The Velvet Underground

White Light/White Heat

Composed by Lou Reed

Song Review by

Like "Waiting for the Man," "White Light/White Heat" is now regarded among the all-time classic rock songs, not to mention one of the most frequently covered. David Bowie cut perhaps the definitive version for a 1972 BBC session (Gary Numan can be blamed for one of the most lamentable), while Lou Reed himself has constantly returned to it, with his most notable reinvention the blinding semi-metal rendition featured on his 1974 Rock and Roll Animal live album. Usually regarded as another of Reed's drug experience numbers, "White Light/White Heat" is, perhaps, the quintessential Velvet Underground song, representing everything that the band itself is said to personify. Recorded at the end of a wearying bout of roadwork, it is the sound of a group kicking out all their frustrations, turning the amps up full and watching them bleed. The song could be about anything -- it is the energy that captivates. Nevertheless, it proved a sad choice for a single, as Sterling Morrison later admitted: "[It] was banned every place. And when it was banned in San Francisco, we said 'the hell with it.'"

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
White Light/White Heat 1968 Uicy / Universal 2:47
The Velvet Underground 1969 Polydor 8:41
Loaded 1970 Atlantic 5:15
Golden Archive Series 1970 Sundazed
Live at Max's Kansas City 1972 Atlantic / Rhino 5:15
No Image 1973 Pride 2:44
No Image 1974 Mercury
1969: Velvet Underground Live with Lou Reed, Vol. 2 1988 ORG / Original Recordings Group 8:35
The Best of the Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed 1989 Polydor / GRP / Island/Def Jam / Universal / Verve 2:46
What Goes On? 1993 Raven 2:48
Live MCMXCIII 1993 Rhino / Warner Bros. 4:22
Velvet Redux: Live MCMXCIII 1993 WEA Int'l 2:52
Take a Trip 1993 KTS 7:55
Hard Rock Essentials: 1960's 1995
Various Artists
Rebound Records 2:44
Peel Slowly and See 1995 Polydor / Universal 2:45
Best of the Velvet Underground [Globa] 2000 Globa
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of The Velvet Underground 2000 Polydor 2:47
Classic Velvet Underground: The Universal Masters Collection 2000 Mercury / Polydor / Universal 2:46
An Introduction to the Velvet Underground 2001 PolyGram / Universal 2:48
Final V.U., 1971-1973 2001 Captain Trip Records
The  Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes 2001 Universal 10:06
3 Original CDs 2003 Polydor
Gold 2005 Polydor / Universal 2:48
Best 1200 2005 Universal Distribution
Chronicles 2005 Polydor / Universal 2:44
The Very Best of the Velvet Underground 2006 Fontana / Hip-O / Universal 2:46
The Velvet Underground Story 2006 Polydor / Universal Distribution 2:48
No Image 2007 Universal Distribution 2:44
Playlist Plus 2008 Polydor 2:46
Star Club 2008 Universal International 2:46
No Image 2008 Universal Distribution 2:45
Icon 2011 Polydor 2:46
Greatest Ever! Rock Guitars 2012
Various Artists
Greatest Ever 2:46
The Verve/MGM Albums 2012 Sundazed
Live At the Boston Tea Party, December 12th 1968 2014 Keyhole Records / Klondike Records
Boston Tea Party, March 13, 1969 2014 Keyhole Records 7:30
The Complete Matrix Tapes 2015 Polydor / Universal 8:42
Bowie Heard Them Here First
Various Artists
Ace 2:46
No Image Universal 2:46
blue highlight denotes editor's pick