"White Light/White Heat" is a song by American avant-garde rock band The Velvet Underground, the title track on their second album, released in 1968. It is a fast, relentlessly aggressive start to the album, similar to the punk rock genre it would ultimately influence.

The song's vocals are performed primarily by Lou Reed, with John Cale and Sterling Morrison performing backing vocals. The song, much like "I'm Waiting for the Man", features a pounding rock-and-roll Barrelhouse-style piano vamp. The song is about the sensations produced by intravenous injection of methamphetamine and features a heavily distorted electric bass outro played by John Cale over a single chord. This bass solo purportedly mimics the throbbing, ear-ringing effects experienced during the methamphetamine "rush."

"White Light/White Heat" was released in 1968 as a single with the B-side "Here She Comes Now". "White Light/White Heat" was also a staple of the Velvet Underground's live performances from 1967 on. The tune appears on numerous live bootleg albums, and the nearly nine minute version included on the group's posthumous 1969 Livedouble LP is one of the album's centerpieces.

Reed also recorded a live version of the song in 1974, which is featured on his Rock 'n' Roll Animal and Greatest Hits albums.

Two traditional-music influenced versions of the song were included on the soundtrack to the 2012 film Lawless, one by The Bootleggers featuring Mark Lanegan and one by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.


 [hide*1 Personnel


1967 studio version[edit]Edit

  • Lou Reed – vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Sterling Morrison – lead guitar, backing vocal
  • John Cale – bass guitar, backing vocal, piano
  • Maureen Tucker – percussion

1969 live versions[edit]Edit

  • Lou Reed – vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Sterling Morrison – lead guitar, backing vocal
  • Doug Yule – bass guitar, backing vocal
  • Maureen Tucker – percussion

1993 live version[edit]Edit

  • Lou Reed – vocals, rhythm guitar
  • Sterling Morrison – lead guitar, backing vocal
  • John Cale – bass guitar, backing vocal
  • Maureen Tucker – percussion

David Bowie cover[edit]Edit

"White Light/White Heat"
Single by David Bowie
from the album Ziggy Stardust - The Motion Picture
B-side "Cracked Actor"
Released November 1983
Format 7" single
Recorded Hammersmith Odeon, London July 3, 1973
Genre Glam rock
Length 4:06
Label RCA


Producer(s) David BowieTony Visconti
David Bowie singles chronology
"Without You"


"White Light/White Heat"


"Blue Jean"


"White Light/White Heat" is regularly performed live by David Bowie. A version he recorded in 1973 was released as a single in 1983 to promote the album Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture.

Bowie, a long-time Velvets fan, had been performing “White Light/White Heat" since 1971. (His album of that year, Hunky Dory, features a credit to the song for having inspired Bowie's Queen Bitch.) It had featured throughout the Ziggy Stardust tour (including a performance with Lou Reed on July 8, 1972), been recorded by Bowie for twoBBC sessions, and been slated for inclusion on Pinups (the backing track from this session was later recorded as a solo version by Mick Ronson in 1975). Despite this, theZiggy Stardust – The Motion Picture project would be the first time the song had been issued on a Bowie record, and as such it was released as a single.

With Bowie at the peak of his global stardom thanks to Let's Dance, "White Light/White Heat" was considered an unusual turn for the pop audience he had attracted, and reached only #46 in the UK. The song has continued to feature in Bowie’s live repertoire.

Track listing[edit]Edit

  1. "White Light/White Heat" (Lou Reed) – 4:06
  2. "Cracked Actor" (David Bowie) – 2:51

Production credits[edit]Edit

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