Monday, December 24, 2007
No. 292: White Light/White Heat
Band: The Velvet Underground
Album: White Light/White Heat
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: If nothing, it's my favorite VU album. In an odd juxtaposition, the record has both the longest (“Sister Ray”) and also the most punk things (“I Heard Her Call My Name”) the Velvets ever die.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not accessible, on any level. It's a tough record to enjoy if you're not ready for it. Seventeen minutes of a blues riff and lyrics about cross-dressing and heroin does not make for radio-friendly listening. Similarly, “The Gift” is macabre and an experiment.
Best song: I'd suggest “The Gift,” if only because of Cale's haunting reading. “Lady Godiva's Operation,” also sung by Cale, is similarly awesome.
Worst song: I don't love “Her She Comes Now.”
Is it awesome?: Yes. Absolutely.
Coming off the band's heavy involvement with Andy Warhol and Nico, the Velvets toured all around the country, improvising and experimenting with feedback. The result? “White Light/White Heat.”
I love this album, personally. The subject matter of nearly every song is creepy or dirty, both adjectives that could easily describe Lou Reed in every way. “Lady Godiva's Operation” is a sweet-sounding song that is lyrically about a drag queen's botched operation that turns into a lobotomy. “I Heard Her Call My Name” is full of guitars that are dragged out and nasty. The title track is a frenetic rush of guitars and a lyric glorifying the use of crank, while a pounding player-style piano finishs the song.
“The Gift” is unlike any Velvets song in both the way the song is constructed (a short story written by Reed and read by Cale) and the way it was recorded (Cale in one channel with the band in the other). The song was recorded that way in order for listeners to either enjoy the music or just Cale's reading of the story. Which, really, is kind of cool.
The album, of course, is famous for “Sister Ray.” The song's base – a bluesy jam called “Booker T.” that the Velvets had worked on during their first tour – rolls along as the band improvs on the guitar, organ and drums. The lyrics, of course, are standard Reed fare; Heroin, transvestites and sex. It's 17 minutes of awesome; Long and interesting as ever.
Oddly enough, the album hit the Billboard 200 charts and got as high as... 199. That's kind of cool.