The Velvet Underground leader Lou Reed wrote this song as a surreal look at the life of a rock star. Reed included the song in his live sets; it appeared on his album Live at Max's Kansas City in 1972 and on another live album, Rock n Roll Animal, in 1974. The version on Rock n Roll Animal, which was recorded at a New York show on December 21, 1973, features the twin-guitar work of Steven Hunter and Dick Wagner, who Reed employed to rock out his songs on tour.
Released as a single, this live version of the song heralded a new sound for Reed, one he quickly abandoned when he fired Hunter and Wagner at the end of the tour and disavowed the album. Reed released his intentionally awful Metal Machine Music album the following year, while his bygone guitarists joined Alice Cooper on tour, with Wagner becoming Cooper's songwriting partner. In our interview with Dick Wagner, he explained: "He claims that he didn't like the Rock n' Roll Animal album, but at the time he sure loved it. A lot of the songs were from the Velvet Underground days, and I wanted to take them out of that placid performance of the songs and make it more for the concert stage and the stadiums, so I did some majestic arranging with some of the songs - that's what I do. Within the context of the band and how to deliver the songs, it really worked. I guess Lou doesn't really like it that much, but that's kind of a lie."
This was Reed's attempt at writing a hit for the Velvet Underground, who were highly influential, but commercially doomed. Loaded was the band's last album, and the title was a reference to the record company mandate that the album be "Loaded with hits."
There was a great deal of acrimony during recording of the album, and Reed left before it was finished. In his absence, "Sweet Jane" was edited down, with a wistful coda removed from the song. This angered Reed, who told Rolling Stone magazine that if he knew they were going to press on with the album, "I would have stayed with them and showed them what to do." The full version of the song can be heard on the album Live at Max's Kansas City, recorded in 1969.
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France
This song appears on the album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, which was released in 1974. This is the double album with the famous gatefold revealing a leggy model in sparkling go-go boots and hot pants showing some can, on a vibrant green background; very sought-after by today's VU collectors. There, "Sweet Jane" has a significantly different chord progression and lyrics; it was still a work-in-progress. Captured on the bootleg recording of Lou Reed's last night performing live with The Velvet Underground, which happened through the tail end of the Loaded sessions, is one Jim Carroll. As told in The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side, Carroll can be heard ordering a Pernod and discussing the drug Tuinal. Carroll would later write The Basketball Diaries.
Reed did a parody version on his 1979 album Live - Take No Prisoners.
The original lyrics were, "Jane in her corset, Jack is in his vest, and me I'm in a rock n' roll band." Lou changed them to "Jack is in a corset, Jane is in a vest" to portray the wackiness of rock stars.
Suggestion credit: Kristy - La Porte City, IA
Mott the Hoople covered this on their All the Young Dudes album, which was also produced by David Bowie - Reed fully endorsed this cover and even did a reference vocal to help them out. Another version Reed liked was the one recorded by Brownsville Station on their 1973 album Yeah!.
Other notable covers of this song include versions by Cowboy Junkies, 2 Nice Girls, Phish, The Kooks, Gang of Four, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Reed himself appeared with Metallica (Metallica!) on October 25, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City to perform "Sweet Jane" at the concert to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Q Magazine rated "Sweet Jane" at #18 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, and Guitar World rated it at #81 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, while Rolling Stone ranked it #335 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Jack from SpanI'm a fan of Lou Reed but I've read a lot about him, enough to both admire his talent and avoid any excessive mistification. Lou was a nice songwriter and overall a superior personality but he also relied a lot on the musicians around him, who usually were far more proficient than himself. Lou usually referred to himself as "a writer", and although he had his moments on guitar, he was not exactly what we mean by "a great musician". John Cale was one, and (really!) Doug Yule was another. One of the sides of his poliedric personality was that of the entrepreneur, he had the talent to attract around him the best performers (and to suck every drop of their blood if they let him). There is a very interesting interview with Doug Yule on the internet where he concludes "Lou was not strong at music". Doug tells how much Lou relied on the musicians around to write his music "he made a living out of this". Now, coming back to Sweet Jane, a lot of people quote the R'n'R Animal version as one of the most prominent, probably it is the best known. I love it too. But don't credit that "R'n'r animal sound" to Lou. It was his guitarists at the time, Steve Hunter and particularly Dick Wagner, the responsible for those arrangements. As you can see in the surviving videos of that tour, the musicians play while Lou just performs his particular "speed dance" and tries to sing. But yeah he is great anyway, I see him as one of the talents of that age, not really a natural born musician but rather a genius in a much broader and mysterious sense, like Lennon.
