Bad fortunes struck The Velvet Underground early on. Both the artist Andy Warhol and Nico departed from the band’s involvement, for slightly different reasons, by 1968. Their first album had bombed commercially and gave the band little money from it, selling very few copies at the time.
Still, the group went on with making music and it was a great, yet no doubt difficult decision for them to do. This album had the artistic concept of taking the template of music from the first album, and destroying all beauty in it, years before heavy metal could ever do so. Let’s listen to it, and see in what way it differs from the first album in terms of music.
White Light/White Heat is a loud and excellent pop song that has a proto-punk feel about it, especially with Lou Reed’s singing. The lyrics are excellent, and the piano in the background is very good as well. Although it is very short, it is totally enjoyable. If you thought that the first album was too weird, this is a welcome change from that musical experience. A very good and enjoyable piece of music. Just a brilliant and well done effort.
The Gift is a spoken word piece over a cool musical accompaniment. It’s best not to spoil the surprise in the story in the ending, but let’s just say that this is about a crazed lover who, get this, mails himself to his former lover to attempt to woo her over again. A ridiculous idea in a musical context, but top notch. The musical accompaniment is also spot on, with loud jamming in the background with loud guitars, drums and feedback. An excellent and interesting story, definitely worth hearing if you want to laugh.
Next is Lady Godiva’s Operation which is back to regular music here. It is loud, raw and has a bunch of reassuring singing as well. You can see clearly where the punks got their ideas from in a musical context. It is hard to imagine some bands such as The Sex Pistols existing without this album. A weird and wacky song, this is anti-hippie music for 1968. It is a really odd piece, and a good listen.
Following is Here She Comes Now is a more ballad style piece which has Lou Reed singing gently over beautiful electric guitars and quiet drumming. It’s more akin to the first album by The Velvet Underground than otherwise expected, but is a lovely listen. Good effort.
I Heard Her Call My Name is next, which sounds really odd and random at the start, before launching into a great sixties piece which appeals more to the traditional theme of 1960s rock groups, namely singing about women. The whole piece is really unusual, but a great listen. The songs here are magnificent. The backing vocals are also very nice to hear. There is a thunderous outro with some odd guitar lines in it. Great stuff regardless. Energetic and exciting.
Sister Ray is the long instrumental that takes up the second half of the album, being over 17 minutes. It begins as a loud rock and roll piece, with Lou Reed singing about mischievous exploits, in an anti-melodic sounding voice. Remember, this was not a typical 1960s piece at all. It is a great piece to hear, even today. There is a loud and distorted organ part in here too. If this is a jam, it really does sound superb, and is a definite improvement on anything jam based on the first album by The Velvet Underground. It’s a catchy, melodic and loud rock piece. Some reference to getting one’s “ding-dong” sucked is here, as well. In other words, this is not for kids. It gets really loud in this recording during the piece, and is a great way of showcasing a live jam. This is not unlike a hippie jam, but it is anti-psychedelic in its intentions. A brilliant and enjoyable finish to this album. Obviously well thought out and executed for the jam. It sounds very much like a musical equivalent to real white light and white heat here. It goes into a subtle midsection, with Lou Reed singing clearly and with great clarity. It pulsates with energy throughout, even when it is more subtle than usual. Feedback galore is present as well. Then enters a quirky organ riff, whilst Lou Reed sings some harmonies in a strange way. Feedback guitar and powerful drumming mesh together in a near perfect musical sense. Towards the end, the pace goes into psycho mode and goes faster than most punk groups ever did. More lyrics enter the scene, and the band power through, finishing at a frenetic pace. Good stuff.
This is a really great album and listen from The Velvet Underground. It is a monumental and awesome listening experience from start to finish. The Velvet Underground & Nico may have begun the group’s career, but this is the one to keep.