Thursday, 11 June 2020
I Said I Couldn't Hit It Sideways
Sister Ray is a seventeen minute, recorded in one take avant- rock dance song that completes their 1968 album White Light/ White Heat. Lou Reed said that it was done 'as a joke- no, not as a joke... but as a scene of total debauchery and decay'. It was intended to be confrontational. The group agreed to keep playing for the duration and leave in whatever mistakes were made. The engineer pressed record and then walked out. Reed and Sterling Morrison batter the fuck out of the riff and John Cale plays organ hooked up through a distorted guitar amp. The guitar playing is simple and percussive and completely overloaded and the organ is completely in the red, distorted and wailing.
Lou Reed had written a lyric about 'a transvestite smack dealer' and in the song 'a bunch of drag queens take some sailors home... and start shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear'. In the song Lou's characters include Doc and Sally, Rosie and Miss Rayon, a sailor who's dressed in pink and leather, Cecil with a new gun with which he shoots a sailor and makes a mess of the carpet. Amongst all this Lou drawls about 'I'm too busy searching for my mainline/ I couldn't hit it sideways' and 'she's too busy sucking on my ding- dong'.
While this is the noisy side of The Velvets at their most extreme the song when played live was often the one that would get the audience up out of their seats dancing. There are multiple live versions out there lasting for up to and beyond half an hour, like this one recorded live at The Matrix in San Francisco in 1969. Starts out slow and sparse and builds but with a noticeably different feel compared to the album version.
Sister Ray (Live)
I'm fairly sure though that the first version I would have heard of the song would have been a cover, probably this one by New Order at Glastonbury in 1987. They had played Sister Ray live as Joy Division and there's a version on Still which I might have heard earlier but I know I had a tape of the 1987 Glastonbury set because it was recorded by Radio 1 and transmitted as part of their Live In Concert series and I taped the set straight from the radio. New Order's version is a comparatively short eight minutes and is a bass, guitar, drums finale after a set chock full of mid 80s dance- pop brilliance that opens with Touched By The Hand Of God and takes in Temptation, True Faith, Your Silent Face, Every Little Counts, Bizarre Love Triangle, Perfect Kiss and Age Of Consent. The group kick up a solid racket, sounding quite like Joy Division in parts, Hooky's ascending and descending bass riding in and out of the mix and Bernard making up the words as he goes along and then sampled voices being dropped in at the end. It captures the spirit and intention of Sister Ray as Lou and The Velvets set out to I think.
Sister Ray (Live at Glastonbury 1987)