Wed, June 4, 9pm EDT - The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat

White Light/White Heat is probably the least well known of the four studio albums by one of the most influential bands of all time. The Velvet Underground's second album was released in 1968 as a follow up to their debut '67 debut The Velvet Underground & Nico.  White Light/White Heat was the last album of the VU lineup that included John Cale.  Despite tensions between he and Lou Reed, however, the group managed to put together an album that remains totally raw and brilliant to this day.  The  17+ minute closing track, "Sister Ray" says it all. Four musicians with their instruments turned up to the max, to 'eleven' if you will.  Whereas the other three albums have more "classic" hits, White Light/White Heat may be the most honest and accurate depiction of a band whose influence is still heard almost 50 years later.

I hope you can join me in listening to this work of art on June 4. Is it truly exceptional or is it less spoken about for a reason?  I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts!

29 comments

  • John Tiglias

    John Tiglias New York

    A preliminary observation before tonight's session. White Light/White Heat (WL/WH) is the least popular of the VU for obvious reasons - production, subject matter and the uncommercial live in studio sound of the group. It makes their first album with Nico feel polished by comparison. If you hold up the cover of the original vinyl release to the light you can see a skull and crossbones outlined against the black background which pretty much sets the tone for what's inside. Critically derided at the time it can now be seen as a bridge to their last 2 more accessible and quieter albums (3 if you count the great unreleased album between VU3 and Loaded which can be heard in snippets on VU and Another View) and contains most famously as noted Sister Ray which together with the Dead's Dark Star and Coltrane's India stand as the three great long tracks of the 60's. As such it represents a break from Cale's avant garde vision for the band to Lou's mission to become a rock & roll legend. Who knows what the next step would have been if Cale has stuck around. Unfortunately we will never know but we have WL/WH as a totally one of a kind statement that endures and intrigues us still to this day.

    A preliminary observation before tonight's session. White Light/White Heat (WL/WH) is the least popular of the VU for obvious reasons - production, subject matter and the uncommercial live in studio sound of the group. It makes their first album with Nico feel polished by comparison. If you hold up the cover of the original vinyl release to the light you can see a skull and crossbones outlined against the black background which pretty much sets the tone for what's inside. Critically derided at the time it can now be seen as a bridge to their last 2 more accessible and quieter albums (3 if you count the great unreleased album between VU3 and Loaded which can be heard in snippets on VU and Another View) and contains most famously as noted Sister Ray which together with the Dead's Dark Star and Coltrane's India stand as the three great long tracks of the 60's. As such it represents a break from Cale's avant garde vision for the band to Lou's mission to become a rock & roll legend. Who knows what the next step would have been if Cale has stuck around. Unfortunately we will never know but we have WL/WH as a totally one of a kind statement that endures and intrigues us still to this day.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Great commentary John! Thanks for sharing your insights. Btw, check out this article if you haven't seen it. There's some interesting quotes from the band interspersed throughout (including Lou patting himself on the back a few times...). http://bigread.mojo4music.com/2013/11/velvet-underground/ I always think about what another VU album would have been like if Cale was on board for it. They definitely went in a decidedly different direction after his departure, and admittedly I like the fact that there's sort of two variations of the VU. The more avant-garde feel w/ Cale and the more melodic & brighter feel after Cale's departure. I also sometimes wonder how Heroin would have been without the electric viola. Would it have been as ground breaking? Obviously the lyrics are a large part of it, but without the electric viola would it have had the same shock value that gave the lyrics that much more meaning? We won't be hearing that track tonight, but it will be something I'm thinking about as I listen to the last record of the VU w/ Cale. I'm looking forward to listening to say the least!

    Great commentary John! Thanks for sharing your insights. Btw, check out this article if you haven't seen it. There's some interesting quotes from the band interspersed throughout (including Lou patting himself on the back a few times...).
    http://bigread.mojo4music.com/2013/11/velvet-underground/
    I always think about what another VU album would have been like if Cale was on board for it. They definitely went in a decidedly different direction after his departure, and admittedly I like the fact that there's sort of two variations of the VU. The more avant-garde feel w/ Cale and the more melodic & brighter feel after Cale's departure. I also sometimes wonder how Heroin would have been without the electric viola. Would it have been as ground breaking? Obviously the lyrics are a large part of it, but without the electric viola would it have had the same shock value that gave the lyrics that much more meaning? We won't be hearing that track tonight, but it will be something I'm thinking about as I listen to the last record of the VU w/ Cale. I'm looking forward to listening to say the least!

