May 092013

I love Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.” I love the song, I should say, as performed by Lou Reed. There’s something inherent in its structure that draws me in whenever I hear him perform it. However, to my ears, there’s not a definitive version of the song. My love for the song is due to an accumulation of the song’s structure, or DNA, if you will, and multiple recorded versions I have heard. I don’t know if there’s a song like this for you.

The original, commercially released studio version from Transformer is pretty damn good, but like the rest of that album (beside the exquisite “Walk on the Wild Side”) I feel it suffers ever-so-slightly from David Bowie‘s razor-thin production and Lou’s campy performance. The twinkly piano style is not exactly my cup of tea either. To me, these factors bring an A song down to a B+ level.

Any version with the early-’80s Robert Quine-driven band, especially this one from the A Night With Lou Reed video, gets me over the sometimes too-wispy humps of the original album version, but there’s Lou’s tough-guy, 1-note bark of a live singing voice to contend with. I am always turned on, however, when the band kicks into the Power Rock ending and Lou starts hopping about and making his First-Big-Boy-Goes-Poopy-on-the-Potty faces. That makes up for all the excitement that’s otherwise lost in Bowie’s backing vocals on the album version’s coda.

The 1975 version from Lou Reed Live, the Rock ‘n Roll Animal leftovers album, has cool, probably studio-overdubbed vocals, and twin-guitar interplay right out of the gates. It lacks, however, the late-night, “inner voice” feeling that the song seems to be all about. In another world, this version may have been the best song Be-Bop Deluxe ever recorded.

I’ve already pumped up “Satellite of Love” as a flawless piece of songwriting design. Perhaps I’ve overlooked the one inherent flaw in the song’s design: the middle eight. It necessitates some kind of campy delivery that seems out of place in either the song’s sincere Transformer performance or any of the more macho live performances. It fits in well, however, on this sloppy Velvet Underground run-through of the song, an outtake from the Loaded session, I believe. Too bad the lyrics were not complete and that Lou and the band occasionally threaten to fall into that Grateful Dead-like “Lonesome Lisa Says” vein that makes too much of Loaded and the Live 1969 album a slight bore for my tastes.

Anyhow, those are my opinions of the minor shortcomings of the recorded versions of “Satellite of Love” that I know best. I still love the song, but I’m always surprised that I don’t love any particular version of the song. Is there a song that works that way for you?


  19 Responses to “Tremendous Songs That Somehow Lack a Definitive Version”

  1. misterioso

    Unfortunately, not only is there not a definitive version, there isn’t even a good version. C+ at best.

  2. jeangray


  3. Your opinion of the song is of little value in this thread. The song can withstand your slings and arrows.

    Seriously, does anyone else have a song like this, a song you love despite not LOVING any particular version that’s been recorded?

  4. This is a good question. The song that immediately popped into my mind is “This Is Radio Clash” — which I first heard on Black Market Clash.

    Some are just labeled “Radio Clash” — which I guess is part of the same song.

    Here’s a version of that little number from the Tom Snyder show — which is circa the only time I got to see them at the horrible, horrible St. Paul Civic Center where the WHL Minnesota Fighting Saints used to play.

  5. A finished Velvets version might’ve made the grade. It’s a weirdly oblique song but in a good way.

    I really like the way Reed sang with the Velvets. He had a Dylan quality voice, grating but arresting, and his stilted clumsy phrasing (as opposed to Dylan, who always had a very comfortable swing to his phrasing) had its own unique charm. I think this goes back to your appreciation of Reed as a desperately uncomfortable rocker.

    After the Velvets, Lou’s songs began insinuate melody, about three actual notes were employed on his first couple of solo records, maybe two notes on the Rock’n’Roll Animal era, and finally one note for the next 35 years or so, nearly a mime version of actual singing.

  6. misterioso

    Actually, the best versions of the song I have heard are by U2.

  7. misterioso

    I kind of feel this way about Dylan’s song “Chimes of Freedom.” His original version on Another Side is only ok and kind of flat as a performance. The Byrds’ version is good but really only a fragment of the song. It is a tremendous and moving lyric, but like several great songs on Another Side it would have been much better performed a year or two later. I’ve never heard a great live version by Dylan, either, though the one from Newport 1964 is kind of nice. But it still lacks something.

  8. mockcarr

    I like Badfinger’s Without You as a song, but every singer can’t resist going over the top on the chorus or screws something else up. Like Mariah Carey does by being Mariah Carey, for instance. I guess Nilsson handled the vocals the best but I don’t like the treacly production on his version so much. The version I listen to is the demo by Pete Ham before the chorus from Tom Evans was added, but it’s not really the total song yet. The Badfinger guys couldn’t really record the chorus properly either, it seems like a tough song to get.

  9. A lot of 80’s stuff would fall into this category for me because of the horrible production. Don’t tell a soul by the Replacements would probably be more highly regarded if it wasn’t overwhelmed by studio chicanery. I can’t help but think that Tim would have benefitted from some better production choices as well.

  10. cliff sovinsanity

    Is this where we rehash the argument over the many versions of Can’t Hardly Wait? This was covered in another thread a few months ago, but I stand by the Please To Meet Me version with all the horns and slick production. Although, the early versions have funnier lyrics.

  11. cliff sovinsanity

    I’m going to throw “Hello It’s Me” into the discussion. I think the Something/Anything version is really really really good, but it seems every time I listen to the song I wait for the obvious vocal flub towards the end of the song. It seems Todd gives up on the vocals after that point. I can’t believe they didn’t do another take after that. Were they running late on studio time?

    The Nazz version is just to damn slow for me. All subsequent live performances seem to miss some element from the Something/Anything version. Either it’s missing the horns, Moogy on the organ, or the back up singers. Or often it’s Todd who can’t muster up a decent vocal on the song.

  12. A great example for me, too.

  13. jeangray

    I believe that Todd did that on purpose. You should check out some of the remix versions & there is even a “LIVE” version that he does with Stevie Nicks!

  14. cliff sovinsanity

    Where would I find the remix versions? I still have my trusty vinyl version.
    Couldn’t find any info about the vocal flub being intentional. Anything out there I could read.

  15. I love Joe Walsh’s take on the definitive version as related at the beginning of this performance: ‘If I knew I was going to have to play this every day for the rest of my life, I probably would have wrote something else…

  16. machinery

    Funny, the Nazz version is the only version for me. The bass part is awesome. And I love that iot’s slow. Hat the Sax in the other version. Hate it!!

  17. cliff sovinsanity

    I should have mentioned that like most people I came across the Todd version first, so when I heard the Nazz version it sounded unusually slow. I don’t dislike that version, but in hindsight it sounds incomplete…to me.
    There’s always that inherent danger of hearing a later version or a cover version of a song first. It will alter your perception of how the original song was meant to sound. Make sense?

  18. jeangray

    Todd put a CD in 2000 entitled “Todd Rundgren: Reconstructed” that has all kinds of remixes of various songs of his, including two different versions of “Hello, It’s Me.” It’s a pretty cool album for Todd and/or remix fanatics. I also was able to locate a version of it that he did with Edgar Winter, of all people! Some of these can be found on youtube too.

    Let me clarify about the vocal flub — it may have not been done intentionally, but it was certainly intentionally left in there. It would have been easy for Todd to have just edited it out, or just record another take. He’s too much of a recording studio rat for it to not have been intentionally left in.

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