White Light/White Heat

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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 (1968-01-30)
Recorded September 1967
Studio Scepter Studios, Manhattan
Length 40:13
Label Verve
Producer Tom Wilson
The Velvet Underground chronology
The Velvet Underground & Nico
(1967)The Velvet Underground & Nico1967
White Light/White Heat
The Velvet Underground
(1969)The Velvet Underground1969
1976 UK reissue cover
1976 UK reissue cover
1988 reissue cover
1988 reissue cover
Singles from White Light/White Heat

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 studio recording of new material with bassist and founding member John Cale.


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 fired Warhol, parted ways with Nico,[2] and recorded their second album with Tom Wilson credited as producer.


The album was recorded in just two days, and with a noticeably different style from that of 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."[3]


The album has been described as experimental rock,[4][5] noise rock,[6][7] proto-punk[8] and art rock[9] by writers and critics. Nearly every song on the album contains some sort of experimental or avant-garde quality.[according to whom?] "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 on the stereo version. "I Heard Her Call My Name" is distinguishable for its distorted guitar solos and prominent use of feedback.[original research?]

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,[10][unreliable source?] and the title track "White Light/White Heat", which describes the use of amphetamine.[11]

"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.


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.[12] 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.

In 1974, the album was reissued by MGM under the title "Archetypes". The cover of this version features two men wearing helmets standing in front of a Woolworth's.[13]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[4]
Chicago Tribune 3.5/4 stars[14]
Classic Rock 10/10 stars[15]
Pitchfork 10/10[16]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[17]
Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[18]
Sputnikmusic 3.5/5[19]

Like other releases by the group, the album's socially transgressive lyrical themes and avant-garde instrumentation challenged popular music sensibilities at the time, creating a muted reception.[4] The album briefly appeared on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 199.[20] Retrospective reviews have been much more positive, with the album being listed at number 293 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

White Light/White Heat has sold 113,000 copies in the U.S.[timeframe?] according to Nielsen Soundscan.[21]


White Light/White Heat contains distorted, feedback-driven, and roughly recorded sound, which is regarded as influential.[22] British rock band Buzzcocks were formed by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto out of a shared interest in "Sister Ray".[23]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Lou Reed except where 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


The Velvet Underground
Technical personnel


  1. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Velvet Underground | Biography | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  2. ^ "1967". Warholstars.org. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  3. ^ David Fricke (2013). "Overloaded The Story of White Light/White Heat". Mojo. 
  4. ^ a b c Deming, Mark. "White Light/White Heat – The Velvet Underground | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  5. ^ Pareles, Jon; Chinen, Nate (December 16, 2013). "After 45 Years, as Incendiary as Ever". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved August 20, 2015. 
  6. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (December 11, 2013). "Revisiting The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat". Paste. Paste Media Group. Retrieved August 21, 2015. 
  7. ^ Galen, Marjorie; Matthews, Gordon (September 1, 2007). Legends of Rock. Dalmatian Press. ISBN 978-1403737199. 
  8. ^ Edmondson, Jacqueline, ed. (October 3, 2013). Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 915. ISBN 978-0313393471. Retrieved August 20, 2015. 
  9. ^ Meic Stephens (23 September 1998). The new companion to the literature of Wales. University of Wales Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-7083-1383-1. 
  10. ^ "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).] 
  11. ^ Bockris, Victor; Malanga, Gerard (1983). Up-tight: The Velvet Underground Story. London: Omnibus Press. p. 93. ISBN 0-7119-0168-6. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ http://www.discogs.com/The-Velvet-Underground-Archetypes/release/981371
  14. ^ Kot, Greg (January 12, 1992). "Lou Reed's Recordings: 25 Years of Path-Breaking Music". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 29, 2013. 
  15. ^ Bell, Max (January 2014). "Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat". Classic Rock (192): 119. 
  16. ^ Wolk, Douglas (January 16, 2014). "The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved January 16, 2014. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Arp, Louis (February 15, 2006). "The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat (album review 3)". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  20. ^ "The Velvet Underground, 'White Light/White Heat' – 500 Greatest Albums of All Time | Rolling Stone". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  21. ^ http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/legal-and-management/5770584/lou-reed-rip-what-if-everyone-who-bought-the-first
  22. ^ Thompson, Jason. "The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat | PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  23. ^ Andrew Hulttrans (April 2010). "Reissues". Spin: 92. 

Further reading[edit]