White Light/White Heat singleWritten by: Lou Reed
Recorded: 16, 23 May 1972; July 1973; November 1996

Released: 24 October 1983

Available on:
Bowie At The Beeb
Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
Serious Moonlight (Live ’83)
Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97)
Rock ‘N’ Roll Star!

Personnel (Bowie At The Beeb version)

David Bowie: vocals, guitar
Mick Ronson: guitar
Trevor Bolder: bass guitar
Woody Woodmansey: drums

The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ was often performed live by David Bowie, from 1972’s Ziggy Stardust Tour to his final tour in 2003-4.

Bowie had fallen in love with the Velvets after receiving an advance acetate of The Velvet Underground and Nico in December 1966. ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ was swiftly added to his live repertoire, and Lou Reed’s songwriting informed much of Bowie’s own 1970s output.

‘Queen Bitch’ on Hunky Dory was Bowie’s tribute to the band. His handwritten sleeve notes included the line “Some V.U. White Light returned with thanks”.

‘White Light/White Heat’ was the title track of the Velvet Underground’s second album, released in 1968. It was more raw and improvisational than their debut, and the last to feature founder member John Cale.

Bowie recorded a version of ‘White Light/White Heat’ during the Pin Ups sessions in the summer 1973, at a time when he was considering a follow-up of American music. The project came to nothing, however, and Bowie disbanded his group to focus on Diamond Dogs.

At the time I was intending to do an album of songs by New York people that I liked, but I never finished it.
David Bowie
Melody Maker, 13 March 1976

The backing track, however, was salvaged for Play Don’t Worry, Mick Ronson’s second solo album, with Ronson adding new vocals.

Dave was thinking of doing it for Pin Ups, and in a spare moment the band did a one-off. He didn’t want to use it so I kept the 16-track and just overdubbed some guitars.

After the first verse I made up the lyrics myself because I could never hear what Lou sung, couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and there would be this little line here and this line here and I just filled the rest around.

Mick Ronson
Creem, August 1975

In 1980 Bowie spoke of issuing his own version of ‘White Light/White Heat’, although it is unclear whether he was referring to a live recording or the Pin Ups version.

I’ve still got lots of things canned like that which I’d like to release, things like ‘White Light/White Heat’ with the Spiders.
David Bowie
NME, 13 September 1980
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