There’s no question that critical acclaim has kept the music of The Velvet Underground alive, since lord knows their overall sales figures were never anything to write home about. That said, the band’s songs have gained popularity over the years in part by being covered by other artists; one such song is "Sweet Jane," found on the band’s 1970 album, Loaded.
Written by Lou Reed, “Sweet Jane” was penned as a look into the life of a rock star, but was also an unabashed attempt by Reed to write a hit for the group. Indeed, the reason the album was given the title Loaded as a shot at the band’s label, who insisted that the LP should be “loaded with hits.”
“Many of the songs had been played live, but the recorded versions were very different than the road versions,” bassist Doug Yule wrote in 1996. “The emphasis was on air time. Every song was looked at with the understanding that there was a need to produce some kind of mainstream hit… Songs were built intellectually rather than by the processes that live performances brought to bear, instinct and trial and error.”
Unfortunately, the sessions for the album were loaded more with tension than future hit singles, resulting in Reed leaving the band before they’d finished the recording process. As a result, Reed was never overly fond of the album, saying at one point, "Loaded didn't have Maureen [Tucker] on it, and that's a lot of people's favorite Velvet Underground record, so we can't get too lost in the mystique of The Velvet Underground... It's still called a Velvet Underground record. But what it really is, is something else."
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That said, no matter what you may think of Loaded, it still contains some stone-cold classics, like “Sweet Jane.” There are actually a couple of different versions of the song floating around, with the one from Loaded being the first. There’s also a live version that appears on the band’s Live at Max’s Kansas City album, which was released in 1972, as well as a live version on Reed’s 1974 solo live album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, and another live Velvet Underground version that you can find on the band’s concert album, 1969: The Velvet Underground Live. Lest we forget, the band reunited a few decades after their heyday and performed it during their set.
Oh, and there’s still one more version: the 1995 Velvet Underground box set Peel Slowly and See unveiled the original full-length version of “Sweet Jane” that had been edited down after Reed’s departure from the band. (It later turned up on the expanded version of Loaded.)
Lest we forget, though, Reed made a point of remarking that his favorite version of the song is actually the one done by Cowboy Junkies, which served as the band’s breakthrough hit, so if you’ve somehow never managed to hear it – or perhaps just never realized it was actually a Velvet Underground song – then now’s your big chance.