The Velvet Underground: White Light, White Heat

The Velvet Underground: White Light, White Heat

Album #48

Episode date - October 7, 2015

The Alternative Top 40
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    This is probably the most difficult album to like on this entire list; easy to appreciate, but extremely difficult to ‘enjoy’. Only three tracks – the three shortest - could even qualify rightly as ‘songs’, and even they all descend into a sea of atonal noise.

    The rest are relentless studies in mind-numbing, nerve rattling cacophony. Gone is Nico, the stoic, Germanic ‘voice of reason.’ Andy Warhol could have proven to be a stabilizing influence (if you could even imagine that as possible), but the band left his employ. Completely absent is anything even resembling the genteel appeal of “Sunday Morning.” Instead, we have horrific tales of drug-addled orgies, lobotomies and accidental murder, subjects more appropriate for an emergency room than for a backyard barbecue. What’s even more disturbing is that the music brilliantly fits with the subject matter. Playing the entire album in one sitting is like experiencing a 40-minute car accident. It’s an album that leaves you feeling slightly ill, with frayed nerves, whether you pay attention or not.

    If you play this album often, you probably don’t have many friends. I’ve heard numerous critics complain about Lou Reed’s solo atrocity, “Metal Machine Music,” but few ever discuss the painful abrasions (probably rug burns) caused by “Sister Ray.” If you don’t believe me, put it to the test. I guarantee that you will not be allowed to play the entire 17½ minutes in a public environment. Hell, this song would even ruin your orgy…, which may be why it’s so easy to appreciate. If every band made music like this, I’d likely be dead by now. Thank God that Velvet Underground did it in 1968 and now anybody who tries to do something this unbearably painful is just copping the idea. Noise like this can be original only once. Here it is.

    January 1968 - Billboard Charted #199

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