My Top 1000 Songs #317: Sister Ray
Today I'm violating one of the rules of this whole Top 1000 enterprise. I'm trying to avoid songs that are "objectively great" (whatever that means), or historically important or groundbreaking, and sticking with the songs I simply enjoy the most, either in terms of playing them constantly or having a deep emotional connection to them.
And the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" is not exactly a song I listen to often. Hell, I've probably only endured the entire 17+ minutes a handful of times over the past 40 years. But c'mon... it's "Sister Ray." Noisy and shocking and terrifying and wonderful, sex and drugs and murder set to a distinctive 3-chord vamp (yet with surprisingly entrancing and intricate sonic variations along the way), the 17:28 closing track on 1968's White Light/White Heat drove the studio engineer to simply walk out of the room and leave the tape recorder running. And it's just perfect--something you only want to play on special occasions so the novelty never wears off.
One particular listening session stands out: After 4 years as a college DJ, I decided to end my last show with "Sister Ray." The whole damn thing. I was in the studio with another DJ friend, not exactly unimpaired... and we cued up the song, walked across campus, and listened to the balance of the song on my dorm room floor, staring at the ceiling with the stereo cranked up. The station manager (and another dear friend) was less than amused.
Ah, college. Good times.
37-minute live version from 1969 (audio only):Lou Reed makes it into a funky jam, live in 1976:New Order's live cover/reinterpretation, 1987:Jonathan Richman, "Velvet Underground" (with the "Sister Ray" bridge):