I'm Waiting For The Man

Album: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • This is another in the Velvet Underground's canon of songs about drugs. Not only does it fit nicely with "Heroin," it was also on the same album, and was also written by Lou Reed at about the same time as "Heroin," during Reed's attendance at Syracuse University in the early 1960s. It describes a trip to a Harlem brownstone near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street to buy drugs from a dealer, "the man" of the title. Once again, it neither condones nor condemns the experience, but merely describes it.
  • The song is about scoring $26 worth of heroin in Harlem. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Reed said: "Everything about that song holds true, except the price." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • As described in The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side, songs like "I'm Waiting For The Man," "Heroin," and "Venus In Furs" were what kept The Velvet Underground out of a record contract with Atlantic Records. Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun wouldn't take them unless they dropped these songs, and the Velvets, typically putting ideas ahead of money, just couldn't live with that. So their first album ended up with MGM Records instead. Even after their signing with Atlantic for their fourth album, Loaded, Ahmet specifically told them to tone down controversial material.
  • Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, and Maureen Tucker have all recorded solo versions of the song.
  • This song was a big influence on David Bowie, who explained to Performing Songwriter magazine in 2003: "I actually played 'Waiting for the Man' in Britain with my band before the album was even released in America. Talk about oneupsmanship. A friend of mine came over to the states to do some work with Andy Warhol at The Factory, and as he was leaving, Andy said, 'Oh, I just made this album with some people. Maybe you can take it back to England and see if you can get any interest over there.' And it was still the vinyl test pressing. It hadn't got a company or anything at the time. I still have it. There's a white label on it, and it says 'Warhol.' He signed it. My friend gave it to me and he said, 'This is crap. You like weird stuff, so maybe you'll enjoy it.' I played it and it was like 'Ah, this is the future of music!' I was in awe. It was serious and dangerous and I loved it. And I literally went into a band rehearsal the next day, put the album down and said, 'We're going to learn this song. It is unlike anything I've ever heard.' We learned 'Waiting for the Man' right then and there, and we were playing it on stage within a week. I told Lou that, and he loved it. I must have been the first person in the world to cover a Velvet Underground song."

    David Bowie covered the song in 1972, and included it on his album BBC Sessions. Lou Reed sang it in a duet with Bowie during Bowie's 50th birthday concert, known as "Live at 50." Bowie's version is on the soundtrack of the movie Almost Famous. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Br17is - pisa, Italy
  • Besides David Bowie, amongst the many acts to cover "I'm Waiting For The Man," the most notable are Cheap Trick, Bauhaus, and the U.K. Subs. It shares credit with the Ramones' "53rd & 3rd" for being a famous song related to drugs (the Ramones one is about turning a trick for drug money) pinned to a specific New York intersection.
  • Moe Tucker talked about this song in an interview with Prism Films. During recording, she said, her drum stand was so shaky that it was interfering with the sound. To fix this, Tucker set the drum down on the floor. That's how she's playing it in the studio version.

    Sterling Morrison's wife Martha held the drum in place as Tucker played. "So she's on the record, too, in a way," Tucker said.
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 18

  • Hugh from Phoenix, AzOne of the earliest punk songs, in my opinion. I don't think the influence of this song on many future artists can be overstated.
  • Derek from Pittsburgh, PaMake sure to check out the live versions of the song, which can be found on Bataclan 72 (1), The Bootleg Series (2), the Springfield Concert (1), 1969: Live (1), and La Cave 1968 (1). The best one is definitely on 1969: Live though (followed closely by the one on Disc 1 of the Bootleg Series).
  • Kimberly from Pomona, CaCraig pointed out about the drum beat mimicking the anxiousness of a junkie waiting for a fix - well as an ex-junkie I always marveled at the genius of this song to put that feeling to music so accurately.
  • J from Nyc, NyOh, and this song kicks ass! orangebreaker, just to clarify, no one in the 1960's or 70's (or ever) would be going to 125&Lex to "shake" a habit, only to feed one.
  • J from Nyc, NyQuick Manhattan Geography lesson: Harlem is part of Manhattan, yes, Uptown, but still Manhattan; the general border is also 96th St (varies a little on a few avenues).
  • David from St. Louis, NeLexington and 125th Street is in Harlem, not Manhattan. Anything above 110th Street is considered Harlem, AKA "Uptown"
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaWhen I first heard this song, the number 26 kept coming up everywhere I went for about a month.
  • Jacob from Waterford, Cton the album, Live at Max's Kansas City, Lou Reed introduces the song with the statement, "its a song about love between man and subway." not really sure considering its blatantly about heroin. he also said in an interview that the whole song was true, except for the small price of the heroin ($26). haha
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI agree. The guitar on this is great.
  • Erik from Bloomfield Hills, MiActually, orangebreaker, the "up to Lexington, one two five" lyric refers to a street corner in Manhattan, Lexington & 125th street.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoA great performance of a great song. Lou Reed hit his peak early on with this song...
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaThe guitar on this song rules.
  • Orangebeaker from Edinburgh, Scotland"up to lexington, one two five, feel sick and dirty - more dead than alive" Lexington was ostensibly a place where heroin addicts could go to shake a habit.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThat's funy that David Bowie covered it. Well... maybe it's not that odd. Isn't it funny though, that it was covered in 1972, and "Walk On The Wild Side" was released the same year, on an album that was produced by David Bowie? I wonder if those two particular events have any connection.
  • Frank from Mars, MeAllegedly was the inspiration for the Jonathan Richman's 'I'm Straight'
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, Sci know it was about a drug dealer. Listen to the song and you'll know why it's about one.
  • Craig from Madison, WiMoe Tucker's insistent and persistent drum beat may seem redundant and minimalistic mimics the anxious slapping of thighs a junkie does while waiting for a fix (or anyone does when they are very impatient or have to go to the bathroom). Next time you hear the song, play along on your thighs. It makes you feel nervous. For added effect clench your eyes shut and rock back and forth while humming the song under your breath.
  • Kris from Toronto, CanadaBowie's version was first on the soundtrack to his own movie "Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture"
see more comments

Art Alexakis of EverclearSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer of Everclear, Art is also their primary songwriter.

Joe Elliott of Def LeppardSongwriter Interviews

The Def Leppard frontman talks about their "lamentable" hit he never thought of as a single, and why he's juiced by his Mott The Hoople cover band.

Stan RidgwaySongwriter Interviews

Go beyond the Wall of Voodoo with this cinematic songwriter.

Roger McGuinn of The ByrdsSongwriter Interviews

Roger reveals the songwriting formula Clive Davis told him, and if "Eight Miles High" is really about drugs.

Rock Revenge SongsMusic Quiz

John Lennon, Paul Simon and Lynyrd Skynyrd are some of the artists who have written revenge songs. Do you know who they wrote them about?

Don FelderSongwriter Interviews

Don breaks down "Hotel California" and other songs he wrote as a member of the Eagles. Now we know where the "warm smell of colitas" came from.