The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #145: Sweet Jane by Velvet Underground (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #145: Sweet Jane by Velvet Underground.

When I was a boy, growing up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, my mother was someone who taught me a lot of life lessons by way of familiar phrases or mottos. For instance, it was Mona Frances, herself, who raised me to “not judge books by their covers” or, in other words, don’t pre-judge people or things without giving yourself a chance to get to know them/it first so you can gather the facts needed to make a proper judgement. When I was a boy, her admonishments to “not judge a book by its’ cover” often went in one ear and out the other. But, she had her ways of making these lessons stick. All I can say about it, really, is that after a few years of opening ottoman-sized gift-wrapped presents on Christmas Eve (*We had a family tradition of opening one gift on the 24th), only to discover a pair of new socks or pyjamas at the bottom (which no kid really wants), I began to realize that the best gifts weren’t necessarily in the biggest boxes and so, I started to learn “not to judge a book by its’ cover” in a way that had meaning for me as a boy. Lesson learned, Ma. Thanks. But, if we are all being honest, it is hard to restrain ourselves from rushing to judgement on the people we meet based upon factors such as appearance and so on. We are all judgey types, whether we want to admit it or not.

The song, “Sweet Jane” was written and sung by Lou Reed when he was still a member of Velvet Underground in the early 1970s. Reed often wrote his songs as morality plays set in NYC; often creating scenarios involving flawed characters who existed in the underbelly of life in the city. In the song, “Sweet Jane”, the play that forms his song involves Jack and Jane and himself, as the Rock star. Each of these three people find freedom in the “uniforms” they wear as bankers and clerks and musicians but, at the same time, the outward appearance of the lives they seem to be living places them in boxes that restrict their abilities to achieve the highs that Life has to offer. The term, “Sweet Jane” is said to refer to heroin but, in this song, it is more the elusive feeling of the immediate “high” that comes with drug use that Reed is after in this song. “Sweet Jane” isn’t really about drugs at all. It is about the image of ourselves that we project to others and how it affects our ability to get the most out of life.

The song, “Sweet Jane” comes from an album that was sarcastically called, “Loaded”. As you may know, Lou Reed and Velvet Underground served as the “house band” for Andy Warhol and his Art crowd and Reed always produced music that contained an “Art-first” mentality. As such, Velvet Underground became the poster kids for Art-Rock and became highly influential as a result but, on the business side of the ledger, they were wildly unsuccessful and were deemed to be commercial failures. Before recording “Loaded”, Reed’s record company threatened to drop the band if the new album didn’t come “loaded with hits” thus, Lou Reed responded with the title, “Loaded” as a middle finger to the “suits”. To be fair, “Sweet Jane” was the most radio-friendly song that Velvet Underground had released. It has gone on to be covered by many artists including Reed’s own, personal favourite, Canada’s own, The Cowboy Junkies, who recorded their cover on an outstanding album called, “The Trinity Sessions”.

There are several versions of this song as sung by Velvet Underground floating around on the Interweb. There are rocked-out versions, slower/softer/more subdued versions, longer versions with more instrumentals and shorter versions with the bridge to the song removed. Depending on what you like, there are a variety of albums recorded, live and in studio, that contain a version of “Sweet Jane” that is sure to tickle your fancy. Whatever the case, “Sweet Jane” is one of the more intelligently conceived songs in our countdown. There is much wisdom in giving people and experiences the chance to unfold, unfettered by our prejudices. It isn’t easy but, if I have learned anything at all from my mother, it is that Life’s greatest gifts don’t always come in the shiniest of packages. That is as true throughout the year as it is at Christmas time. Thanks for the wisdom, Ma and Lou.

Here is “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed and Velvet Underground. Enjoy….and grow.

The link to the video for the song, “Sweet Jane” by Velvet Underground, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Velvet Underground, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Sweet Jane”, as covered by The Cowboy Junkies, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Cowboy Junkies, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Sweet Jane”, *Cowboy Junkies version, as used in the movie, “Natural Born Killers”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.