In the 90s, even a cult indie film with a genre specific soundtrack could produce a hit single. Nine Inch Nails managed to chart with The Perfect Drug, which nestled nicely within the heavily industrial and goth soundtrack of Lost Highway. Au courant acts like The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson and Rammstein made up the bulk of the album, but the highlight is the previously obscure cover of This Magic Moment by Lou Reed. It had featured on a tribute compilation to Doc Pomus a few years earlier entitled Till the Night is Gone, but was only widely heard after David Lynch featured it. And what a perfect track for Lynch is it, distorting a saccharine sweet, 60s pop hit into a droning masterpiece.
I’ve always felt that a truly transformative cover must take an extraordinary element of imagination. It’s one thing to create something, but something else entirely to create something new out of that which already exists, to change its form completely and to reshape it as if the original never existed. That’s the type of effect that Lou Reed has on This Magic Moment. He wipes out everything The Drifters did with the song. In place of warm orchestral production is a war of guitars: one creating a distorted backdrop, the other dancing cleanly and keenly atop. Soaring, beautiful vocals by Ben E.King are replaced by Reed’s flat, raw delivery. Slow, swaying drums are dispensed in favor of spare, rudimental snare in the back of the mix. Yet somehow the song retains a hint of its era, a definite feeling of bastardization. Maybe its the hint of rockabilly flare creeping through. Whatever it is, that weight of reinterpretation combines with the majesty of Reed’s take to produce a song that is not easily forgotten.