Monday, September 5, 2011

Like An Anteater, But Worse

A sinister bass line. Choppy guitar chords. It's The Supreme's "You Can't Hurry Love," only this is one dark alleyway The Supremes wouldn't want to find themselves walking down. A ghostly synthesizer riff. Percussion that sounds disturbingly like water droplets. A saxophone. Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the future. And its name is "Maneater."

Maneater? What the fuck is a Maneater? A dangerous woman? If a dangerous woman came up to me and said she was a "maneater" I'd tell her she had a digestive disorder and she should get that looked at. Is it some kind of veiled oral sex reference? Nah - Hall & Oates weren't that sneaky. Is she a prostitute? "So many have paid to see/What'd you think, you'd get it for free?" Biologically speaking, we could assume that a maneater is in the Panthera genus, given that the animal described in the song is "a she-cat tamed by the purr of a jaguar." Maneaters are also nocturnal animals, seeing as they "only come out at night," and they also possess tremendous vision; how else could she keep her eyes on the door while she is sitting right next to you?

Although "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" may have the hipster cache (even appearing on the Pitchfork 500, for example), "Maneater" is probably the true summit of Hall & Oates' art. When Hall sings "I wouldn't if I were you/I know what she can do," it's like a warning from a man who's already been there and barely lived to tell the tale. It lends an air of mystery to the narrator. So the guy survived a maneater; what else does he know?

But I'll tell you what truly elevates "Maneater" beyond the rest of Hall & Oates' singles: the saxophone solo.

The saxophone solo in "Maneater" is the mother of all '80s saxophone solos. Scratch that. It is the father, the son, and the holy ghost of all '80s saxophone solos. For you see, it's a duet. But not just any duet. The saxophone has a duet ... with itself.

It has a fucking duet with its own echo. Pete Townshend used to try this with a guitar during live shows, and Led Zeppelin created an effect in "Whole Lotta Love" where the echo of the vocal appeared before the vocal itself, but this, ladies and gentlemen, is a whole other creature entirely.

It starts off soft, playful. Then it builds. The notes begin to dance with each other. It's like a vice grip on your head, becoming tighter and tighter. Until finally, the saxophone and its echo weave and weave into this giant cascading crescendo and the intensity becomes so brutal it's just about to destroy your ears and rip Christopher Cross a new asshole and then Hall swoops in with a gritty "Oooooooohhh!" and brings us back to safety.

I've always pictured Hall and Oates sitting at the recording console, listening to the playback, saying to each other in hushed tones things like, "Nobody's ever done this before." "This is a totally new sound, man." "Nobody's even gonna know what to make of it."

Extra points for some of Hall's most inspired ad-libbing: "The woman is wild, whoo-ooo-ooohh!" and "Watch out, watch out, watch out, watch out!"

In summary: whatever a maneater is, you really don't want to know.


Little Earl said...

A final tidbit from Wikipedia:

"John had written a prototype of "Maneater;" he was banging it around with Edgar Winter. It was like a reggae song. I said, "Well, the chords are interesting, but I think we should change the groove." I changed it to that Motown kind of groove. So we did that, and I played it for Sara [Allen] and sang it for her…[Sings] "Oh here she comes/Watch out boy she’ll chew you up/Oh here she comes/She’s a maneater… and a…" I forget what the last line was. She said, "Drop that shit in the end and go, 'She’s a maneater,' and stop! And I said, 'No, you’re crazy, that’s messed up.'" Then I thought about it, and I realized she was right."

That's just...crazy!

Herr Zrbo said...

I dunno, the saxophone on Baker Street is pretty hard to beat...

Little Earl said...

You would be correct, aside from one inconvenient fact: "Baker's Street" was released in 1978.

I said "Maneater" was the mother of all '80s saxophones solos. I stand by my claim. Well, there is "Careless Whisper." And "You Belong To The City." And "One More Night." Oh damn it, this is impossible.

Maybe "Baker's Street" could be considered the Grandfather of all '80s saxophone solos.

Herr Zrbo said...

I stand corrected. Also, saxophone seems to be making a comeback, Lady Gaga had Clarence Clemons on her latest album. Katy Perry (shudder) also has sax on one of her songs. It's the new hip thing all the kids are listening to these days, with their i-watchamacallits and pad-doo-dads.