The Velvet Underground are considered one of biggest godfathers of today's indie pop and rock music. This is largely because in the late 1960s the group introduced an often dissonant, experimental, unpolished style to rock, as well as treated dark themes like drug use and the hedonism of the New York City party scene they were associated with in a gritty, straightforward way.
Of course, not all bands and performers that were to be called "alternative" and then later "indie" in years to come incorporated these exact elements, but so many underground pop and rock groups from the past 40 years – from Joy Division to The Pixies to Radiohead – have, like the Velvet Underground, introduced what at first were strange new sounds and often unlikely and edgy themes into the world of pop music.
But due to the Velvet Underground's often bleak lyrics and dissonant, droning guitar riffs, sometimes forgotten is that many of their songs had a languorous, shimmering beauty – and along with this, a few songs even had tender and affirmative lyrics. One of the best examples of this is a tune from their first album (produced by Andy Warhol), The Velvet Underground and Nico, called "I'll Be Your Mirror." It was released also as a single, as the b-side to another track off the album, "All Tomorrow's Parties."
"I'll Be Your Mirror" is a brief, sweet song in which the singer desires to show a person how great he or she is at the times when that person can't see it. Because it's the Velvet Underground working with Andy Warhol, this pleasant but rather generic sentiment is given a memorable quirkiness due to the vocals of Nico, a tall German model-turned- vocalist who handled lead vocals on this song and a couple others on the album.
Nico's performance shouldn't really have worked. She's pretty, but her voice isn't very good – it's sometimes off-key, and her English fights through a deep German accent. And while the vocal comes across as odd and icy, it's a credit of the band (and likely Warhol, too), that the oddness sounds endearing – there's a vulnerability to Nico's voice that deepens the sentiment of the song’s lyrics.
Just this might be enough for the couples that often hire us to DJ at their weddings, since they're often looking for a first dance that's sentimental, but also has some sort of eccentric charm. But for those who might like the melody of the song and not be a fan of Nico's vocals, also posted here are two cover versions of the song. The first is from 1989, the second is from 2003 – showing not only the continued affection that the Velvets have had in other artists’ minds over the years, but that the band created a song over 40 years ago that's been sturdy enough to work well when covered in two very different styles.
The Primitives, an English guitar fuzz-pop band best known for their bubbly single "Crash," covered "I'll Be Your Mirror" on a b-side to their single "Sick of It." Their version takes the song in a dreamier, more polished direction, though a bit of ragged guitar jangle shows the Velvet Undergound influence. Singer Tracy Tracy's sweet, lullaby-esque vocals that slighly recall the sound of early '60s girl groups are the star here. I heard this version first, so it's The Primitives’ more full-sounding treatment of the song that I have memories with – though of course those familiar with the original version may accept no substitute for Nico.
Clem Snide, an American alt-country group, recorded their version of the song on a 2003 release called A Beautiful EP. This version is the most stripped-down of the three, featuring only acoustic guitar, a bit of strings, and the fragile vocal – this time a male vocal – of lead singer Eef Barzelay. The effect of this "alt-countrification" of the song is makes it very inimate and warm – listening to it makes you feel like you’re hearing it sung to you while sitting around a campfire.
Whether you prefer vintage offbeat charm, dreamy pop, or mellow alt-country, give a listen to "I'll Be Your Mirror" and consider it for your first dance – however it’s recorded, its tender foundation reflects clearly through.
The Velvet Underground – I'll Be Your Mirror
The Primitives – I'll Be Your Mirror
Clem Snide – I'll Be Your Mirror