"Heroin" is a song by The Velvet Underground, released on their 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. Written by Lou Reed in 1964, the song is one of the band's most celebrated compositions, overtly depicting heroin use and abuse. Critic Mark Deming writes, "While 'Heroin' hardly endorses drug use, it doesn't clearly condemn it, either, which made it all the more troubling in the eyes of many listeners".
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked it #448 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2006, Pitchfork Media ranked it #77 on their list of the 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s. In 2007 Mental Floss magazine listed it as one of ten songs that changed the world.
"Heroin" was among a three-song set to be re-recorded at T.T.G. Studios, Hollywood before being included on the final release of The Velvet Underground and Nico (along with "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "Venus in Furs"). This recording of the song would be the album's second longest at 7 minutes and 12 seconds, being eclipsed only by "European Son" by about thirty seconds.
"Heroin" begins slowly with Lou Reed's quiet, melodic guitar and hypnotic drum patterns by Maureen Tucker, soon joined by John Cale's droning electric viola and Sterling Morrison's steady rhythm guitar. The tempo increases gradually, mimicking the high the narrator receives from the drug, until a frantic crescendo is reached, punctuated by Cale's shrieking viola and the more punctuated guitar strumming of Reed and Morrison. Tucker's drumming becomes hurried and louder. The song then slows to the original tempo, and repeats the same pattern before ending.
The song is based on a D and a G major chords. Like "Sister Ray", it features no bass guitar. Rolling Stone magazine said "It doesn't take much to make a great song," since the song only featured three chords.
Lou Reed later performed "Heroin" live in his glam rock style, featuring the guitarists Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner. The resulting eleven minute track is included on his live album Rock 'n' Roll Animal, released in 1974.
The song has been covered by several artists, including Mazzy Star, Human Drama, Iggy Pop, Echo & the Bunnymen, Billy Idol and Third Eye Blind
In an interview on the Jonathan Richman DVD, Take Me To The Plaza, he recounts trading a record by The Fugs for The Velvet Underground and Nico after hearing this song for the first time.
Denis Johnson's short story collection Jesus' Son, and the film based on it took its title from the lyrics of this song.
Brian Bell and Patrick Wilson from Weezer covered the song.
The song is featured in the 1991 Oliver Stone movie, The Doors
According to Mick Jagger, the Beggar's Banquet track "Stray Cat Blues" by The Rolling Stones was inspired by "Heroin", Jagger going as far as to say that the whole sound of "Stray Cat Blues" was lifted from "Heroin". The intro's of both songs bear a distinct resemblance.
In Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting, the central character Mark Renton describes the playing of 'Heroin' during heroin ingestion as against the junky's "golden rule".
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