favourite part is the comment at the end: “that was real pretty”. Sums it up.

    Michael sounds like he’s about to cry on Femme Fatale. You just want to give him a big hug. (although I usually do anyway!)

    I have to agree with Matthew that a recorded version of After Hours would’ve been fantastic. Maybe on the next “best of” album? Great, fun little song. Excellent way to end a show and Tourfilm.

    For the record: I also haven’t heard the original of any of these.

  8. protimoi Says:

    I’m with you all the way, Matt, on the subject of vicarious Tourfilm viewings. I absolutely love their take on “After Hours,” and it makes me a little sad that i was only a year old when they started closing with this live around 1987.

  9. protimoi Says:

    Oh and for anyone not familiar with the Velvet Underground’s work, listen to the song Venus In Furs. It will take your soul.

  10. ADB Says:

    Well, I’m obviously a bit older than some of you, but at least I can console my aged self with the fact that I saw them perform After Hours on the Green tour! It was, as Matthew surmises, a fantastic way to end the show. They did 3 encores back in those days – would be great if they started doing that again…

  11. Paul Alferink Says:

    I always liked “Heroin.”

    There’s a Best of Compilation out there. That’s always a good place to start.

  12. Dark Bob Says:

    I highly recommend checking out the VU versions of these songs to anyone who hasn’t. VU was a band that was way ahead of their time. I’ve always enjoyed these REM versions. A bit rough around the edges, but as Matthew I think once said about Dead letter office: Fun Indulgences.

  13. michael Says:

    i’ve never come to grips with the phrase ‘acutely aware’, it always gives me a bit of a headache.

    in this instance, i just picture peter buck nodding and squinting slightly, and then i get a bit of a headache.

  14. Justin Says:

    I think the best introductory records for the Velvets would be their first (Velvet Underground and Nico) or third (Velvet Underground). Just do yourself a favor, davegassner, and don’t start with White Light/White Heat.

    Mr. Alfernik is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I like Nico’s voice quite a bit, personally. Lou Reed’s voice isn’t exactly brimming over with delight and sunshine, either. A lot of Lou Reed’s songs are a distanced examination of what would otherwise be overwhelming experiences, and for that I think Nico fits perfectly. Plus, her album Chelsea Girl is one beautiful, fantastic record…even if Nico herself hated it!

  15. dumbek Says:

    I totally credit R.E.M. with introducing me to The Velvet Underground. I figured if the band was covering this many songs, they must be worth checking out. The Nico record is by far my favorite, but it takes a while to get used to her voice. “Loaded” is a little more accessible, I think. But, really, they’re all mandatory listening. Once you get familiar with their records, you’ll start hearing their influence everywhere.

  16. Purplebee Says:

    always loved the version of Pale Blue Eyes on DLO.
    Found this on Youtube while frittering my time away – – absolutely gorgeous & doesn’t Michael look like an angel

  17. ScottMalobisky Says:

    sticking spike into vein now
    acqiring proper perspective

  18. Andy Says:

    I like Matthew’s point about the band reverse-engineering the songs to reveal the 50s-60s pop side. But I sort of feel like they picked easy ones to do that with: “There She Goes Again” is pretty poppy, even when Lou Reed sings it.

    Now, if they’d turned “Sister Ray” into “pure bubblegum”, that’d be an achievement.

    I love “After Hours” and saw R.E.M. do their version on April Fools Day 1989.

    On a side note: I’ve always felt the Velvets’ self-titled album was one long story arc about trying to find another way to live, to lift oneself out of a certain kind of damaging lifestyle–only to realize that’s not really possible.

    “After Hours” was the endnote, the sweet, dangerous moment when you realize that THIS IS your life, so you take another drink.

  19. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I have always loved all of REM’s VU covers, but especially Pale Blue Eyes and There She Goes Again, both of which are pure pop gems as done by REM. I also really like the VU versions of these songs but must admit that they are almost different songs in their original form because of the very different tones. I love the sloppy, half-done feel of all of the REM versions.

