Study Guide

Heroin Introduction

Heroin Introduction

In a Nutshell

Drugs and rock and roll. In the minds of many early critics, they went together so naturally that they formed—along with sex, of course—a kind of unholy trinity of moral decay and musical danger.

Now that we're decades into the rock revolution and Western civilization hasn't crashed into mayhem, it's probably fair to say that those fears were a little bit overblown. That said, drugs (and sex) have played a big role in rock's history. And while most songs about drugs are rather lame—"White Lines," anyone?—this one is, in a word, harrowing. 

To hear this song is to feel heroin addiction, the exhilaration of its highs and the world-destroying oblivion of its lows. Something quite distinct from the escapism that has often marked rock and roll, "Heroin" brings a devastating dose of stark realism. 

It may not be too pleasant to listen to, especially toward the end, but that's exactly the point, isn't it?

About the Song

ArtistVelvet Underground, The
Year1967
LabelVerve Records
Writer(s)Lou Reed
Producer(s)Andy Warhol
Musician(s)Lou Reed (vocals, guitar), Maureen Tucker (drums), John Cale (electric viola), Sterling Morrison (guitar)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumThe Velvet Underground & Nico

Music Video

Influences on Velvet Underground, The

La Monte Young
John Cage
Bob Dylan
Andy Warhol

Influenced by Velvet Underground, The

David Bowie
The Dodos
The Dream Syndicate
Electric Eels
Luna
Neu!
New York Dolls
Patti Smith
R.E.M.
The Sex Pistols
Slapp Happy
Sonic Youth
The Stooges
Talking Heads
Television
The Heartbreakers
U2

Heroin Resources

Books

Clinton Heylin, All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print 1966–1971 (2006)
Clinton Heylin compiles everything that was printed about the band in their short, mostly unnoticed, existence.

Richard Witts, Icons of Pop Music: The Velvet Underground (2006)
The Velvet Underground is given the academic treatment, but author Richard Witts manages to keep things readable and...witty.

Albin Zak III, The Velvet Underground Companion (1997)
Any hardcore fan, or music historian-in-utero, will find this compilation of four decades of commentary, reviews, and interviews with the band riveting.

Albums

The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
The band's groundbreaking debut, with styles ranging from the proto punk, art-rock "Heroin" to the radio-friendly "Sunday Morning."

White Light/White Heat (1968)
The follow-up album removes what gentleness The Velvet Underground & Nico possessed. This distorted masterpiece is either the best or worse thing you've ever heard.

Images

Peel Here...
The original LP cover featured a peel-able banana sticker, as indicated by tiny font reading "Peel here and see."

...And See
This is what you got when you peeled off the sticker. A flesh-colored banana.

The Velvet Underground & Nico Cover Art
Here's the cover for the album.

The Velvet Underground & Nico
Clockwise from the top left, the picture shows, viola player John Cale, Nico, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, and Lou Reed.

The Velvet Underground & Nico and Andy Warhol
Producer and artist Andy Warhol (second to the left) joins the group for a photo.

Marilyn Monroe
Here's one of Warhol's more famous works. He was concerned with replication, celebrity, and artificiality.

Movies & TV

The Velvet Underground: Under Review (2006)
The impact of the band gets examined in this documentary.

The Velvet Underground–Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII (2006)
Here's a concert DVD of the short-lived 1993 reunion of the Velvet Underground.

Websites

The Unofficial Velvet Underground Site
Because VU was a band for five years decades ago, they don't have a website. This'll have to do. 

Lou Reed's Official Site
Lou Reed passed away in October of 2013, but his online presence is still maintained.

The Velvet Underground on Last.fm
Check out videos, music, and some commentary on the band here.

Video & Audio

The Velvet Underground, "Heroin"
Here's our song of the hour in all its Velvet Underground glory.

Billy Idol, "Heroin"
Idol reinterpreted the song as a dance number; All Music calls it the worst cover of all time, but we'll let you be the judge.

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