Friday, September 2, 2011

Apparently Hall & Oates Cannot Go For That

If I had been hanging out in the studio with Hall & Oates in 1981, and they had asked me, "Hey Little Earl, what do you think about us having this lyric that goes, 'I Can't Go For That, I Can't Go For That, No Can Do'?," I would have told them that, no, actually I couldn't really go for that, and honestly guys, that is a lyric that you cannot do. But I wasn't there, and thank God, because they did go for that, and yes, they could do.

What they could do was score with R&B listeners:
Thanks to heavy airplay on urban contemporary radio stations, "I Can't Go for That" also topped the U.S. R&B chart, a rare feat for a non-African American act. According to the Hall and Oates biography, Hall, upon learning that "I Can't Go For That" had gone to number one on the R&B chart, wrote in his diary, "I'm the head soul brother in the U.S. Where to now?"
So yes, even black people could go for that. One very famous black person who could go for that was Michael Jackson. You may notice a slight similarity between the spare, "bass-and-percussion" opening bars of "I Can't Go For That" and "Billie Jean." According to Hall, this is no coincidence:
On "We Are the World" we were all in the room together. He sort of clung to Diana Ross pretty much, but at one point I was off to the side and he came over to me and said, "I hope you don't mind, but I stole 'Billie Jean' from you," and I said, "It's all right, man, I just ripped the bass line off, so can you!"
Years later, another group of black people could go for that: New York rappers De La Soul. I did a double-take the first time I heard this track from 3 Feet High and Rising:

De La Soul sampling Hall & Oates? That's almost as crazy as ... Warren G sampling Michael McDonald!

(Final note: So crucial was the saxophone player to '80s music that, when it came time to do the video for "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)," the filmmakers included only three musicians: Hall, Oates, and the saxophone player.)

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