  • John Tiglias

    John Tiglias New York

    Good point on the importance of the viola on Heroin but for me it was always Moe Tucker's drumming - especially how it speeds up and then slows almost to a halt - that always made the track feel so exciting. There was always so much density in the Cale VU configuration that made you want listen closely and discover new aspects of the music.

    Good point on the importance of the viola on Heroin but for me it was always Moe Tucker's drumming - especially how it speeds up and then slows almost to a halt - that always made the track feel so exciting. There was always so much density in the Cale VU configuration that made you want listen closely and discover new aspects of the music.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    The interesting thing is that Moe actually stops drumming at one point in the song. I was watching a documentary when she mentioned it. Admittedly it had never stuck out to me that she had done so. I can't remember her reasoning for doing so, but I think she thought they were all stopping (maybe because she thought someone said cut or something). I think it was in the documentary "VELVET UNDERGROUND: UNDER REVIEW" that I saw on crackle.com. That drumming definitely drives the song though. Moe was the pulse on that one.

    The interesting thing is that Moe actually stops drumming at one point in the song. I was watching a documentary when she mentioned it. Admittedly it had never stuck out to me that she had done so. I can't remember her reasoning for doing so, but I think she thought they were all stopping (maybe because she thought someone said cut or something). I think it was in the documentary "VELVET UNDERGROUND: UNDER REVIEW" that I saw on crackle.com. That drumming definitely drives the song though. Moe was the pulse on that one.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    One quick note to all as we prepare to listen to 'White Light/White Heat': **Please make sure to periodically refresh your browser so you can see all the comments as they are posted. ** Thank you to everyone for joining!

    One quick note to all as we prepare to listen to 'White Light/White Heat':

    **Please make sure to periodically refresh your browser so you can see all the comments as they are posted. **

    Thank you to everyone for joining!

  • George

    George VT

    Hi! I'm a huge VU fan. This is not necessarily my favorite album of theirs but I look forward to this listening session to see what I may have missed in previous spinnings.

    Hi! I'm a huge VU fan. This is not necessarily my favorite album of theirs but I look forward to this listening session to see what I may have missed in previous spinnings.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Welcome George! We'll be starting in a few. I'm eager to dig in too

    Welcome George! We'll be starting in a few. I'm eager to dig in too

  • Sarah

    Sarah NY

    wasn't sure I was going to make it, but I did. w/ a couple of minutes to spare too! haven't really listened to this album in its entirety. just picked it up for tonight

    wasn't sure I was going to make it, but I did. w/ a couple of minutes to spare too! haven't really listened to this album in its entirety. just picked it up for tonight

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Welcome back Sarah. Anyone else out there? Btw, here's a link to the lyrics that I found. I can't vouch for the accuracy but it's probably a decent reference point if you're looking for something to follow along http://www.releaselyrics.com/c1af/the-velvet-underground-white-light-white-heat/

    Welcome back Sarah. Anyone else out there?

    Btw, here's a link to the lyrics that I found. I can't vouch for the accuracy but it's probably a decent reference point if you're looking for something to follow along

    http://www.releaselyrics.com/c1af/the-velvet-underground-white-light-white-heat/

  • Henry

    Henry Stubbville, KS

    Yo. I'm here too. Just signed on

    Yo. I'm here too. Just signed on

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Album Night officially starts now! Start track 1 (hit play or put the needle down on side A) of The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. Share your thoughts right here as you listen!

    Album Night officially starts now! Start track 1 (hit play or put the needle down on side A) of The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat. Share your thoughts right here as you listen!

  • John T

    John T New York

    A great opening track - upbeat and joyous sounding. It hardly prepares you for the onslaught to come.

    A great opening track - upbeat and joyous sounding. It hardly prepares you for the onslaught to come.

  • Sarah

    Sarah NY

    The Gift. this is a cool concept

    The Gift. this is a cool concept

  • John T

    John T New York

    The Gift makes perfect use of stereo - spoken word on one speaker the instrumental track on the other.

