Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Here Comes The Nice vs. Waiting For The Man

1967 saw the release of two (among others) notable songs about drugs. One was The Small Faces' "Here Comes The Nice", the second The Velvet Underground's "Waiting For The Man". Both directly addressed the supplier - the pusher. But the tone taken by the two could not be more different.

"Here Comes The Nice" ("The Nice" being contemporary slang for a drug dealer) is as about as positive a song about the pleasures and benefits of illicit drug taking as you are likely to find. Listening to it today is a stunning experience, not least because of the extraordinary naivete so happily expounded by Steve Marriott:

"You know you should meet the man
The man gonna help you all he can
You don't need money to be wise

Here come the nice (It's understood)
Here come the nice (He makes me feel so good)
I'd be just like him (If only could)
You know you should"

Compare this to Lou Reed's altogether more realistic vantage point:

"I’m waiting for my man
Got 26 dollars in my hand
Up to lexington 125
Feeling sick and dirty
More dead than alive
I‚’m waiting for my man"

The Small Faces song is a jaunty Stax-soul influenced rocker with silky "Who" style harmony vocals. Catchy enough to be a hit single, lyrically oblique enough to bypass the BBC music censors. A completely charming record.

"I'm Waiting For The Man" is also a mid-tempo rocker, but that is about all it shares with "The Nice". Instead we have a driving piano driven song that would be a dirge were it any slower, with all the monotony implied by that description. In contrast to the Small Faces, money is very important to Lou Reed's protagonist. This is strictly a supply and demand deal - no illusions here about the wonderful world of consciousness altering. Reed's character needs his fix; without it he is going into a painful withdrawal. Not a song that got much airplay, and not a hit single in any way, but altogether a superior picture of the realities of drug taking.

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