Written by: Lou Reed
Recorded: April 1967; 5 February, 25 March 1970; 11, 18 January 1972
Released: 26 September 2000
Bowie At The Beeb
The Width Of A Circle
Live Santa Monica ’72
Live Nassau Coliseum ’76
Mick Ronson: guitar
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums
(Bowie At The Beeb version)
The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ was a key influence on David Bowie. He performed it numerous times, both live and in the studio.
In November 1966 Bowie’s manager Kenneth Pitt took a business trip to New York. While there he paid a visit to Andy Warhol’s Factory, where he met the artist and was introduced to the Velvet Underground. There was talk of Pitt bringing the band to England for some live shows, and he was given an acetate copy of their forthcoming debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico.
On my return from America and Australia I had given David the albums I had brought him from New York, that of the Velvet Underground and a zany group I had heard in Greenwich Village called the Fugs. He adored both of them and particularly liked ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ on the former and ‘Dirty Old Man’ on the latter, both of which he used in his act. This was the very first time he had heard of Lou Reed and such was his enthusiasm for the American artist that I was more interested than ever in bringing Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground to Britain. What if they formed a mutual admiration society, with Warhol and the Velvets singing David’s praises in America?
The Pitt Report
With their songs about hard drug use, prostitution, bondage and sadomasochism, gay sex, and other such themes, the first VU album was a world away from Bowie’s mid-Sixties output. Although he seized upon the record immediately, recognising it as an important work, it was some years before its influence made itself heard in his own music.
Everything I both felt and didn’t know about rock music was opened to me on one unreleased disc. It was The Velvet Underground and Nico.
The first track glided by innocuously enough and didn’t register. However, from that point on, with the opening, throbbing, sarcastic bass and guitar of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, the linchpin, the keystone of my ambition was driven home. This music was so savagely indifferent to my feelings. It didn’t care if I liked it or not. It could give a fuck. It was completely preoccupied with a world unseen by my suburban eyes.
Actually, though only 19, I had seen rather a lot but had accepted it quite enthusiastically as all a bit of a laugh. Apparently, the laughing was now over. I was hearing a degree of cool that I had no idea was humanly sustainable. Ravishing. One after another, tracks squirmed and slid their tentacles around my mind. Evil and sexual, the violin of ‘Venus In Furs’, like some pre-Christian pagan-revival music. The distant, icy, “Fuck me if you want, I really don’t give a damn” voice of Nico’s ‘Femme Fatale’. What an extraordinary one-two knockout punch this affair was. By the time ‘European Son’ was done, I was so excited I couldn’t move. It was late in the evening and I couldn’t think of anyone to call, so I played it again and again and again.
New York Magazine, 18 September 2003
In 2003 Bowie included The Velvet Underground and Nico in a list of 25 of his favourite albums.
Brought back from New York by a former manager of mine, Ken Pitt. Pitt had done some kind of work as a P.R. man that had brought him into contact with the Factory. Warhol had given him this coverless test pressing (I still have it, no label, just a small sticker with Warhol’s name on it) and said, “You like weird stuff – see what you think of this.” What I “thought of this” was that here was the best band in the world. In December of that year, my band Buzz broke up, but not without my demanding we play ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ as one of the encore songs at our last gig. Amusingly, not only was I to cover Velvet’s [sic] song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that’s the essence of Mod.
Vanity Fair, November 2003
Bowie and his next band, the Riot Squad, recorded a version of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ on 5 April 1967, along with the Velvet Underground-inspired ‘Toy Soldier’. It was later released on the Riot Squad’s The Last Chapter: Mods & Sods and The Toy Soldier EP.
This early version shows how Bowie, unfamiliar with New York slang, misunderstood the song, believing it to be about paid-for gay sex rather than a drug deal. This led to him singing “I’m just looking for a good friendly behind” on the Riot Squad version, instead of “I’m just looking for a dear, dear friend of mine”, changing its meaning somewhat.
A demo of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’, recorded in San Francisco in 1971, was released on the 2022 box set Divine Symmetry.