I'm Waiting for the Man

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"I'm Waiting for the Man"
1971 German promo single picture sleeve
Song by the Velvet Underground
from the album The Velvet Underground & Nico
ReleasedMarch 12, 1967 (1967-03-12)
RecordedMay 1966
StudioTTG, Hollywood, California
Songwriter(s)Lou Reed
Producer(s)Andy Warhol
Official audio
"I'm Waiting for the Man" on YouTube

"I'm Waiting for the Man" is a song by American rock band the Velvet Underground. Written by Lou Reed, it was first released on their 1967 debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. The lyrics describe a man's efforts to obtain heroin in Harlem.

In various reviews, it is described as "tough garage rock", "proto-punk classic", and "one of the all-time classic rock songs", with renditions by a number of artists.


Along with "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin", "I'm Waiting for the Man" was recorded in May 1966 at TTG Studios while the band was staying in Hollywood.[1] It has been musically described as garage rock,[2] proto-punk,[3] and hard rock.[4] The lyrics describe a man's efforts to obtain heroin.[5][6] Despite the song's title, the lyrics refer to "my man" rather than "the man" throughout.

Reception and legacy[edit]

In a song review for AllMusic, Dave Thompson called it "one of the all-time classic rock songs ... Over chunky guitar, clunking piano, and jackhammer drums, Reed half-sings, half-intones what he would once describe as a love song about a man and the subway."[7] He notes that it has been recorded by numerous artists, including "David Bowie and the Stooges [who] both cut fascinating takes on the song".[7] Most members of the Velvet Underground have performed the song based on their own interpretations.[7]

In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at number 159 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[3] It was moved to number 161 in 2010,[5] and finally re-ranked at number 81 in 2021.[8] The magazine noted:

The Velvets mixed R&B rhythm-guitar workout, blues-piano stomp and dreamy art drone, as Reed deadpans a story about scoring $26 worth of heroin in Harlem. "Everything about that song holds true," said Reed, "except the price."[3]

In 2012 Consequence of Sound included it in their list of the 100 greatest top songs of all time, ranking it number 65.[9] In lists ranking the greatest songs from the 1960s, NME ranked it number 6,[10] while Pitchfork placed it at number 27.[11] Based on the song's appearances in professional rankings and listings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists "I'm Waiting for the Man" as the 8th most acclaimed song of 1967, the 39th most acclaimed song of the 1960s and the 105th most acclaimed song in history.[12] In 2012, Paste ranked the song number three on their list of the 20 greatest Velvet Underground songs,[13] and in 2021, The Guardian placed the song at number nine on their list of the 30 greatest Velvet Underground songs.[14]



David Bowie[edit]

In December 1966, David Bowie's manager, Kenneth Pitt, acquired an acetate of the then-unreleased The Velvet Underground & Nico and presented it to Bowie. Upon hearing "I'm Waiting for the Man", he went to his band at the time, the Buzz, and told them they were going to learn it: "We learned 'Waiting for the Man' right then and there and we were playing it on stage within a week." He later recalled in an 2003 interview with Vanity Fair: "Amusingly, not only was I to cover a Velvets song before anyone else in the world, I actually did it before the album came out. Now that's the essence of Mod."[16][17][a]

Bowie first attempted to record "I'm Waiting for the Man" in the studio during the sessions for his 1967 debut album, and later properly recorded it with another band, the Riot Squad, on April 5, 1967. In his book Rebel Rebel, Chris O'Leary notes the subpar quality of the recording, writing that it "sounded as if they were making do with what they'd found in a school music room."[17] This version later appeared on the Riot Squad compilations The Last Chapter: Mods & Sods (2012) and The Toy Soldier EP.[16] In this version, Bowie misinterpreted the song's subject matter, containing the line "I'm just looking for a good friendly behind" instead of "I'm just looking for a dear, dear friend of mine". Tony Visconti later told biographer Nicholas Pegg: "A very young David Bowie didn't yet know that 'the man' in Harlem parlance meant the drug dealer. So he naturally assumed it was a gay encounter involving money."[16]

Bowie performed "I'm Waiting for the Man", often titled as "Waiting for the Man", for BBC radio shows in 1972 (one recording appearing on 2000's Bowie at the Beeb) and frequently on the Ziggy Stardust Tour (one recording appearing on 1994's Santa Monica '72). He would further perform it on the 1976 Isolar Tour and the 1990 Sound+Vision Tour. While his 1967 recording followed Reed's original chord structure, Bowie made subtle changes to his live performances. He performed the song with Reed at his 50th birthday bash in 1997.[16][17] David Buckley writes that Bowie's 1977 song "'Heroes'" was influenced by Reed's writing.[22]


  1. ^ Jimmy Page has made a similar claim: "I'm pretty certain we [the Yardbirds] were the first people to cover the Velvet Underground."[18] Several sources, including drummer Jim McCarty, indicate that the Yardbirds learned "I'm Waiting for the Man" during November 18–20, 1966, when they and the Velvet Underground were performing in Detroit.[19] However, this is contradicted by a performance of the song with Jeff Beck and Chris Dreja on guitars and Page on bass, which would place it sometime between June 21, 1966, (Page's first gig with the group) and October 30, 1966 (when Beck quit the group).[20] Other performances incorporated part of "I'm Waiting for the Man" in a medley with their version of "I'm a Man".[18] One version from May–June 1968 is included on Last Rave Up in LA.[21]


  1. ^ Bockris 1994, pp. 106, 135.
  2. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Velvet Underground & Nico – Review". AllMusic. Archived from the original on May 31, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time 2004: 101-200". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 20, 2008. Retrieved August 16, 2021.
  4. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (October 27, 2013). "Lou Reed: Six of his greatest songs". The Guardian. Archived from the original on July 2, 2021. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  5. ^ a b "The Velvet Underground, 'I'm Waiting for the Man'". Rolling Stone. April 7, 2011. Archived from the original on September 12, 2017. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  6. ^ Sounes 2015, pp. 40–41.
  7. ^ a b c Thompson, Dave. "The Velvet Underground: 'I'm Waiting For the Man' – Review". AllMusic. Archived from the original on October 30, 2020. Retrieved September 30, 2020.
  8. ^ "I'm Waiting for the Man ranked #81 on Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs List". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 18, 2021. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  9. ^ "100 Greatest Songs of All Time: 100–51". Consequence of Sound. September 21, 2012. Archived from the original on January 20, 2021. Retrieved September 19, 2021.
  10. ^ "100 Best Songs of the 1960s". NME. March 26, 2012. Archived from the original on April 29, 2021. Retrieved September 19, 2021.
  11. ^ "The 200 Best Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on July 1, 2017. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  12. ^ "I'm Waiting for the Man". Acclaimed Music. Archived from the original on April 15, 2021. Retrieved October 1, 2021.
  13. ^ Stiernberg, Bonnie (November 11, 2012). "The 20 Best Velvet Underground Songs". Paste. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  14. ^ Petridis, Alexis (July 8, 2021). "The Velvet Underground's greatest songs – ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved February 27, 2022.
  15. ^ Hogan, Peter (September 25, 2017). The Dead Straight Guide to The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed. This Day In Music Books. ISBN 9781787590519. Archived from the original on September 28, 2021. Retrieved September 28, 2021 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ a b c d Pegg 2016, pp. 300–301.
  17. ^ a b c O'Leary 2015, chap. 2.
  18. ^ a b Salewicz 2019, eBook.
  19. ^ McCarty 2018, pp. 164–166.
  20. ^ Russo 2016, p. 245.
  21. ^ Russo 2016, p. 109.
  22. ^ Buckley 2005, p. 280.