Lou Reed’s Earliest Known 1965 Demo of “Heroin” Released

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Light in the Attic and Laurie Anderson have released the earliest known recording of Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground song “Heroin.” 

Originally released in 1967 on The Velvet Underground & Nico in March 1967, the demo was recorded in May 1965 by Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale. Singing I don’t know just where I’m going, but I’m going to try for the kingdom if I can ’cause it makes me feel like I’m a man when I put a spike into my vein / And I tell you things aren’t quite the same when I’m rushing on my run / And I feel just like Jesus’ son / And I guess that I just don’t know / And I guess that I just don’t know, “Heroin” was Reed’s own account of addiction.

“Lou loved rock ‘n’ roll, and he loved poetry,” said Lou Reed biographer Anthony DeCurtis. “And he thought to himself, you know, suppose we could make an album that someone like Delmore Schwartz would like the lyrics. And you know, we can draw on people like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. And that’s what “Heroin” is. And it’s also such a depiction of an addict really and a kind of mindset.”

The original packaging of songs of what would become ‘Words & Songs’ that Lou Reed mailed to himself. Package, front Side, postmarked May 11th 1965 (Photo: Lou Reed Archive, Music Division, NY Public Library for the Performing Arts)

“Heroin (May 1965 Demo)” is one track off the archival collection Words & Music, May 1965, out August 26, featuring more of Reed’s earliest known recordings, captured and written by a young Reed in his formative years and recorded to tape with the help of Cale. Reed mailed the recordings to himself as a “poor man’s copyright,” and the songs remained sealed in the original envelope, unopened for nearly 50 years.

Words & Music also features the Velvet Underground rarity “Buttercup Song,” along with earlier versions of “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” a version of Nico’s Chelsea Girl track “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” sung by Cale, and “Men of Good Fortune,” which has different lyrics and music from the song of the same title on Reed’s 1973 solo album Berlin.

The rarities of Words & Music is the inaugural release in the Lou Reed Archive Series, a series of rare and unreleased material, produced by Reed’s widow, performance artist Laurie Anderson along with Don Fleming, the late Hal Willner, Jason Stern, and Matt Sullivan. The series is meant to be released in celebration of what would have been Reed’s 80th birthday. Reed died on Oct. 27, 2013, from liver disease.

‘Words & Music’ Album Cover

Along with the announcement of Words & Music, the New York Public Library unveiled a large archival exhibit, Lou Reed: Caught Between The Twisted Stars, featuring recordings, photographs, notes, and more, curated by Fleming and Stern.

Available in all formats, the deluxe version of Words & Music, designed by Masaki Koike, also features a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and a Doo-Wop serenade recorded in 1958 when Reed was 16 years old. Accompanying the elaborate set is a saddle-stitched, die-cut 28-page book featuring lyrics, archival photos, liner notes by Greil Marcus, and other rarities, including a letter Reed wrote to his college professor and poet, Delmore Schwartz in 1964.

Additionally, the11-track digital release of Words & Music, May 1965 is out Aug. 26, along with a six-song digital EP, Gee Whiz, 1958-1964, out Oct. 7. 

Photo: Julian Schnabel / Pitch Perfect PR

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