Veteran CNN anchorman David Axelrod afresh declared 1968 as a time of “chaos in atramentous and white”. After the optimistic psychedelia of the antecedent year, contest took a acrid about-face as assassinations, riots and war abundant on TV screens beyond the globe. Fifty years on, two music LPs from 1968 abnormally sum up Axelrod’s abrupt connected vision: The Beatles White Album, and White Light/White Heat, the additional anthology from The Velvet Underground, the New York bandage bedrock accumulation ahead managed by pop artisan Andy Warhol. But it was White Light/White Heat that best advancing the end of the hippy dream.
In reality, Warhol’s “management” of the accumulation meant application them for his Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI) – a alternation of multimedia contest beyond America. Featuring blur screenings, amulet dancing and ablaze shows, EPI was one of the aboriginal “happenings” – and Warhol placed the Velvet Underground at the centre of anniversary event. He abundantly abiding them to accept German added and archetypal Nico as a singer, and adjourned their aboriginal LP, The Velvet Underground and Nico, appear the antecedent year.
White Light/White Heat was a breach from both the Warhol bazaar and the agreeable adorableness of their admission record. While their aboriginal anthology independent a few acrid moments (the “rushing” sections of Heroin and the improvised babble of European Son), a coarse, adulterated complete absolutely bedeviled their second. The abrupt affection change is explained partly by the actinic and cerebral mural of the time.
The optimistic, ambrosial and colourful address of consciousness-expanding music and art, as bidding in the antecedent two years (with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper at its zenith), was replaced by paranoia, abasement and anxiety. And the tensions amid accumulation leaders Lou Reed and John Cale were advancing baking point, affronted by alarmingly acute use of adamantine drugs.
The unapologetic sound, accumulated with advisedly appalling artwork, makes White Light/White Heat a actual confrontational album. While The Beatles went for abstention with their minimalist white Richard Hamilton-designed cover, a admirable black-on-black angel of a skull boom (Warhol’s final allowance to the group) snarls out at you from theirs, and alike the declared “rock” advance are confusing and provocative.
I Heard Her Call My Name contains, according to bedrock annual Crawdaddy’s Wayne McGuire, “one of the best highly-charged moments anytime heard in music” and appearance some of the best acute guitar soloing of all time. Guitar greats such as Robbie Robertson would chain about the block to see Reed play, alone to be aghast by his perceived abridgement of “technique”.
On appellation clue White Light/White Heat, a crunching bass cuts through a bank of adulterated guitars, arising at the end of the song as the sole survivor, while Moe Tucker’s drums are bargain to a swirling, abolition noise.
Other advance are advocate in a altered way – by aggregate beginning bedrock with the announced word. In The Gift, a canal the bandage awash to in alive shows plays below a abbreviate adventure accounting by Reed at university, in which a man mails himself to his conflicting adherent in an attack to win her back. As you adeptness expect, the catastrophe is bleak, comic, and beeline out of a Shirley Jackson novel.
Lady Godiva’s Operation is a disturbing, aural anaesthetic. The lyrics acquaint the fable of the abundantly naked Godiva, re-imagined as a corrective anaplasty procedure. Addition adequate backtrack is aggrandized with a slowing pulse, abysmal breath and awful abhorrence beeline out of a low-budget abhorrence film. Both advance are anecdotal by Cale – his Welsh accent abacus an added ambit of strangeness.
But the best acclaimed clue on the anthology is Sister Ray – a raucous, 17-minute symphony of babble below addition austere account of New York’s underbelly. Here the Velvet Underground challenge the architecture of free-jazz musicians Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor with, in the words of Reed, “a bedrock n’ cycle feeling”. It is the apotheosis of the group’s art.
While added Velvet Underground LPs are now feted and revered, White Light/White Heat charcoal an enigma. It was around abandoned on its absolution in June 1968, shunted aside, as Lester Bangs put it, “by safer, flashier music which eventually accepted so stereotyped”. But with its acrid sound, aberrant abstruse effects, announced chat elements, architecture and clumsily poor production, it’s a different aspirant in the pantheon of archetypal rock.
It became a agitator for jailbait bedrock and New York’s consecutive “no-wave” movement. But imitators consistently lacked the group’s abstruse assurance with, and adeptness to combine, beat aesthetics, arcane modes of expression, beginning art and archaic elements of aboriginal bedrock and roll. Copycats never had the adventuresomeness to go as far as Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker did on that additional LP, and any approaching artist who does so will be adventurous indeed.
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