The song is about purchasing 26 dollars worth of heroin in a Harlem brownstone near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street in New York City. The song is sung from the point of view of the purchaser who is presumably traveling to Harlem from another part of the city; the "man" in the song's title is a drug dealer. Along with traditional guitar, bass, and drums, the song also features pounding, percussive rock-and-roll barrelhouse-style piano. It is one of the band's more popular songs, and one of their many compositions featuring drugs as subject matter. After leaving the band in 1970, Lou Reed continued to incorporate the song into his solo live performances. Reed does not often sing the song himself anymore. Released as a single in October 1971 (b/w "There She Goes Again") as Andy Warhol's Velvet Underground on MGM Records.
Alternate versions[edit source | edit]Edit
Ludlow Street Loft, July 1965[edit source | edit]EditA row of tenements on the Lower East Side.
The song was among a set of early songs to be recorded by Lou Reed, John Cale and Sterling Morrison in the band's Ludlow Street loft in Manhattan. This version of the song, free of percussion, has a considerably more folk and even blues influence in style than the album version. It is available on the first disc of the Peel Slowly and See box set.
Scepter Studios, April 1966[edit source | edit]Edit
Before the final album version of the song was re-recorded at T.T.G. Studios, in Hollywood, California, a different take of the song was originally recorded at Scepter Studios in New York City. This take of the song is slightly shorter, the piano is less audible and instead of drums, a tambourine is employed. Also of note is that Reed sings "I'm waiting for the man" at the beginning of the song. Through the album version, Reed sings "I'm waiting for my man."
Personnel[edit source | edit]Edit
- Lou Reed - lead vocal, lead guitar
- John Cale - piano, bass guitar
- Sterling Morrison - guitar
- Maureen Tucker - drums
Cover versions[edit source | edit]Edit
Other artists who have recorded covers of the song include:
- The Riot Squad, with David Bowie 
- Beck, a curiously discordant jangle 
- Celibate Rifles
- Eater, an unusually up-tempo 1978 version by punk teenagers
- Električni Orgazam, on their album of English language covers Les Chansones Populaires
- Elektryczne Gitary, on the 1997 album Na krzywy ryj
- Été 67, on the Belgian (but not French) version of their eponymous first album
- Beck-Page's The Yardbirds
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as a B-side to the extended-play version of Messages
- Phillip Boa & The Voodooclub on the 1989 album Hair
- The Riffs on the 2001 album Underground Kicks
- Samm Bennett.
- Sheep on Drugs, on their 1997 album One For The Money
- Slaughter & The Dogs, on the 1978 album Do it Dog Style
- The Swayback
- U.K. Subs, B-side of the 1980 single Warhead
- Vanessa Paradis, on her eponymous 1992 English language debut album
- Vitamin String Quartet
- Robert Caruso, bonus track to the Ecce Homo CD, 2008
Live covers[edit source | edit]Edit
- Bauhaus (with Nico) included a live version on Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape
- Belle & Sebastian, recorded the song in 2001 and released on the BBC Sessions album
- Cheap Trick included a live recording of the song on the 1996 rarities collection Sex, America, Cheap Trick. Reportedly Robin Zander initially failed to learn the song's lyrics so Tom Petersson would sing it at early concerts.
- David Bowie on Bowie at the Beeb. Another version of the song appeared on David Bowie's Live: Santa Monica '72 featuring Mick Ronson on guitar. This performance was used in the 2000 film Almost Famous. Bowie also performed the song on his Isolar tour of 1976, and one such performance appears on the Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 records in the 2010 Special Edition and Deluxe Edition box set releases of the Station to Station album.
- Debbie Harry frequently ended her live sets with the song between 1989 and 1991.
- Late Smashing Pumpkins also incorporated the song in their live set list.
- Pink Fairies often played the song, as on their reunion live album Live at the Roundhouse 1975
- Robert Plant and Jimmy Page played the song during their various incarnations in their Plant and Page tours. Robert Plant's Priory of Brian also did a cover of the song.
- Tom Robinson, released as a live track on Rising Free
- Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
- Vic Ruggiero and Kepi Ghoulie
- Various Echo & The Bunnymen and Ian McCulloch performances
- Richard Hawley has covered the song live.
Remixed forms and lyric usage[edit source | edit]Edit
- 2 Many DJs compilation album As Heard On Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 uses the song's original recording in remixed form.
- Death Cab for Cutie's lyric "To a brownstone, up three flights of stairs" in their song "No Joy in Mudville" is a direct, uncredited lift from "I'm Waiting For The Man".
- The lyrics were used in the 2002 ballet by Édouard Lock and La La La Human Steps "Amelia" with completely different music by David Lang.