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?