White Light/White Heat Album Cover

White Light/White Heat Album Cover

The Velvet Underground Burns Bright With “White Light/White Heat.”

White Light/White Heat Album Cover By Velvet Underground 

Welcome to “Behind The Cover.” This is a feature where we take a closer look at the music and artwork behind an iconic album. This installment is brought to you by Pure Music Manufacturing.


The second studio album released by American rock band the Velvet Underground hit the streets in 1968 and was titled, “White Light/White Heat.” It was partly an attempt to gain some recognition in the world of music following disappointing sales from their debut album, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” which came out the previous year.


Andy Warhol had been working with the band before this album and was fired before it was released. Nico was also no longer a partner and “White Light/White Heat” went on to be produced by Tom Wilson. The connection with Warhol, or broken connection, actually runs into the story about the unusual-looking cover art for this album.


A faint image of a tattoo and a skull is on the front cover. The tattoo is on Joe Spencer who was the actor who played the lead role in a 1967 film titled, “Bike Boy.” The movie was the work of Warhol. The character Spencer played was that of a hustler who was part of a motorcycle gang. In one scene he is seen taking a shower and a still from that scene was used for the album art. The specific shot was chosen by the band’s lead singer/songwriter Lou Reed for the album. 


Reed picked the shot from a negative which was passed on to designer Billy Name from the Factory. Name enlarged and distorted the image which is very difficult to make out on the album cover as it was printed in a light black on a slightly darker black background. The entire album cover including the album name, the band name, the record label name, and the tattoo are all printed black on black – which was the idea of Warhol’s although he did not receive a credit for the concept.


Re-issues from the mid-1980s featured a completely black background minus the tattoo arm but with the album name, the record label name and the band name all listed but on three different lines in black as opposed to being all on the same line as was the design with the original release. 


In 1976 a unique UK-only cover was created which featured a white background and abstract toy soldiers. In 1974, the album was re-released but without the title, “White Light/White Heat.” This issue went by the title of “Archetypes” and the cover featured a pair of men standing in front of a department store wearing helmets.


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