Category: The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground – White Light / White Heat

ARTIST: The Velvet Underground220px-Whitelightwhiteheat
TITLE: White Light / White Heat
YEAR RELEASED: 1968
CHART ACTION: #199
SINGLES: White Light / White Heat, I Heard Her Call My Name
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sister Ray
LINEUP: Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Famous / infamous album that is loud, baffling, and legendary

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Rock critics everywhere have written thousands upon thousands of words about these six tracks. You may have read some of them. I guess I’m going to add my nickel here, too.

I can’t make you like this. I can say that this is what rock set out to be – dangerous, abrasive, and loud. This is also arty, pretentious, and ragged. The levels are pushed to the limit, and it shows.

The title track is a nearly perfect raw blast of rock and roll. “The Gift” is deranged and effective – a story set to a great jam. “I Heard Her Call My Name” makes any bands previous feedback experiments sound like child’s play. It’s a total guitar flip out.

Those three tracks alone would make it an album to own, even if you use the latter song to rankle the square neighbors. The other two cuts are good too, even if the jump cuts between vocalists in “Lady Godiva’s Operation” are a little unsettling (and probably due to bad editing).

Then there’s “Sister Ray”. It’s 17 ½ minutes of depravity taking place at a shooting gallery that includes transvestites, mainlining (I said it was a shooting gallery), prostitutes, pimps, murder, and oral sex. Oh, and the band sounds like it’s going to careen off of a ditch at any moment as Reed and Morrison’s guitars are battling with each other and Cale’s organ for control and space. It’s probably one of the most polarizing tracks in rock history. You gotta hear it all the way through once, though, even if you decide it’s not your bag. Because it may be your bag after you hear it a second time. “Eureka!”

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Sister Ray” allegedly chased away the producers and engineers who just let the band have at it and told them to go get them when they were done. In a live setting, “Sister Ray” could go for up to a half-hour, and that’s without the introduction they used to add on to it.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Big time. A mono mix. Alternate takes, and a live show.

GRADE: A: I’d love to give it an A+, but I know that “Sister Ray” can be a bit much for some to take (and in the wrong mood I can’t deal with all 17 minutes of it) AND the editing is a bit sloppy. You should have it, though.

The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico

ARTIST: The Velvet Underground220px-Velvet_Underground_and_Nico
TITLE: The Velvet Underground & Nico
YEAR RELEASED: 1967
CHART ACTION: #171 (originally, hit #129 in 2013)
SINGLES: All Tomorrows Parties, Sunday Morning
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Heroin, Venus in Furs, I’m Waiting for the Man, Femme Fatale, I’ll Be Your Mirror, There She Goes Again
LINEUP: Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker, Nico
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Andy Warhol’s house band records an album full of dark and depraved subject matter. It stiffs on release, but becomes a beloved touchstone much later.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Reviewing an album you know well is more difficult than it seems. But I took a fresh ear to it, and I have decided it is worth the hype.

In 2015, songs like I’m Waiting for the Man, Heroin and Venus in Furs are hardly shocking. The noisy experiments seem tame. Still, though the album packs a surprising punch. The vocals in Heroin really do sound like Reed is shooting up as he sings. The arrangement of Venus in Furs is evocative and effective.

This isn’t for everyone, of course. Good art isn’t for everyone. There’s also some tracks that I don’t really care for (and thus no A+) because they just seem like arty diddling – even great artists masturbate on their canvas, as it were. Also, because of the haphazard way the record was recorded the sound isn’t as clear as what it could be, but we were lucky to get this thing on tape.

And I’ve come around on Nico. Her ice princess vocals are what some songs need.
NOTES & MINUTIAE: Andy Warhol ‘produced’ it but never touched a knob. The band went through three studios, an acetate, and at least three engineers. Tom Wilson really produced the later sessions.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Is there? Right now the Super Deluxe edition has alternate takes, a mono mix, an entire Nico album and live cuts. As usual, I’m picking and choosing.

GRADE: A : Believe the hype – listen with an open mind. It is art, not pop music.