Friday, September 30, 2011

Kenny Meets Giorgio

Kenny Loggins loved movie soundtracks. Giorgio Moroder loved movie soundtracks. Kenny, meet Giorgio; Giorgio, meet Kenny.

According to Wikipedia, "Moroder originally asked Bryan Adams to record this song, but he was said to have rejected it because he had disliked the jingoism expressed in Top Gun." Obviously Kenny Loggins had no qualms about any of that. Don't you know anything, Bryan Adams? If you want to make it as an '80s rock star, check your values at the door.

Hilariously, "the rock group Toto was also supposed to perform the song, but due to legal matters, it was passed to Loggins." Luckily fate intervened, because Toto were about as dangerous as a sponge. By comparison, danger is Kenny Loggins' middle name. Just look at the video. Kenny appears to be residing in the highly dangerous zone of ... his bedroom. Nothing spells "danger" like a ceiling fan.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Oily Robot Magic Of Giorgio Moroder

The greatest minds in all of fiction could not have invented Giorgio Moroder. He is an instant parody of himself. He is also a genius.

But Giorgio was an Italian nobody until he met up with Donna Summer in 1975. I don't know who convinced who to do what, but at the end of it all, a vaguely pornographic 17-minute long disco epic called "Love To Love You Baby" was born.

The peak years of the Summer/Giorgio (I must only call him by his first name) collaboration would need to be discussed at another time. "Last Dance," "Hot Stuff," "I Feel Love" - just get yourself a copy of On The Radio. Suffice to say, their late '70s disco hits influenced a generation of electronic artists, and Giorgio never met a synthesizer he didn't like. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and eventually disco faded.

The death of disco would have killed lesser producers. How did Giorgio survive? Like Kenny Loggins, he discovered the next best thing: movie soundtracks.

What better way to escape from a Turkish prison than to the hypnotic, throbbing sounds of "The Chase" from the Midnight Express soundtrack (a gem I might have missed if not for its inclusion on the Pitchfork 500)?

Fresh off their crossover dance hit "Heart Of Glass," Blondie suddenly got the urge for a piece of the Giorgio action. Well, they wanted Giorgio, and they got Giorgio. "Call Me," from the American Gigolo soundtrack, became the #1 Billboard hit of 1980.

Doing his part to boost the popularity of leg warmers and off-the-shoulder sweaters everywhere, Giorgio may have created the very apotheosis of Aerobic Rock in Irene Cara's #1 hit "Flashdance...What A Feeling," from the Flashdance soundtrack.

Most observers would have suggested that pairing Giorgio Moroder with the German silent classic Metropolis was not a good fit. Giorgio thought otherwise.

Finally, in 1986, Giorgio teamed up with another unlikely partner: the U.S. Air Force. Somewhere deep down in that sleazy European body of his, he found a crumb of American patriotism and let his synth flag fly. I'll tell you what takes my breath away: Giorgio Moroder's surprising love for my country, that's what.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zrbo Reviews: VNV Nation's Automatic

Several years ago I found myself driving across the Dumbarton Bridge one early morning.  I don't remember what my intended destination was, but I do remember that the experience was somewhat surreal.  It was early in the morning so a heavy bank of fog was still hovering just off the bay.  Driving along the Dumbarton, with it's span sitting just above water level, the heavy fog obscured any visible sign of land, to the point where I could see nothing but the road, the bay, and the electrical towers running parallel.  It felt as though I were driving on some infinite road in the middle of an infinite ocean.

This surreal experience was accentuated by the sounds of VNV Nation pumping through my car.  I was listening to a somewhat forgotten b-side named Weltfunk from one of the Genesis singles off of their 2002 album Futureperfect.  Weltfunk, loosely translated from German as 'world radio' or 'world transmission', is an instrumental piece, one that makes me think of a parade march for an old art deco inspired World's Fair if they had had synthesizers and drum machines back then.  It's the sound of progress-through-technology from a more innocent age.  This feeling is accentuated by the radio noise that creeps in near the end of the track, almost like the listener is slowly losing the signal.  Driving along this infinite-looking concrete bridge, coupled with the electrical towers and lines running alongside me, I felt as though I were driving into this imagined perfect future.  Weltfunk was perfect for the retro-future/art deco vibe that VNV Nation presented on Futureperfect.  With 2011's Automatic this song now feels like a prototype, invoking the same mood that VNV Nation presents the listener with on their new album.

VNV Nation are a duo, composed of Irishman Ronan Harris, and London-born Mark Jackson.  Working out of their Hamburg studio, Ronan is the real heart of VNV Nation, while Mark provides backup (the Ringo?).  Sprung from the depths of the gloomy underground electro-industrial scene, for the past decade and a half the two have been developing their own unique musical style, one they (perhaps inadvertently) ended up naming 'futurepop'.  While the term may cause long time fans to roll their eyes, it's a perfectly apt descriptor for the style and tone of music VNV Nation have been producing: a mixture of electronica, industrial, dance, and synthpop, the theme of the music being a nod towards the future and the things humanity could be if we put aside our differences.

