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
The album cover; a faint image of a tattoo of a skull. 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, Verve logo, and band name are all on one line.
Studio album by The Velvet Underground
Released January 30, 1968
Recorded September 1967, Scepter Studios, 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
(1967)
White Light/White Heat
(1968)
The Velvet Underground
(1969)
Alternative cover
Alternative UK cover (1976)
Alternative cover
Alternative cover (1985 remaster)
Singles from White Light/White Heat
  1. "White Light/White Heat" / "Here She Comes Now"
    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 by record label Verve. It was the band's last recording with violist and founding member John Cale.

In 2003, the album was ranked number 293 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Background[edit]

After the disappointing sales of the Velvet Underground's first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), 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.[1] The band eventually fired Warhol and parted ways with Nico;[2] and ultimately went on to record their second album with Tom Wilson credited as producer.

Recording[edit]

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."[citation needed] 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."[citation needed] During the recording of "Sister Ray", producer Tom Wilson reportedly left the studio rather than endure the cacophony.[citation needed]

Content[edit]

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

"Here She Comes Now" 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[edit]

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.[5] 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[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[6]
Chicago Tribune 3.5/4 stars[7]
Pitchfork 10/10[8]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[9]
Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[10]
Sputnikmusic 3.5/5[11]

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.[6] The album briefly appeared on the Billboard 200, although only peaking at number 199.[12]

Legacy[edit]

Despite its poor sales, the distorted, feedback-driven, and roughly recorded sound on White Light/White Heat became a notable influence on punk music and experimental rock.[13] 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.[14]

In 2003, the album was ranked number 293 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, alongside other releases by the group.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Lou Reed, except as noted. 

Side A
No. Title Writer(s) 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 B
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "I Heard Her Call My Name"     4:38
2. "Sister Ray"   Reed, Morrison, Cale, Tucker 17:28

Personnel[edit]

The Velvet Underground
Technical personnel

References[edit]

  1. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Velvet Underground | Biography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  2. ^ "1967". Warholstars.org. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  3. ^ "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).] 
  4. ^ Bockris, Victor; Malanga, Gerard (1983). Up-tight: The Velvet Underground Story. London: Omnibus Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-7119-0168-6. 
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2009). White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day by Day. Outline Press Ltx. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-906002-81-7. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "White Light/White Heat – The Velvet Underground | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  7. ^ Kot, Greg (January 12, 1992). "Lou Reed's Recordings: 25 Years of Path-Breaking Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 29, 2013. 
  8. ^ Wolk, Douglas (January 16, 2014). "The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Arp, Louis (February 15, 2006). "The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (album review 3)". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  12. ^ "The Velvet Underground, 'White Light/White Heat' – 500 Greatest Albums of All Time | Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  13. ^ Thompson, Jason. "The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat | PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Sister Ray by The Velvet Underground Songfacts". Songfacts. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]