This song was probably the first song that made me aware of The Velvet Underground. This song was on the album Loaded. Lou Reed wrote this song and the album was an attempt to write more of a commercial album.
This was Reed’s attempt at writing a hit for the Velvet Underground, who were highly influential, but commercially doomed. Loaded was the band’s last album, and the title was a reference to the record company mandate that the album be “Loaded with hits.”
The album was released on November 15, 1970. Loaded was ranked 110 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The Velvet Underground leader Lou Reed wrote this song as a surreal look at the life of a rock star. Reed included the song in his live sets; it appeared on his album Live at Max’s Kansas City in 1972 and on another live album, Rock n Roll Animal, in 1974. The version on Rock n Roll Animal, which was recorded at a New York show on December 21, 1973, features the twin-guitar work of Steven Hunter and Dick Wagner, who Reed employed to rock out his songs on tour.
Released as a single, this live version of the song heralded a new sound for Reed, one he quickly abandoned when he fired Hunter and Wagner at the end of the tour and disavowed the album. Reed released his intentionally awful Metal Machine Music album the following year, while his bygone guitarists joined Alice Cooper on tour, with Wagner becoming Cooper’s songwriting partner. In our interview with Dick Wagner, he explained: “He claims that he didn’t like the Rock n’ Roll Animal album, but at the time he sure loved it. A lot of the songs were from the Velvet Underground days, and I wanted to take them out of that placid performance of the songs and make it more for the concert stage and the stadiums, so I did some majestic arranging with some of the songs – that’s what I do. Within the context of the band and how to deliver the songs, it really worked. I guess Lou doesn’t really like it that much, but that’s kind of a lie.”
There was a great deal of acrimony during recording of the album, and Reed left before it was finished. In his absence, “Sweet Jane” was edited down, with a wistful coda removed from the song. This angered Reed, who told Rolling Stone magazine that if he knew they were going to press on with the album, “I would have stayed with them and showed them what to do.” The full version of the song can be heard on the album Live at Max’s Kansas City, recorded in 1969.
This song appears on the album 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, which was released in 1974. This is the double album with the famous gatefold revealing a leggy model in sparkling go-go boots and hot pants showing some can, on a vibrant green background; very sought-after by today’s VU collectors. There, “Sweet Jane” has a significantly different chord progression and lyrics; it was still a work-in-progress.
Captured on the bootleg recording of Lou Reed’s last night performing live with The Velvet Underground, which happened through the tail end of the Loaded sessions, is one Jim Carroll. As told in The Velvet Underground: An Illustrated History of a Walk on the Wild Side, Carroll can be heard ordering a Pernod and discussing the drug Tuinal. Carroll would later write The Basketball Diaries.
Reed did a parody version on his 1979 album Live – Take No Prisoners.
The original lyrics were, “Jane in her corset, Jack is in his vest, and me I’m in a rock n’ roll band.” Lou changed them to “Jack is in a corset, Jane is in a vest” to portray the wackiness of rock stars.
Mott the Hoople covered this on their All the Young Dudes album, which was also produced by David Bowie – Reed fully endorsed this cover and even did a reference vocal to help them out. Another version Reed liked was the one recorded by Brownsville Station on their 1973 album Yeah!.
Other notable covers of this song include versions by Cowboy Junkies, 2 Nice Girls, Phish, The Kooks, Gang of Four, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Reed himself appeared with Metallica (Metallica!) on October 25, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City to perform “Sweet Jane” at the concert to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Q Magazine rated “Sweet Jane” at #18 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks, and Guitar World rated it at #81 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, while Rolling Stone ranked it #335 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Standin’ on a corner
Suitcase in my hand
Jack’s in his car, says to Jane, who’s in her vest,
And me, I’m in a rock n’ roll band.
Ridin’ in a Stutz Bearcat, Jim
You know,those were different times
All the poets studied rows of verse,
And those the ladies rolled their eyes
Sweet Jane, sweet Jane, sweet Jane
Now, Jack, he is a banker
And Jane, she is a clerk
And the both of them are saving up their moneys
And when they come home from work
Sittin’ by the fire
The radio does play
The classical music there, Jim
The march of the wooden soldiers
All you protest kids
You can hear Jack say, get ready, ah
Sweet Jane, come on baby,sweet Jane, oh-oh-a,sweet Jane
Some people, they like to go out dancing
And other peoples, they have to work. Just watch me now
And there’s even some evil mothers
Well they’re gonna tell you that everything is just dirt
Y’know that, women, never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes, woo
And that, y’know, children are the only ones who blush
And that, life is, just to die
And, everyone who ever had a heart, oh
That wouldn’t turn around and break it
And anyone who ever played a part, whoa
And wouldn’t turn around and hate it
Sweet Jane! Whoa-oh-oh! Sweet Jane! Sweet Jane Sweet Jane
Heavenly wine and roses
Seem to whisper to her when he smiles
Heavenly wine and roses
Seem to whisper to her, hey when she smiles
Lala, lala,lala, lala, lala, lala, lala,lala