Sister Ray

Album: White Light, White Heat (1968)
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Songfacts®:

  • In The Velvet Underground Companion: Four Decades of Commentary, Lou Reed is quoted as explaining: "'Sister Ray' was done as a joke - no, not as a joke, but it has eight characters in it and this guy gets killed and nobody does anything. The situation is a bunch of drag queens taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear."

    Speaking of the guy who gets killed, you did hear the part in the third verse where the sailor gets shot and the only reaction is "Aw, you shouldn't do that; Don't you know you'll stain the carpet," didn't you? Just checking. This is Reed's sense of black humor, together with his storytelling skill honed during his early attempt at a writing career.

    Also, pay attention to these lyrics and then meditate on this quote: "Andy shows movies and we f--k dogs on stage." - Lou Reed, 2003, in Steven Watson's Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties. Does your mother know you listen to this stuff?
  • Of White Light/ White Heat, the album on which "Sister Ray" first appears, noted music journalist Lester Bangs said that his litmus test for telling a True Punk Rocker from a Poser(TM) was to pull White Light/ White Heat from their record collection and note if the grooves on the record showed signs of having been played.
  • In the category of "everyone who bought a Velvet Underground album started a band," we have the Buzzcocks, a UK punk band which formed as a result of placing an advertisement looking for musicians who could collaborate on "Sister ray."

Comments: 13

  • Patrick from Salem, OrThis song is a true anthem to anti-establishment, but that is not the reason to like, simply put....its an AMAZING song. I mean first of all the music and lyrics are brilliant, the style, free-form experimental improvisation set around some unbelievable chords, riffs and beat can't be beat, especially when one considers the year it was produced. All-in-all White Light/White Heat is truly one of the best albums ever, not just for those who want to call themselves "true punks" or whatever butbut for all who enjoy great music. The Gift, Lady Godiva's Operation, Sister Ray all on one album, COME ON, it does not get any better!!!
  • Derek from Pittsburgh, PaIf you want to know exactly what the song is about, then listen to the track entitled "Sister Ray/Foggy Notion" on Disc 3 of The Bootleg Series. Not only is it a wonderful live version of the song that clocks in at beyond 28 minutes, but it blends two of the Velvets best songs (the idiosyncratic best version of "Foggy Notion" is found on Disc 1 of the Bootleg Series). However, this is not nearly the longest version; the longest recorded Sister Ray I have is from a 1969 concert and is exactly 38 minutes long, and can found on the multi-disc collection entitled "Caught Between the Twisted Stars." To be frank, it rocks out even harder than the original version, which you probably find hard to believe. But this song literally roars, screeches, and screams out of the speakers. If you haven't heard the song, get it and then listen to it for the first time in your car. With the speakers turned all the way up.
  • David from Richmond, VaI'd like to note here that john cale's keyboard break that occurs after the second verse is one of the sickest grooves committed to record.

    To Mark,
    I know exactly what you mean. The rapture and clarity that sister ray's full 17 minutes instills in me is unlike any other song i've ever heard, and yet few people really hear the brilliance.

    To Paul,
    I would say Sister Ray is probably noisier, if only because it's so much heavier. However, i also think it's far more melodic. The rowdiest parts of European Son are more unlistenable than anything in Sister Ray, in my opinion.
  • Moziah from Bronx, NyI kind of found this very interesting.

    The catchy, distorted, power chord driven G - F - C chord progression of the songs first 5 minutes are very similar to the song "Nowhere to Run" by Martha and the Vandellas which was released two years earlier than this song's recording.

    Check it out and tell me if you agree:
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=TEqbxGGKgLk

    Listen to the songs chorus instrumental around the 1:48 mark, it's distinctly similar to Sister Ray. Wonder if they had this song in mind when they came up with the songs riff.
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhWould you say that this song is more or less noisy than European Son? I haven't actually heard it yet but I'm guessing more given its legendary reputation.
  • James from Lexington, KyThe song was recorded in one take. The producer of the album, Tom Wilson -- who also worked with far quieter bands like Simon & Garfunkel -- just told them the tape was rolling and then literally fled from the studio. John Cale played the organ; he's said that he simply pulled out all the stops to try to be heard over the guitars, and ended up louder than all of them.
  • Mark from Cleveland, OhThis is one of my favorite songs. It just blows me away. Other people just don't get it. When I need to blow off some steam I put this song on and crank it up!
  • Jess from Thornhill, Canadasucking on my ding dong, like we have to think very hard about that one...
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThanks Cameron. I might buy it and listen to it. And no I don't mind having my ears blown out every once in awhile.
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaIf you don't mind having you mind blown out your ears, I say listen to it. But I don't suggest it to the casual rock fan. But then again if you even know who the VU are, then you are the casual rock fan.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScIs White Light, White HEat a good album. The only VU album I have is the one with Nico on it. I'd be interested to listen to the later albums. What do toiy guys suggest?
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaI came into possesion of a bunch of records, and White Light/White Heat was one of them (Along with most of the other VU records as well). As soon as I heard it, it jumped to number one on my top 5 list.
  • Justin from Florence, ScThe song is about an orgy between a number of people, one of which, Cecil, shoots and kills the "sailor." Afterwards, no one cares except that they don't want the carpet stained with the guys blood. Then the cops come, but Lou doesn't have time for them, because he's, um, busy. The lyrics are repeated 3 times, each more dissonant than the time before, juxtaposed well to the song itself venturing into chaos. At 17 minutes, it's my favorite "Jam" song ever, and, like a lot of the Velvet's music, is a precursor to punk, and surprisingly, to heavy metal as well. Another interesting thing, in the game Final Fantasy 7, there is a huge gun called the Sister Ray, appearently a reference to the song.
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