Lou Reed Sally Can’t Dance Review
Sally Can’t Dance was Lou Reed’s fourth and most commercially successful solo album, reaching the top ten in the USA. It was the first of Lou Reed’s solo albums not to feature songs written and recorded while Reed was in the Velvet Underground and the first to be recorded in the USA as his previous three albums had been recorded in the UK in London.
In spite of the success of Sally Can’t Dance, the album has been panned by critics for years and Lou Reed himself was most vocal in his criticism of the album. Most of the songs on Sally Can’t Dance are lavishly produced and heavily treated, leaving Reed displeased with the finished article. Reed is rumoured to have taken a back seat role in the arrangement and production of the album and had commented that the less he is involved in the music, the more successful the album seems to be. With the hindsight of forty years, does Sally Can’t Dance deserve such a hard time? It’s certainly flawed but strip away the glossy production, the horn sections, the session musicians and backing singers and there are still some great Lou Reed songs on this record.
Sally, the main protagonist, is introduced in the first track, Ride Sally Ride. Sally is a character that could’ve been lifted straight from Reed’s earlier Transformer album. Indeed, one of the many criticisms of Sally Can’t Dance is that it seeks to explore some of the themes in Transformer but does so without the same panache as that album. Another criticism is that it seeks to utilise production on a similar level to Berlin. Ride Sally Ride gives an early indication of the highly produced nature of the album. Lou Reed has been rumoured to have recorded his vocals in one take throughout the album and it could be said that the singing is perhaps a bit too laid back. Even with all these flaws, it’s still a good song.
Animal Language, is bonkers. Everything that is bad about Sally Can’t Dance is incorporated into this song. Overblown production, an attempt at the “glam” posturing of Transformer and a disinterested performance from Lou Reed. Even if the excessive sheen could be stripped away from, there wouldn’t be much of a song left. Move on, quickly.
Baby Face again treads a similar path to Transformer while N.Y. Stars see Reed have a go at posers and “fourth rate imitators” in a amusingly bitchy fashion.
Kill Your Sons is probably the stand out song on the whole Sally Can’t Dance album. This song is heavy in tone and subject matter and sees Lou Reed directly address the subject of his electro-shock treatment as a teenager. Reeds vocals are delivered in a monotone which may or may not have been intentional but adds to the atmosphere of the song. It is interesting to compare this original version with Lou Reed’s Live in Italy rendition. In the latter we witness a more impassioned Reed performance as he gives vent to his anger.
Ennui sees Reed in quieter, more reflective mood before we are hit with the title track. Sally Can’t Dance sees the principal character descend into drug abuse, assaulted and ultimately killed all to a slick, funky musical backdrop. Yes, it covers familiar ground to Transformer again and has a slick “poppy” production but Sally Can’t Dance is still a formidable and uncompromising song. Lou Reed really was the master of dark tales from the city.
Billy rounds off Sally Can’t Dance in subdued fashion. A poignant tale of Lou Reed’s school friend who went off to fight in Vietnam and returned changed and damaged forever. This is another highlight of the album and is remarkable for featuring Reed’s old Velvet Underground band mate, Doug Yule.
The over-production of Sally Can’t Dance lets some of the songs down, although this is more noticeable on some tracks than others. The most glaring example is Animal Language, although this is a poor song in the first place so maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the song is buried underneath horns, synths and the kitchen sink. Sometimes Reed’s cynical lyrics and world-weary vocals provide an effective counterpoint to the exuberant backing and sometimes the whole thing comes together perfectly like on Kill Your Sons.
Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance is by no means the dud that some would have you believe and it’s worth adding to anyone’s collection. It’s worth noting that in response to record company pressure for a follow-up to capitalise on the success of Sally Can’t Dance, Lou Reed handed over the largely unlistenable Metal Machine Music. No chance of a hit there, Lou!
Rated Sound gives Sally Can’t Dance Review by Lou Reed a rating of 8/10.
Lou Reed Sally Can’t Dance (1974) Track Listing
1. Ride Sally Ride
2. Animal Language
3. Baby Face
4. N.Y. Stars
5. Kill Your Sons
7. Sally Can’t Dance