I debated whether to write about this here, as I am planning to deal with the other future Velvet Underground songs on Lou Reed: Words & Music, May 1965 (“I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Heroin”) in the context of the first VU album. But “Pale Blue Eyes” is an outlier, as it would not see the light of day until 1969 and the Couch Album.

“PBE” was one of many songs inspired by Lou’s college girlfriend Shelley Albin. (For a refresher on Shelley, you can check out this post from May 2022.) Shelley’s eyes were actually hazel, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, I guess. This is what the artist does, for better or worse: “I know your eyes aren’t blue, but blue is better for my song. So they’re blue now.”

The 1965 version of “Pale Blue Eyes” is recognizably the same song as the one we know, but with a lot of differences. The backing (as with all these demo recordings) is minimal, just acoustic guitar and harmonica. The guitar part is spare and hypnotic, and one wonders if maybe it’s John Cale’s doing. Certainly that’s Cale on harmonies, which sometimes stray disconcertingly close to yodel territory.

Lyrically, the first verse is the same, but the rest are unfamiliar (all words are best guesses):

Wake up in the morning
Bout half past three
I don’t mind the darkness so much
It’s just, it makes me think about me

Remember when I first met you
You were clean and pure
I made you into what you weren’t
What was I good for?

Saw you walk down Main Street
Fellow by the hand
Is he the new one you found?
Brand new lover man

Not that I’m complaining
Just as soon see you dead
Even when I loved you
Hoped you’d get hit in the head

I am reminded of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” for which Lenny supposedly wrote somewhere between 80 and 180 verses. It wouldn’t surprise me if “Pale Blue Eyes” had a similar number of variants floating around in the ether somewhere, to be heard on these shores nevermore.

Anyway, in this early iteration, “PBE” is more of a straightforward done-wrong song, though that last verse takes a violent turn. It doesn’t quite have the mystical sheen of the Couch Album version. But it’s a beginning.