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Hear Lou Reed’s Earliest Demo of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’

Version was recorded two years before its release on band's debut album
(Photo: Karl Walter / Getty Images)

Light in the Attic Records has released another tantalizing piece of Lou Reed and Velvet Underground lore in the form of the earliest known recording of the song “Heroin.” The track will appear on the upcoming archival Reed collection Words & Music, May 1965, due out on Aug. 26.

Put to tape by Reed in May 1965, nearly two years before its release on The Velvet Underground’s landmark debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, this version of “Heroin” finds the artist accompanying himself on guitar. Structurally, it is essentially the same as the album version although it is more than three minutes shorter than what was eventually released in 1967.

This demo predates by two months a version of “Heroin” recorded by Reed and Velvet Underground bandmates John Cale and Sterling Morrison at the group’s loft on Ludlow Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The latter was released on the Velvet Underground compilation Peel Slowly and See in 1995.

As previously reported, Words & Music, May 1965 rounds up recordings that sat unplayed in an envelope for more than 50 years and was overseen by Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson. Reed made the tapes while working as a songwriter for New York-based Pickwick Records and then mailed them to himself in what’s referred to as a “poor man’s copyright.”

Light in the Attic previously released Reed’s demo version of “I’m Waiting for the Man,” which The Velvet Underground also recorded for their 1967 debut. The label is also readying for release on Aug. 26 a Words & Music-themed podcast hosted by TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. Future archival Reed releases are in the planning stages.