The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat – [Record 15]
White Light/White Heat: is the second studio album by American rock band The Velvet Underground, released in 1968. It was the band’s last with violist and founding member John Cale. In 2003, the album was ranked #293 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Record 1, Side 1.
1, White Light/White Heat.
2, The Gift.
3, Lady Godiva’s Operation.
4, Here She Comes Now.
Record 1, Side 2.
5, I Heard Her Call My Name.
6, SIster Ray.
Record 2, Side 1.
1, I Heard Her Call My Name (Alternate Take).
2, Guess I’m Falling in Love (Instrumental version).
3, Temptation Inside Your Heart (Original mix).
4, Stephanie Says (Original mix).
Record 2, Side 2.
5, Hey Mr. Rain (Version ONE).
6, Hey Mr. Rain (Version Two).
7, Beginning To See The LIght (previously unreleased early version).
Recording: After the disappointing sales of the Velvet Underground’s first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, the band’s relationship with Andy Warhol deteriorated. They toured throughout most of 1967. Many of their live performances featured noisy improvisations that would become key elements on White Light/White Heat. The band eventually fired Warhol and parted ways with Nico; and ultimately went on to record their second album with Tom Wilson credited as producer.
The album was recorded in just two days, and with a noticeably different style than The Velvet Underground & Nico. John Cale described White Light/White Heat as “a very rabid record…The first one had some gentility, some beauty. The second one was consciously anti-beauty.” Sterling Morrison said, “We were all pulling in the same direction. We may have been dragging each other off a cliff, but we were all definitely going in the same direction. In the White Light/White Heat era, our lives were chaos. That’s what’s reflected in the record.”
During the recording of “Sister Ray”, producer Tom Wilson reportedly left the studio rather than endure the cacophony.
Themes and composition: Nearly every song on the album contains some sort of experimental or avant-garde quality. “The Gift”, for example, contains a recital of a short story and a loud instrumental rock song playing simultaneously, with the former on the left speaker channel and the latter on the right. “I Heard Her Call My Name” is distinguishable for its distorted guitar solos and prominent use of feedback.
The record’s lyrics vary from themes of drug use and sexual references (such as fellatio and orgies), including the song “Lady Godiva’s Operation”, about a transsexual woman’s botched lobotomy,[unreliable source?] and the title track “White Light/White Heat”, which describes the use of amphetamine.
“Here She Comes Now”, the most straightforward ‘pop’ sounding song on the album, is built around a double-entendre. On the album’s last track, “Sister Ray”, Lou Reed tells a tale of debauchery involving drag queens having a failed orgy, while the band plays an improvised seventeen minute jam around three chords.
Cover: The album cover to White Light/White Heat is a faint image of a tattoo of a skull. The picture of the tattooed arm was photographed, enlarged and distorted by Billy Name, one of the members of The Factory. It is difficult to distinguish the tattoo, as the image is black, printed on a slightly lighter black background. On this cover, the album name, the Verve logo, and the band name are all on one line.
An alternative cover was used for Polydor’s mid-1980s reissues. This cover had a completely black background, without the arm in the background. On this version, the album name, Verve logo, and band name are printed on three separate lines.
There also exists a unique MGM Records UK cover, produced from 1976 until the early ’80s, featuring a white background and abstract toy soldiers.
Reception: Like other releases by the group, the album’s socially transgressive lyrical themes and avant-garde instrumentation challenged the popular music sensibilities at the time, creating a muted reception. The album briefly appeared on the Billboard 200, although only peaking at #199. Despite its poor sales, the distorted, feedback-driven, and roughly recorded sound on White Light/White Heat became a notable influence on punk and experimental rock. In 2003, the album was ranked #293 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, alongside other releases by the group.
As an example of the album’s influence on punk music, British rock band Buzzcocks formed loosely after members followed an advertisement looking for musicians who could collaborate on a “Sister Ray” cover.