White Light/White Heat

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This article is about the 1968 album. For the song, see White Light/White Heat (song).
White Light/White Heat
Studio album by The Velvet Underground
Released January 30, 1968
Recorded September 1967, Scepter Studios,[1] Manhattan
Genre Experimental rock, protopunk, art rock, avant-garde
Length 40:13
Language English
Label Verve
Producer Tom Wilson
The Velvet Underground chronology
The Velvet Underground & Nico
White Light/White Heat
The Velvet Underground
Alternative cover
Alternative UK cover (1976)
Alternative cover
Alternative cover (1985 remaster)
Singles from White Light/White Heat
  1. "White Light/White Heat"
    Released: 1968
  2. "I Heard Her Call My Name"
    Released: 1968

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.


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.[2] The band eventually fired Warhol and parted ways with Nico;[3] 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.[citation needed]

Themes and composition[edit]

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,[4][unreliable source?] and the title track "White Light/White Heat", which describes the use of amphetamine.[5]

"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.


The album cover to White Light/White Heat is a faint image of a tattoo of a skull. The tattoo was that of Joe Spencer, who played the lead role in Warhol's 1967 film Bike Boy. Spencer starred as a hustler in a motorcycle gang and is seen taking a shower in the movie. Although he wasn't credited for the cover design as with their debut album, it was Warhol's idea to use a black-on-black picture of the tattoo. Reed selected the image from the negatives from the film, and it was enlarged and distorted by Billy Name, one of the members of The Factory.[6] 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.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars [7]
Chicago Tribune 3.5/4 stars[8]
Pitchfork Media 10/10[9]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars [10]
Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars [11]
Sputnikmusic 3.5/5[12]

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.[13] The album briefly appeared on the Billboard 200, although only peaking at #199.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Lou Reed, unless otherwise noted.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "White Light/White Heat"   2:47
2. "The Gift" (Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Maureen Tucker) 8:18
3. "Lady Godiva's Operation"   4:56
4. "Here She Comes Now" (Reed, Morrison, Cale) 2:04
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "I Heard Her Call My Name"   4:38
2. "Sister Ray" (Reed, Morrison, Cale, Tucker) 17:28

45th Anniversary Deluxe Edition track listing[17][edit]

Disc 1 (Stereo Version):

  1. "White Light/White Heat" – 2:48
  2. "The Gift" – 8:20
  3. "Lady Godiva's Operation" – 4:57
  4. "Here She Comes Now" – 2:05
  5. "I Heard Her Call My Name" – 4:38
  6. "Sister Ray" – 17:32
  7. "I Heard Her Call My Name (Alternate Take)" – 4:39
  8. "Guess I'm Falling In Love (Instrumental Version)" – 3:34*
  9. "Temptation Inside Your Heart (Original Mix)" – 2:33
  10. "Stephanie Says (Original Mix)" – 2:50
  11. "Hey Mr. Rain (Version One)" – 4:40*
  12. "Hey Mr. Rain (Version Two)" – 5:24*
  13. "Beginning To See The Light (Previously Unreleased Early Version)" – 3:39*
  • * = New Mixes

Disc 2 (Mono Version):

  1. "White Light/White Heat" – 2:47
  2. "The Gift" – 8:17
  3. "Lady Godiva's Operation" – 4:55
  4. "Here She Comes Now" – 2:04
  5. "I Heard Her Call My Name" – 4:38
  6. "Sister Ray" – 17:32
  7. "White Light/White Heat (Mono Single Mix)" – 2:48
  8. "Here She Comes Now (Mono Single Mix)" – 2:04
  9. "The Gift (Vocal Version)" – 8:08
  10. "The Gift (Instrumental Version)" – 8:16

Disc 3 (Live At The Gymnasium, New York City, April 30, 1967):

  1. "Booker T." – 6:46
  2. "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore" – 6:17*
  3. "Guess I'm Falling In Love" – 4:10
  4. "I'm Waiting For My Man" – 5:28*
  5. "Run Run Run" – 6:58*
  6. "Sister Ray" – 19:03*
  7. "The Gift" – 10:25*
  • * = Previously Unreleased


The Velvet Underground


  1. ^ Discogs - Scepter Records (Manhattan) profile and discography
  2. ^ Velvet Underground History and Facts at Music Babylon
  3. ^ Andy Warhol 1967 at Warholstars
  4. ^ "La Milanesiana 2007: Letteratura Musica Cinema". July 10, 2007. Retrieved April 29, 2012. Come autore, ha scritto su temi quali il sadomasochismo (Venus in Furs), travestiti (Sister Ray), e transessuali sottoposti a lobotomia (Lady Godiva’s Operation). [As an author, he has written on topics such as sadomasochism (Venus in Furs), transvestites (Sister Ray), and transsexuals undergoing lobotomies (Lady Godiva's Operation).] 
  5. ^ Bockris, Victor; Malanga, Gerard (1983). Up-tight: The Velvet Underground Story. London: Omnibus Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-7119-0168-6. 
  6. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2009). White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day. Outline Press Ltx. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-906002-81-7. 
  7. ^ Deming, Mark. White Light/White Heat at AllMusic. Retrieved 2005-06-10.
  8. ^ Kot, Greg (January 12, 1992). "Lou Reed's Recordings: 25 Years Of Path-breaking Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 29, 2013. 
  9. ^ Wolk, Douglas (January 16, 2014). "The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  10. ^ Fricke, David (March 14, 1985). "The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground and Nico / White Light/White Heat / The Velvet Underground / V.U. > Album Reviews". Rolling Stone (443). Archived from the original on 2006-07-16. Retrieved 2006-09-03. 
  11. ^ Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian, eds. (2004). "The Velvet Underground". The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. London: Fireside. pp. 847–848. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8. Retrieved 2011-11-22.  Portions posted at "The Velvet Underground > Album Guide". rollingstone.com. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  12. ^ Arp, Louis (February 15, 2006). "The Velvet Underground – White Light-White Heat (album review 3)". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  13. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/white-light-white-heat-mw0000192323
  14. ^ 292) White Light/White Heat, The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time at Rolling Stone
  15. ^ White Light/White Heat at PopMatters
  16. ^ http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=5259
  17. ^ http://www.uncut.co.uk/the-velvet-underground-to-release-white-lightwhite-heat-anniversary-edition-news

Further reading[edit]