David from Atlanta, GaSimply one of the best riffs of all times.
Joe from Boston, MaA cover of this song was featured in the Oliver Stone movie "Natural Born Killers". I think that Reed was to punk what Dylan was to folk music.
Derek from Pittsburgh, PaGreat live versions of the song are on Live at Max's... and on 1969: Live...
Ross from Brooklyn, NyI was in a band that did the song complete with the "Intro" from "Rock and Roll Animal" along with the excised bridge! The "bridge" version can be found on "Fully Loaded"as well as "Live at Max's Kansas City" and is the version the Cowboy Junkies do. There is another version on the "Live '69" set that starts with the "Anyone who ever had a heart" coda.
Barbara from Virginia Beach, VaI couldn't agree more with Molly in Oregon. The 2 Nice Girls cover of this song is an absolute classic.
Peter from Boulder, CoThe Michael Stanley band recorded a weird medley of Sweet Jane and Witchee-tai-tai-to (sp?).
N from Staten Island, NyThis CD contains the long version of 'Sweet Jane': RHINO catalog# R272563, VELVET UNDERGROUND, "LOADED - FULLY LOADED EDITION"
Constantijn from Amsterdam, NetherlandsSaw Lou Reed live yesterday in Amsterdam. Him starting off Sweet Jane is like Jesse James shooting you in the head personally.
Molly from Roseburg, OrAn obscure women's folk act called 2 Nice Girls did a very cool arrangement of "Sweet Jane," combining it with Joan Armatrading's "Love and Affection" to make a medley. Worth digging into 99-cent record bins to find.
Charles Young from Charleston, WvThe Best Version of this is the long version from the reissure of loaded its the full version that lou original wrote with the underground. there is also a cool cover by Gang of Four off the reissue of Entertainment check it out folks!
Funkylenny from Ft. Wayne, InActually, the year of release of "Rock & Roll Animal" was 1974, not 1964 as listed above. The live version, featured on Rock & Roll Animal and clocking in at 7:45, is BY FAR the most well known version.
Ferdinand from Hilversum, NetherlandsThe Cowboy Junkies' version is much slower and sounds quite fragile. On the record sleeve there's a sticker that says something like Lou Reed liked the Cowboy Junkies' version better than any of his. Oliver Stone used the song for the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers.
Scott from Syracuse, NyThis song showed up on the disc "Live on Letterman". I always thought this version epitomised Rock-n-Roll
Marcus from Sydney, AustraliaMaybe they should change it from "lou Reed" to "The velvet underground". *Shrugs*
Nelle from Lima, PeruI think that the fact that they were commercially doomed actually portraits them as this amazingly complex band that only few got. They are captivating and compulsive. One of the best things i've ever heard
Kendall from Thomasville, GaActually Lou Reed was making this song before he got Velvet Underground started... so technically this song IS a Lou Reed song.
Ronnie from Ft. Meyers, FlI don't know why this is listed as Reed and not the Velvet Underground who did the original on the album Loaded. The old saying was, only about 3000 people bought Velvet Underground albums but all of them started a band. Along with Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground was one of the most influential bands ever. All the punk music and so called alternative stuff of the 1970's and 1980's can thank the Velvet Underground. They were 20 years ahead of their time, so far ahead no one had heard anything like it and no one but a few select bought their albums.
Paul from Baltimore, Mdthere is a great live version by reed with soul asylum from the concert for the opening of the rock and roll hall of fame in cleveland, which is on a double cd set (which might be out of print by now)....
Mike from Hamilton, CanadaThe Canadian Alt/Rock Band The Cowboy Junkies also covered this classic...
Kristy from La Porte City, IaI could be wrong, but wasn't "Sweet Jane" on the 1970 album, Loaded? Maybe it was first released on Rock n' Roll Animal, but the most well known version is on Loaded.
George from Williston, NcThis was covered by Mott the Hoople on their "All the Young Dudes" album.