The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Archive for October 2nd, 2013

There It Comes Now: Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” Box Set Arrives In December

with 9 comments

White Light - White Heat Box SetUPDATED 10/4: “No one listened to it.  But there it is, forever – the quintessence of articulate punk.  And no one goes near it.”  So commented the rather articulate Lou Reed in a statement for Rolling Stone regarding Universal’s upcoming 45th anniversary 3-CD box set of The Velvet Underground’s sophomore effort, White Light/White Heat.  Due on December 3, the new set follows last year’s 6-CD super deluxe edition of the band’s debut Velvet Underground & Nico from Universal as well as the 5-LP box The Verve/MGM Albums from Sundazed.  In addition, a 2-CD “highlights” version will be available as part of the label’s Deluxe Edition series.

The 1967 debut of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Nico was a rather outré release for the jazz-oriented Verve label – though let’s not forget, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were also Verve artists at the time!  The band’s name didn’t even appear on the famous “banana” album cover – just the signature of the group’s nominal producer, Andy Warhol.  “So Far Underground, You Get the Bends!” infamously proclaimed an ad in the Village Voice, but truth is, even the underground cognoscenti didn’t embrace the band immediately.  The critics weren’t much more kind, with Jazz magazine proclaiming the VU’s debut “rather tedious despite their ventures into electric viola, et. al.,” adding that “their forte is the loud whine.”

For all that, though, the dark and uncompromising The Velvet Underground & Nico anticipated the sounds of the future. Punk, glam, noise and even goth were anticipated, though the band still made at least casual nods at pop, rhythm-and-blues, jazz and garage rock. Primarily written by Reed with contributions from bandmates Cale and Maureen Tucker, the Velvets dealt with drugs, sex and violence in a frank and bold way, while Nico’s deep, odd, gothic vocals added mightily to the feeling of paranoia and unease that permeated the record. This was the sound of the harsh underbelly of New York City.

The group, sans Nico, recorded 1968’s White Light/White Heat with Tom Wilson in the producer’s chair.  The original album bore the credit “Edited and remixed under the supervision of Tom Wilson,” and he also received a producer credit for the track “Sunday Morning.”  With Wilson officially at the helm, Reed, Cale and company aimed for an even harsher sound.  Considering the relative lack of success of The Velvet Underground & Nico, the pursuit of rawness on White Light was the opposite of conventional wisdom.  (For the record, VU&N peaked at No. 171 in Billboard and No. 102 in Cash Box.  It was difficult to find for much of 1967 thanks to a legal battle over the image of onetime Warhol associate Eric Emerson in the gatefold artwork, which might have hurt its chances further.  Still, the album sold over 58,000 copies by February 14, 1969, according to an MGM royalty statement, so Lou Reed’s famous statement to Brian Eno that it sold “30,000 copies in the first five years” wasn’t quite true.)

Cale was quoted as describing White Light/White Heat as “consciously anti-beauty,” although most would argue that the Velvets found a certain kind of beauty in the darkness.  Recorded over mere days in summer 1967 and issued on January 30, 1968, White Light’s six songs are infused with the countercultural, avant-garde spirit.  “I Heard Her Call My Name” made prominent use of screeching feedback, while sex was frankly referred to in “Lady Godiva’s Operation” and the 17+-minute jam “Sister Ray.”  The title track referred to drugs, and even the most “commercial” song on the LP, “Here She Comes Now,” employed a double entendre in its title.  Reportedly Tom Wilson left the studio during the recording of “Sister Ray,” unable to tolerate the “noise.”

Though White Light/White Heat sounds like the work of one band on the same page, tensions between Reed and Cale were splintering the band, and Cale was eased out prior to 1969’s more folk-rock-leaning The Velvet Underground.  Prior to the release of 1970’s Loaded – the VU’s most pop/rock-flavored album yet – Lou Reed departed the ranks, and it was over in all but name.

What will you find on Universal’s deluxe reissue of White Light/White Heat?  Hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 2, 2013 at 10:20