Listen back to David Bowie’s delightful cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’
During the seventies, as well as being Ziggy Stardust and generally turning the rock and roll stage on its head, David Bowie was also finding time to save the careers of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Mott The Hoople with his impeccable work at the mixing desk. Bowie was clearly a source of inspiration for the trio of acts but, in truth, Bowie was just repaying the favour, especially with his friend and collaborator Lou.
Bowie was massively influenced by Lou Reed and his work with The Velvet Underground. He brought rock and roll into a new era and essentially defined the genre of alt-pop without ever breaking a sweat – or indeed knowing he was doing it at all. The band were even credited on Bowie’s Hunky Dory after inspiring the lyrics on ‘Queen Bitch’. The flame-haired alien from outer space took a lot of the VU’s credentials into the new decade and transformed their raucous noise into something beautifully glittered and totally decadent.
There’s no better example of this than with this brilliant cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ comes from Bowie’s 1972 sessions with the legendary John Peel. Shared to the masses before Lou Reed’s seminal solo album, which had Bowie at the helm, was released the transformation of this song into something entirely ‘Bowie’ would see the writing on the wall for Reed’s new LP.
It’s a glittered and garish version of the song which, if left to its purest forms, is a simple ditty about intravenous amphetamine use but when given to Bowie it is pushed into a new dimension. Before the below session took place however, Bowie had already been playing the song for some time. It was a staple on his set and became a fan favourite.
The song had featured throughout the Ziggy Stardust Tour (including a performance with Lou Reed on July 8, 1972), and been slated for inclusion on his upcoming album Pin Ups. Despite this, the Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture project would be the first time the song saw the light of day in record form and was therefore released as a single in 1973. Following ‘Let’s Dance’ was always going to be a difficult venture and the track bombed in the charts.
Frankly, we don’t care about that because anyone with a good ear can listen to this track and know for certain it was a must-have for any muso. The track is revamped from the energy of Bowie and Ronson’s electric vision. Given the proper clout to push it to the top of the power spectrum, ‘White Light/White Heat’ becomes a symphonic glam-rock masterpiece.
Listen below to David Bowie performing The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat’ back in 1972.