Day 15: The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

15 Mar

White Light/White Heat

For this week’s Dad-Rock Tuesday, my father picked The Velvet Underground’s 1968 album White Light/White Heat.

Well…that was…interesting.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t love White Light/White Heat.  I’ve listened to pieces of The Velvet Underground & Nico (the banana one) before, and I liked what I’ve heard .  It’s possibly a bit overrated, as lots of older music is, but it definitely held it’s own in my opinion.  Unfortunately, White Light/White Heat didn’t come close.

Honestly, there’s something about the entire album that sounds thrown-together.  It feels like the band got to the studio, and then decided that it would be a good time to put some music together.  The guitars are random, but that’s hidden pretty well by the immense amount of distortion in front of them.

I’ll admit, the lyrics can be pretty good at times.  A track that sticks out on the album is The Gift, which tells a story of a guy who mailed himself in a box to his long-distance girlfriend.  When the package arrived, he ends up getting his head split open with the sheet metal cutter that was being used to open the box.  It’s a good story, but its delivery is a little unconventional.  John Cale tells the story in a deadpan voice over seemingly unplanned guitar riffs.

Then there’s Sister Ray, the 17-minute closer.  I thought this song sounded random and thrown together while listening to it, so I decided to check the song’s Wikipedia page.  Sure enough, “’Sister Ray’ was recorded in one take. The band agreed to accept whatever faults occurred during recording, resulting in over seventeen minutes of highly improvisational material.”  Why is that a good idea?  It sounds bad.  Don’t even get me started on Lou Reed in this song.  Half of the lyrics are about someone “sucking on [his] ding-dong.”  C’mon.

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One Response to “Day 15: The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat”

  1. Dave Chops April 4, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    In fairness to the Velvets, they were recording in the era where the Beatles beautifully produced albums ruled the roost – and that was the stuff with edge. More than anything the Velvets contributed an attitude that was cynical, negative and indifferent to public opinion. As you note, they were not afraid to use vulgar and colloquial language. That was different. I think that they sold about 10 records back in the day. Yet they soldiered on, convinced of the justness of their cause. And now they are one of the ten most influential bands in rock history. Brian Eno is alleged to have once said that everyone who heard the Velvet Underground started a band. I would strongly recommend some post-Velvets albums by Reed and Cale for your listening pleasure: Lou Reed’s Magic & Loss (the greatest album ever about cancer); Cale’s Fragments of a Rainy Season (his solo “greatest hits” played only on acoustic piano and guitar) and their last collaboration in hommage to Andy Warhol, Songs for Drella. Enjoy!

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