    In another note I teach a rock and roll history course and the Velvet Undergorund are the most difficult band in the entire course to fit into a sound or era or style or genre. They don’y fit well in any real style, but at the same time are way too influential and important to not discuss. They were way ahead of their time in many ways, and even being as influential as they were, nobody sounds like them. It’s a weird paradox. Important and influential band that nobody sounds like (at least until postmodern era with The Strokes – and then only tangentially).

    Oh, want to hear a train wreck? Try Duran Duran’s version of Femme Fatale.

  20. jim jos Says:

    well, I like Duran Duran’s version of Perfect Day (as does Lou Reed, from what I’ve heard).

    What a clon…

    The VU are a good band, no doubt, however, unlike Dylan, I almost prefer most VU covers to the original things. (unless its Byrds version of My Back Pages or Hendrix doing Watchtower). I don’t care what you all say, I will take the Cowboy Junkies version of Sweet Jane over VU any day. But, not being so black and white, its nice to have both.

    That holds true of the R.E.M. covers as well.

    While I like them i.e. Velvet Underground, and the Ramones, and the Heads (really like them), I am sorry, crucify me for this…I find them all to be part good bands, part NYC hype jobs. There…I said it.

    Oh and big news. The front page of Wikipedia has R.E.M. on it….amazing, must be all those edits I have made to the Accelerate page.

  21. kirk Says:

    good to hear your voice again m.p.
    welcome to july.
    hope you’re having a great summer.

  22. michael Says:

    “Just do yourself a favor, davegassner, and don’t start with White Light/White Heat.”

    oddly enough i started with WL/WH (besides hearing Venus In Furs), and it’s the only VU album i love the whole way through.

  23. Mr Cup Says:

    That youtube link is gold.

    Does anyone think it odd that a bands first album features a guest star, even promotes a guest star so heavily?

  24. Scott Says:

    Not really–the Velvets were kind of Andy Warhol’s guest stars at first anyway.

  25. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Jim Jos, I like Duran’s Perfect Day as well, but most of the rest of their covers CD is so bad/strange that it is good. C’mon Duran Duran doing Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke” or Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” or “Watching The Detectives” by Elvis Costello – these shouldn’t even be listenable, yet somehow they are, almost good… and scary too.

    Speaking of covers one of my favorites is Weezer’s version of Britney Spears “Baby, One More Time”.

  26. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Oh, I also quite like Lou Reed on The Killers “Tranquilize”.

  27. adam Says:

    after hours was certainly on the green tour.. but not much of the preceding tours.

  28. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’ve heard a lot of rock bands cover “Baby One more Time.” Including so guy on that INXS show. It’s a great song. And great song are great song. Mrs. Spears version is a little obnoxious. But ever cover I heard of it is fantastic. So fantastic that I bet the song is at least a minor hit for someone else in the next 15 years or so.

  29. adam Says:

    I sure wish REM injected a few more covers, old or new.. into sets these days

  30. Ignis Sol Says:

    Sometimes we all feel like characters from VU songs. This is why it is great to hear R.E.M. interpret them.

    What song are you?

  31. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Foggy Notion

  32. Ignis Sol Says:

    Perfect Day

  33. Mr Cup Says:

    Mr Rain

  34. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    What Goes On

  35. Chris Oliver Says:

    The second time I saw them (Pageant tour), for their final encore they did “All Tomorow’s Parties” (Michael a capella, beautiful rendition), “There She Goes Again”, “Femme Fatale,” “Sweet Jane” (loose, improvisatinoal jam with Michael adlibbing words) and “Afterhours.” Local hero Charlie Pickett was sitting in on some of those songs, but I can’t remember which. God, that was great.

  36. ScottMalobisky Says:

    interestingly , this site is not on the list of “sites we like” at HQ……booooo………whereas and others are ……raise some hell, Matthew

  37. jim jos Says:

    I’m beginning to see the light.

