Velvet Underground – I’m Waiting For The Man

It’s no big secret on what this song is about. Waiting for his drug dealer to come. The song is about scoring $26 worth of heroin in Harlem. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Reed said: “Everything about that song holds true, except the price.”

The song was released in 1967 on The Velvet Underground & Nico album.

From Songfacts.

This is another in the Velvet Underground’s canon of songs about drugs. Not only does it fit nicely with “Heroin,” it was also on the same album, and was also written by Lou Reed at about the same time as “Heroin,” during Reed’s attendance at Syracuse University in the early 1960s. It describes a trip to a Harlem brownstone near the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 125th Street to buy drugs from a dealer, “the man” of the title. Once again, it neither condones nor condemns the experience, but merely describes it.

As described in The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side, songs like “I’m Waiting For The Man,” “Heroin,” and “Venus In Furs” were what kept The Velvet Underground out of a record contract with Atlantic Records. Atlantic executive Ahmet Ertegun wouldn’t take them unless they dropped these songs, and the Velvets, typically putting ideas ahead of money, just couldn’t live with that. So their first album ended up with MGM Records instead. Even after their signing with Atlantic for their fourth album, Loaded, Ahmet specifically told them to tone down controversial material.

Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, and Maureen Tucker have all recorded solo versions of the song.

This song was a big influence on David Bowie, who explained to Performing Songwriter magazine in 2003: “I actually played ‘Waiting for the Man’ in Britain with my band before the album was even released in America. Talk about oneupsmanship. A friend of mine came over to the states to do some work with Andy Warhol at The Factory, and as he was leaving, Andy said, ‘Oh, I just made this album with some people. Maybe you can take it back to England and see if you can get any interest over there.’ And it was still the vinyl test pressing. It hadn’t got a company or anything at the time. I still have it. There’s a white label on it, and it says ‘Warhol.’ He signed it. My friend gave it to me and he said, ‘This is crap. You like weird stuff, so maybe you’ll enjoy it.’ I played it and it was like ‘Ah, this is the future of music!’ I was in awe. It was serious and dangerous and I loved it. And I literally went into a band rehearsal the next day, put the album down and said, ‘We’re going to learn this song. It is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.’ We learned ‘Waiting for the Man’ right then and there, and we were playing it on stage within a week. I told Lou that, and he loved it. I must have been the first person in the world to cover a Velvet Underground song.”

David Bowie covered the song in 1972, and included it on his album BBC Sessions. Lou Reed sang it in a duet with Bowie during Bowie’s 50th birthday concert, known as “Live at 50.” Bowie’s version is on the soundtrack of the movie Almost Famous.

Besides David Bowie, amongst the many acts to cover “I’m Waiting For The Man,” the most notable are Cheap Trick, Bauhaus, and the U.K. Subs. It shares credit with the Ramones’ “53rd & 3rd” for being a famous song related to drugs (the Ramones one is about turning a trick for drug money) pinned to a specific New York intersection.

Moe Tucker talked about this song in an interview with Prism Films. During recording, she said, her drum stand was so shaky that it was interfering with the sound. To fix this, Tucker set the drum down on the floor. That’s how she’s playing it in the studio version.

Sterling Morrison’s wife Martha held the drum in place as Tucker played. “So she’s on the record, too, in a way,” Tucker said.



I’m Waiting For the Man

I’m waiting for my man
Twenty-six dollars in my hand
Up to Lexington, 125
Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive
I’m waiting for my man

Hey, white boy, what you doin’ uptown?
Hey, white boy, you chasin’ our women around?
Oh pardon me sir, it’s the furthest from my mind
I’m just lookin’ for a dear, dear friend of mine
I’m waiting for my man

Here he comes, he’s all dressed in black
PR shoes and a big straw hat
He’s never early, he’s always late
First thing you learn is you always gotta wait
I’m waiting for my man

Up to a Brownstone, up three flights of stairs
Everybody’s pinned you, but nobody cares
He’s got the works, gives you sweet taste
Ah then you gotta split because you got no time to waste
I’m waiting for my man

Baby don’t you holler, darlin’ don’t you bawl and shout
I’m feeling good, you know I’m gonna work it on out
I’m feeling good, I’m feeling oh so fine
Until tomorrow, but that’s just some other time
I’m waiting for my man


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

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