The Velvet Underground

Heroin

Composed by Lou Reed

Song Review by

The centerpiece of the first Velvet Underground album, "Heroin" is also one of Lou Reed's most legendary compositions, a seven-minute monolith that he would, in later years, stretch to almost twice that length, so conscious was he of the song's bearing on his own legend. Myriad interpretations of the song exist. Defending the Velvet Underground against the common charge that they glorified drug use and depravity, drummer Maureen Tucker described "Heroin" as a song about a bad trip, and that might well be the case -- line for line, the song really doesn't take sides. Such subtleties were lost on many of the band's audience, however -- in 1973, Reed himself complained of fans who approached him to announce, "I shot up to your song," while his own performances (during the Rock and Roll Animal tour) frequently saw him tying off with his microphone cord and miming precisely the same action himself. Whatever its intentions, there is no doubting "Heroin"'s quality, both lyrically -- the verses do indeed trace a user's absorption of the drug, physically and emotionally -- and musically. Led by Cale's almost pained viola, the band -- understated for much of the song -- reaches an absolutely maniacal peak of intensity in the final section, a fact that Reed readily acknowledged in 1977. "'Heroin' is very close to the feeling you get from smack. It starts on a certain level, it's deceptive. You think you're enjoying it. But by the time it hits you, it's too late. You don't have any choice. It comes at you harder and faster and it keeps on coming. The song is everything but the real thing."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Velvet Underground & Nico 1967 Polydor / Universal / Verve 7:13
The Velvet Underground 1969 Polydor 8:13
Golden Archive Series 1970 Sundazed
No Image 1973 Pride 7:05
No Image 1974 Mercury
1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed, Vol.1 1988 Mercury 8:14
The Best of the Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed 1989 Japanese Import
What Goes On? 1993 Raven 7:13
Live MCMXCIII 1993 Rhino / Warner Bros. 10:00
Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII 1993 WEA Int'l 9:20
Take a Trip 1993 KTS 5:53
Peel Slowly and See 1995 Polydor / Universal 13:34
Essential Soundtracks 1999
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 5:37
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of The Velvet Underground 2000 Mercury / Polydor 7:12
Classic Velvet Underground: The Universal Masters Collection 2000 Polygram / Polydor 7:12
No Image 2000 GBS
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes 2001 Universal 8:14
3 Original CDs 2003 Polydor
Gold 2005 Polydor 7:12
Best 1200 2005 Universal Distribution
Chronicles 2005 Polydor 7:12
The Very Best of the Velvet Underground 2006 Fontana / Hip-O / Universal 7:10
The Velvet Underground Story 2006 Polydor / Universal Distribution 7:12
Classics from John Peel's All Time Festive 50 2006
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 7:10
No Image 2007 Polydor 7:10
Rock Legends 2008 Polydor 7:11
Playlist Plus 2008 Polydor 7:10
I Love Punk [Central Station] 2008
Various Artists
Central Station Records 7:09
Star Club 2008 Universal International 7:11
No Image 2008 Universal Distribution 7:10
Icon 2011 Polydor 7:11
Killing Them Softly [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2012
Original Soundtrack
Lakeshore Records 6:45
La Cave 1968 2012 Keyhole Records 7:19
The Verve/MGM Albums 2012 Sundazed
Live at the End of Cole Ave: The First Night 2012 Keyhole Records 7:43
Live at the End of Cole Ave: The Second Night 2013 Keyhole Records 7:18
Live At the Boston Tea Party, December 12th 1968 2014 Keyhole Records / Klondike Records
Boston Tea Party, March 13, 1969 2014 Keyhole Records 6:21
The Complete Matrix Tapes 2015 Polydor / Universal 8:17
The Boston Tea Party, January 10th, 1969 2017 Spyglass 8:23
The  Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes, Vol. 3 2017 Tummy Tapes 8:15
Live at End Cole Ave. Aulicap 7:00
blue highlight denotes editor's pick