104. Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat (1967)
1. White Light White Heat
3. Lady Godiva's Operation
4. Here She Comes Now
5. I Heard Her Call My Name
6. Sister Ray
Now imagine yourself in 1967, you arrive home with the last hits of Peter, Paul and Mary... but, by mistake someone put White Light/White Heat inside the sleeve. Knowing Velvet Underground as the guys who made those nice folk-rocky albums with that German Fuckathon Champion you decide to give it a go. 4 months later you would wake up in an hospital bed.
That is just how shocking this album must have been. A lot of it is noise, but what wonderful noise they make. There are textures and complexities to what at first seems a load of noise, after a while it is both catchy and, in a way, beautiful... I know I've been walking down the street muttering "She's sucking on my ding-dong" under my breath... and that has made me a better person.
It is not hard to see why one of the only acceptable "old" bands to listen to if you were a punk in the late 70's were the Velvet Underground. In fact they take noisiness much farther than most punk bands did. The soundscapes that Velvet Underground produce here are a testimony to an immense chaos, but a carefully orchestrated chaos. And it is also beautifully written. The Gift, which tells the story of Waldo Jeffers in 8 minutes is one of the most perfect narrative tracks that I have had the privilege to listen to.
If you don't know this, you have to. Notice also the beautiful cover inspired on Spinal Tap's Smell The Glove, (actually there's a barely noticable skull tatoo but the contrast is so low that it is hard to see). I am sure that a lot of people will not like this, in fact I am sure that most won't but give it a try and pay attention to it because it is great. Stream it from Napster or buy it at Amazon UK or US.
1. The Gift
2. Sister Ray
3. White Light/ White Heat
4. Lady Godiva's Operation
If you own an mp3 player don't sing along to Sister Ray... or The Gift for that matter. Also do not attempt to share The Gift with someone, by you having one headphone and the other person the other one... try it and you'll find out why.
The centrepiece, however, is the lengthy, improvised murder tale "Sister Ray", based on some of Reed's near-perennial concerns — drug abuse, violence, homosexuality and transvestism. "Sister Ray" is legendary for having been recorded in one take. The band agreed to accept whatever faults occurred in the single take. The song careens off in every direction for over 17 minutes as John Cale's deafening organ (which was routed through a distorted guitar amplifier) and Lou Reed's piercing guitar take turns drowning out the rest of the band. Secondary guitarist Sterling Morrison remarked that he was amazed at the volume of Cale's organ during the recording and had switched the guitar pickup on his Fender Stratocaster from the bridge position to the neck position to get "more oomph". There is a rumor that the producer, Tom Wilson walked out halfway through the song and just said "Let me know when you're done". Also notable about the song is that it features no bass guitar - John Cale, who usually plays bass, was playing his organ on the take. The band had a sponsorship from Vox amplifiers, resulting in use of top of the line amps and distortion pedals to create a very distorted and noisy sound. The title for Sister Ray provided the inspiration for the name of the Salem, Oregon band Sister Ray.