White Light/White Heat
Lady Godiva's Operation
Here She Comes Now
I Heard Her Call My Name
Each of the Velvet Underground’s first four studio LPs was unique in terms of sound and style, and each left its own mark on music history. The band’s second album, 1968’s White Light/White Heat, was their noisiest and harshest record, and much of the underground rock of the '70s and '80s can be traced back to it. The Velvets assembled White Light/White Heat from some of the same elements as the rest of the group’s catalog, mixing pop genres like garage rock and R&B with streetwise poetry and folding in abstraction on loan from classical avant-garde. But here they delivered the songs with a half-turn of additional intensity, and the recording’s ragged edges amplify the artful chaos.
So while the album’s opening title track has a memorable call-and-response refrain that a group in another universe might fashion into a Top 40 hit, the Velvets drive the tune home with grinding repetition and clanging, in-the-red sonics from producer Tom Wilson. “Here She Comes Now” is, on the one hand, a catchy rock song, but Lou Reed’s stuttering delivery and Maureen Tucker’s bashing percussion give it an otherworldly atmosphere. “I Heard Her Call My Name” features a blistering and overdriven guitar solo that tests the sonic limitations of magnetic tape. As strong and weird as these songs are, nothing prepares the listener for the searing 17-minute closer, “Sister Ray.” The song’s punishing and elemental guitar riff, blown-out organ, and tribal drumming collide on a noise-jam for the ages, as Reed paints an appropriately seedy portrait of grungy debauchery with his minimal lyrics. Dangerous and unpredictable, White Light/White Heat is a raw and often improvisational album that contains some of the Velvet Underground’s most powerful music.