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White Light/White Heat is The Velvet Underground's second album.
Recorded relatively rapidly in a period of 2 days in late 1967, the record eschewed the more pop sensibilities of their first record, as well as that record's guest vocalist Nico, and producer Andy Warhol. Distorted, driven by feedback and roughly recorded, the album became one of the prototypes for The Stooges and the punk movement.
The album contains unorthodox tracks such as "White Light/White Heat", "Lady Godiva's Operation" and "The Gift", the latter featuring a heavy rock rhythm mixed into one stereo speaker and a Lou Reed short story — laconically narrated by John Cale — in the other. The story tells a tale of love and the perils of human mail, and was written by Lou Reed for a project in his college days. Clips of the track were used in radio ads for the album.
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. With the possible exception of Jimi Hendrix, such levels of distortion and feedback as found on the album were quite rare. The album was somewhat of an experiment in noise. The title for Sister Ray provided the inspiration for the name of the Salem, Oregon band Sister Ray.
The song "I Heard Her Call My Name", perhaps the most overlooked piece on the album, features two guitar solos from Lou Reed that are considered by some to be his finest guitar work to date. The distortion is so heavily layered on the song that not much else is audible in the track. Even though heavy, overdriven guitars are no longer a rarity in modern rock music, this song is still recognized as one of the best and first examples of such a technique.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 292 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
1. "White Light/White Heat" (Lou Reed) - 2:46
2. "The Gift" (Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, Maureen Tucker) - 8:18
3. "Lady Godiva's Operation" (Reed) - 4:55
4. "Here She Comes Now" (Reed, Morrison, Cale, Tucker) - 2:02
5. "I Heard Her Call My Name" (Reed) - 4:37
6. "Sister Ray" (Reed, Morrison, Cale, Tucker) - 17:34
* Lou Reed - vocals, guitar, piano
* John Cale - vocals, electric viola, organ, bass guitar
* Sterling Morrison - vocals, guitar, bass guitar
* Maureen Tucker - percussion, drums
* Tom Wilson - producer
* Gary Kellgren - recording engineer
* Val Valentin - director of engineering
* Bob Ludwig - mastering