White Light/White Heat (song)
|"White Light/White Heat"|
|Single by The Velvet Underground|
|from the album White Light/White Heat|
|B-side||"Here She Comes Now"|
|The Velvet Underground singles chronology|
"White Light/White Heat" was recorded in the course of the recording sessions for White Light/White Heat in September 1967 at Scepter Studios in Manhattan. The song's vocals are performed primarily by Lou Reed, with John Cale and Sterling Morrison performing backing vocals. The song, much like "I'm Waiting for the Man", features a pounding rock-and-roll Barrelhouse-style piano vamp. The song is about the sensations produced by intravenous injection of methamphetamine and features a heavily distorted electric bass outro played by John Cale over a single chord. This bass solo purportedly mimics the throbbing, ear-ringing effects experienced during the methamphetamine "rush."
"White Light/White Heat" was released in 1968 as a single with the B-side "Here She Comes Now". "White Light/White Heat" was also a staple of the Velvet Underground's live performances from 1967 on. The tune appears on numerous live bootleg albums, and the nearly nine-minute version included on the group's posthumous 1969 Live double LP is one of the album's centerpieces.
Reed also recorded a live version of the song in 1974, which featured on his Rock 'n' Roll Animal and Greatest Hits albums.
David Bowie version
|"White Light/White Heat"|
|Single by David Bowie|
|from the album Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
Bowie, a long-time Velvets fan, had been performing "White Light/White Heat" since 1971. (His album of that year, Hunky Dory, features a credit to the song for having inspired Bowie's "Queen Bitch"). It had featured throughout the Ziggy Stardust tour (including a performance with Lou Reed on July 8, 1972), been recorded by Bowie for two BBC sessions, and been slated for inclusion on Pin Ups (the backing track from this session was later recorded as a solo version by Mick Ronson in 1975). Despite this, the Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture project would be the first time the song had been issued on a Bowie record, and as such it was released as a single.
With Bowie at the peak of his global stardom thanks to Let's Dance, "White Light/White Heat" was considered an unusual turn for the pop audience he had attracted, and reached only #46 in the UK. The song continued to feature in Bowie's live repertoire throughout his career.
In popular culture
Two traditional-music influenced versions of the song were included on the soundtrack to the 2012 film Lawless, one by The Bootleggers featuring Mark Lanegan and one by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.
The live version of the song from Reed's Rock 'n' Roll Animal was specially covered by Julian Casablancas for the HBO television series Vinyl. It appeared on the soundtrack of the fifth episode, during a flashback to a fictional Reed gig in 1973.
- Lou Reed – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
- Sterling Morrison – lead guitar, backing vocals
- John Cale – fuzz bass, backing vocals, piano
- Maureen Tucker – percussion
- Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5