  38. Kirsten Says:

    Pop Songs use to be listed. They must have read These Days and changed their minds…..

    They played Wild Thing a lot in the early 80’s. It was really fun, a little out of tune perhaps, but fun. I really wish I’d been there for those early shows.

  39. lenny Says:

    I have no opinion on the VU discussion (don’t know anything about them, only know the REM covers) — I’m just chiming in on Duran Duran. Everyone is forgetting their best cover song — they did “Thank You” on the Led Zeppelin tribute album, with a really wicked and trippy guitar solo.

    And speaking of Britney covers — check out Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine’s version of “Crazy”. Hysterical.

  40. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Little drops of rain
    Whisper on the pane
    Tears of love lost
    In the days gone by

  41. Andy Says:

    Great Britney cover? Richard Thompson’s “Oops I Did It Again.”

    Which VU is me?

    “I’m Set Free”

  42. Ignis Sol Says:

    Can we agree not to mention Britney ever again in the little time we have left together?

  43. Paul Alferink Says:

    You just mentioned Brittney now.

  44. Ignis Sol Says:


  45. Kirsten Says:

    Starting now!

  46. Paul Alferink Says:

    Starting what now?

  47. Kirsten Says:

    Don’t say the “B” word! No wonder REM took us off their “sites we like” list with talk of things like that. 🙂

  48. Andy Says:


  49. Mr Cup Says:

    Wasn’t Britney one of the working titles for Accelerate?

  50. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Does make me wonder why they took us off–maybe they’re disgusted with my nonsense,-or is that giving myself too much credit? , is it some honcho at HQ , or would the band actually be involved in this ?? seems hardly likely ,but then…

    I have a confession to make SING FOR is finally getting under my skin, I’ve become fascinated with that song, used to think it was a slab of filler..just took a little while, Mr. Richards and Horse To Water, also.

    anyone ever see Mystic River ?

  51. Rob Says:

    I never got round to seeing that one Scott, but I misheard a friend of mine and thought that he was raving about a film called Mr Gribble. That’s one I want to see…

  52. Paul Alferink Says:

    Maybe Matthew hurt HQ’s feelings with his review of “I’ll Take the Rain.”

  53. lenny Says:

    No, I think it’s because of the idle chatter on here that has nothing to do with R.E.M. So, in that case, “These Days” probably had something to do with it. I blame myself.

    On that note — Mr. Gribble, wasn’t that the sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire?

  54. Rob Says:

    “Mr Gribble, your position/ Pay attention/ Pay attention…”

  55. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Man Sized Wreath video posted on HQ, I like the Tienammen Square reference….and I detect a hint of Tentacle stylistic variations but without the seething undercurrents , Mr. Cup as consultant on the projsct, perhaps..

  56. Andy Says:

    Rob, you set-up your own joke! Masterful!

  57. Ignis Sol Says:

    i set up my own jokes
    but i am the only who laughs

  58. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ha ha charade you are

  59. lenny Says:


    “You gotta stem the evil tide,
    And keep it all on the inside.”

    (In other words — this stuff belongs on the “These Days” page, not here!)

  60. Ignis Sol Says:

    I am having a VU moment…indulge me…my Pop Songs 08 Friends

    there is a blood stain on the floor
    love has been made here before
    deep in the dirty heart of seattle
    i am waitin’ on the beautiful battle
    of love vs. hate
    of black vs. white
    these are things are favorites poets
    never dare write

    i am lost in the sadness
    mixed in his happiness
    we all have fallen to rely/depend on

    and isn’t that a beautiful thing?
    oh. isn’t that a beautiful thing?
    Love and life, such beautiful thing

  61. […] – bookmarked by 2 members originally found by adevv on July 16, 2008 There She Goes Again, Pale Blue Eyes, Femme Fatale, and After Hours – bookmarked by 4 members […]

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