    The Gift makes perfect use of stereo - spoken word on one speaker the instrumental track on the other.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Yeah, I think they said if people didn't want to hear the story they could just listen to the one side. Was this ever released mono? Seems it would defeat the purpose but I thought I saw it mentioned somewhere? Not sure what format it would have been

    Yeah, I think they said if people didn't want to hear the story they could just listen to the one side. Was this ever released mono? Seems it would defeat the purpose but I thought I saw it mentioned somewhere? Not sure what format it would have been

  • John T

    John T New York

    So much attention given to Lou, Cale and Moe that Sterling often goes unnoticed. Very underrated.

    So much attention given to Lou, Cale and Moe that Sterling often goes unnoticed. Very underrated.

  • George

    George VT

    Sometimes I find it hard to know when Sterling is playing lead or Lou. Everyone seems to make a big deal of Lou's solo on "I Heard Her Call My Name". But yes, not many mentions of Sterling unfortunately

    Sometimes I find it hard to know when Sterling is playing lead or Lou. Everyone seems to make a big deal of Lou's solo on "I Heard Her Call My Name". But yes, not many mentions of Sterling unfortunately

  • Sarah

    Sarah NY

    wow! bummer ending

    wow! bummer ending

  • John T

    John T New York

    Lady Godiva sounds like an outtake from their first album.

    Lady Godiva sounds like an outtake from their first album.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    It definitely sounds like an outtake when Lou sounds like he's yelling "Neatly". Doesn't seem like much mixing was done. Guess that rawness is what makes it great though

    It definitely sounds like an outtake when Lou sounds like he's yelling "Neatly". Doesn't seem like much mixing was done. Guess that rawness is what makes it great though

  • John T

    John T New York

    I Heard Call My a Name is truly incredible especially for Lou's guitar playing. There is a moment right after Lou singing "and then my mind split open" for the second time when there is brief moment of silence before the feedback assault. Unbelievable pent up energy.

    I Heard Call My a Name is truly incredible especially for Lou's guitar playing. There is a moment right after Lou singing "and then my mind split open" for the second time when there is brief moment of silence before the feedback assault. Unbelievable pent up energy.

  • John T

    John T New York

    We can now sit back and absorb Sister Ray. So primitive and complex at the same time. I always feel exhausted after it ends.

    We can now sit back and absorb Sister Ray. So primitive and complex at the same time. I always feel exhausted after it ends.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Yeah, I'm going to go back and listen to that one again after the album is complete. Been waiting for Sister Ray. Everyone's turned up to 11

    Yeah, I'm going to go back and listen to that one again after the album is complete. Been waiting for Sister Ray. Everyone's turned up to 11

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    I'd have to say that they were masters of distortion and feedback. Their use of it is incredible

    I'd have to say that they were masters of distortion and feedback. Their use of it is incredible

  • John T

    John T New York

    Now that it's over the album feels so short compared to today's excessive standards. Great to hear it again start to finish. Thanks John for making such an inspired choice.

    Now that it's over the album feels so short compared to today's excessive standards. Great to hear it again start to finish. Thanks John for making such an inspired choice.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Yeah. A mere 40 minutes… But I rather quality than quantity. Thanks for everyone who joined in and shared their thoughts.

    Yeah. A mere 40 minutes… But I rather quality than quantity. Thanks for everyone who joined in and shared their thoughts.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    I'm going to reflect on this album for a while, and possibly spin it again right now. "Album Night" will return in two weeks on June 18 with the sensational "Forever Changes" by Love. A great album released around the same time as White Light/White Heat, yet totally totally different. I hope to see you all then! Thanks again for all your insights into tonight's classic album

    I'm going to reflect on this album for a while, and possibly spin it again right now.

    "Album Night" will return in two weeks on June 18 with the sensational "Forever Changes" by Love. A great album released around the same time as White Light/White Heat, yet totally totally different. I hope to see you all then! Thanks again for all your insights into tonight's classic album

  • Sarah

    Sarah NY

    a lot of raw energy on that one for sure. never heard Forever Changes but I'm going to pick it up for the 18th. you haven't steered me wrong with your selections yet!

    a lot of raw energy on that one for sure. never heard Forever Changes but I'm going to pick it up for the 18th. you haven't steered me wrong with your selections yet!

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Great Sarah! I don't think you'll be disappointed. Glad I can introduce you to some classics! Until then...

    Great Sarah! I don't think you'll be disappointed. Glad I can introduce you to some classics!
    Until then...

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