“On a standard New York night
Ghouls go to see their so called stars.
A fairly stupid thing
To pay 5 bucks for a 4th rate imitators.”
I had this bright idea to go through every record by The Cure once and to write about them. I figured I’d do the same for Lou Reed, then realised it just wouldn’t work. I can’t dissect every solo record he made and figure out what they mean to me. It’d be boring for the poor sod who reads it, so I’ll spare them. I’ll go into a few records, the ones I know I can write about. I’ll start with Sally Can’t Dance because for reasons that aren’t too clear, it’s the only Lou Reed record I’ve been playing constantly for the past week or so. In fact, he’s the only person I really want to listen to. That’s not a bad thing, it’s perfectly fine with me.
Sally Can’t Dance is Lou’s fourth solo record and I’m pretty sure it is the first one that has no songs by The Velvet Underground on, and is also the first solo record of his to be recorded in America. It still has a typical Berlin feel to it though, he stays true to his weird and wonderful lyrics with a Funk based groove. The best thing about Lou Reed is that nothing in particular influenced. On some of his solo records you can get a Gospel feel coming through, elements of Disco and Glam Rock are in a lot of his songs. He took bits and pieces and created something truly inspirational.
Firstly I want to get into the song, Billy. The sax on it is ridiculous; it fits perfectly with Lou’s storytelling and stripped back feel to the song. It is the perfect. Billy shows just how perfect Lou’s writing was. He was a true storyteller; some fact, some fiction. You believed and hung onto his every word because it offered some kind of understanding in a cruel world. His songs have always had a flamboyant kick to it, and his strut on stage was a billion times more sassier than anyone elses. Maybe it was his blonde locks that brought this out of him.
Sally Can’t Dance is probably as flamboyant as Transformer. I know everyone says Transformer is probably his best solo record (I won’t dispute this ever) but it has seriously got some tough competition against Sally Can’t Dance. Sally Can’t Dance is everything a Rock record should be. It’s in your face, it is lyrically disturbing at times and more importantly, it’s a Lou Reed record. Lou Reed makes me wish I was born decades earlier so I could have experienced it all when it was happening. Imaging roaming the streets of New York, and this was what you and your pals were spending your days listening to. Instead, it is 2014 and I’m doing it alone because I don’t know anyone else who loves him. But I don’t mind, at least nobody is interrupting the music for me.
Lyrically, my favourite song from Sally Can’t Dance has to be Ennui. When Lou does bitter and angry, he does it better than most. He’s really digging into this person in such an unforgiving fashion; he’s really calling out this person. We all know of someone who is like this; they want people to fawn over them, they want everyone to love them and to be around them- but you really cannot see why anyone would give them the time of day. The most interesting people have nothing to say because they are watching. Conversation isn’t always needed, and silence is a beautiful thing. Not talking is wonderful.
The title track is a straight up sassy number. If it doesn’t make you want to flaunt whatever goods you are blessed with, then you’re probably listening to something else. It starts off sounding like a Reggae number, and then just turns into this flamboyant sass-fest. You can’t get enough of it. The repeat button takes a right old bashing when you stick this record on. But the song isn’t about some girl named Sally that can’t dance. Read the lyrics- it is littered with references to drugs, rape and death. Painful topics that Lou exposed in a way no one else has ever done. Read the lyrics, and you’ll see it is a tale of what he was seeing. Quite possibly what New York was like back then. The song oozes wild bouts of depravity (I don’t mean this with reference to rape, I mean the decadent life that “Sally” led.) Maybe it’s about Edie Sedgwick, many have said that it is. Lou made you think, and that’s why I love him. One line from him could spiral your thoughts out of control then right back to a solid state of being. He even talks about his stay in a psychiatric hospital on Kill Your Sons, which is probably one of the most gut-wrenching songs I’ve heard by Lou. He had this way of really getting to the core of a feeling and exposing to you the truth of it all. Kill You Sons is all truth.
Sally Can’t Dance is a dark record. I’m not sure if it is Lou’s most sinister work, all I know is that a lot of the songs justify the common belief that he was pretty much, the best song writer of all time. He always made you feel like he was singing these songs to you- just you and him in a room. He was telling you these wild stories, and letting you in on the things he witnessed and the things he felt. He was a true wordsmith, and I think anyone that listens to him is often left wishing they could write something as captivating as he did. We can all do it, in our own way. Maybe we won’t show it to the world like Lou did, but the desire to do so is there. That’s powerful enough. Baby steps.
He can express the dark side of life in songs like Sally Can’t Dance, he can then reflect on a friendship in Billy and he can also be the most sarcastic of them all with songs like N.Y. Stars. N.Y. Stars is a nod to being bored with everything and everyone. The lack of depth in others has proven a way to be successful, but don’t buy into it. Listen to what Lou is saying here- don’t sell yourself short and don’t fucking dumb yourself down to please others. If you have to do that to keep people around, then please let them go and strike out on your own.
Sally Can’t Dance is a proper Rock & Roll record, what came after this was a record of feedback and beautiful noise. Were people ready for Metal Machine Music? I don’t know if the world ever was, but damn….it was glorious noise.