VNV albums carry a certain DNA in their structural layout.  Each album seems to follow a certain rhythm, with mandatory instrumental (or spoken word) intros, followed usually by an uptempo track, with an instrumental to bring down the energy in the middle, then the album is built back up with a ballad, and ends on some sort of inspirational or experimental track that perhaps encapsulates the theme of the album.  In a sense VNV albums are clichéd, the fan taking comfort in the expected rhythms of each album's structure.  At this point I've come to realize that Ronan Harris has been doing this on purpose. He's not so much run out of ideas, rather he's been busy perfecting an art, each release a slightly more refined and mature iteration of the previous one. He's like a chef, creating and recreating a dish, serving up variations, all similar but none quite the same, until he hits just the right balance of flavors.  Automatic is no exception to this rule: it is structured the way all VNV albums are, and is another great addition in an already amazing catalog.

Automatic begins, as it should, with an instrumental opener to get us in the mood and give us a taste of the theme of the album.  Like with Futureperfect, and more specifically the song Weltfunk, Automatic takes it's stylings from retro-futurism, with art deco inspired cover art (see above), like some sort of missing title card from Metropolis.  The album begins with with On-Air, a three and a half minute bit beginning with some old fuzzy radio noise, like someone changing frequencies on a very, very old radio.  Eventually it morphs into a bit of light piano, but overall it doesn't work too well.  While Matter and Form's Intro was also just a bit of noise, it was so brief that it never outlasted it's welcome.  However, On-Air just dwells around a bit too long, with the opening radio fanfare repeated obnoxiously, and then the song just doesn't really go anywhere.  Typically VNV openers set the stage, getting you excited to hear what's next. 2007's Judgement began with the cinematic Prelude, while Futureperfect's spoken Foreword worked wonderfully with it's inspiring multi-lingual message.  On-Air just doesn't go very far and comes across a bit boring, a problem we'll encounter later on in another instrumental track.  It's a shame then that On-Air falls flat, as what follows is very much worth listening too.

The second track, and the first real song, on a typical VNV album is usually an uptempo, anthemic dance number. 1999's Empires cemented this with Kingdom, which acts like some sort of VNV Nation mission statement. Every VNV album since has given us something good here, and Automatic does not disappoint. Space & Time is classic VNV Nation. It starts really well too, almost to the point where I wish Ronan had broke with tradition and just started the album on this track, just bolting straight out of the gate.

The band usually leaves the third slot space to another dance number, but usually something a bit more mid-tempo or exploratory. Usually these songs are good, but not quite as anthemic as the previous track, almost like Ronan doesn't want to upstage the leadoff song.  Ronan discards this notion and gives us the terrific Resolution.  Borrowing heavily from euphoric trance, Ronan's voice guides us along in an inspirational sing-along in an absolutely perfect piece of unadulterated futurepop complete with the full trance drop-it-out/bring-it-back bridge.  Both of these first two songs are phenomenal ear candy and get the album moving along nicely.

Control is Automatic's nod to VNV's industrial/EBM roots, a rant that finishes with Ronan repeatedly chanting "Put the switch to automatic/I want control!". This song has a perfect opening with terrific energy and just pulls the listener in immediately with rebelliously fun lyrics like "I don't want 15 minutes or a reason why/I want a stainless steel road stretching off to the sky".  If you know your VNV Nation then you'll find Ronan's inspiration here in what I call the VNV-rant song.  These rant songs are a remnant of early VNV tracks like Honour where Ronan barked his lyrics more than sung them.  However, the VNV-rant was truly cemented in the song Chrome from 2005's Matter and Form, and since then has shown it's head in songs like Testament, Nemesis, and Tomorrow Never Comes.  Just like Chrome, Control gets experimental halfway through, with Ronan poking around on knobs and buttons on the old vintage synthesizers he's so fond of, to the point where the song breaks down almost completely two-thirds through, only to have Ronan somehow bring it all back.  It's a fun song that will probably get a lot of play in the clubs, though my only complaint is that once the chorus kicks in Ronan doesn't give us anymore verses, just the repeated "I want control!".

After such an energetic and powerful tune, Ronan, in typical VNV style, gives the listener a break by bringing the energy back down with Goodbye 20th Century - perhaps bringing the energy down a little too much.  Once again, we get old radio sounds which evolve into a light piano, and as before it just doesn't work.  While I understand Ronan's desire to place this track here, it's too slow and pretty much just kills any momentum, with the song coming across as an On-Air part 2.  This might have worked better as the album closer, such as Judgement's As It Fades did (which I described as sounding like something from Lord of the Rings), but it's just too slow for it's own good.

The album recovers with Streamline, a mid-tempo bit with Ronan delving more into the retro-future theme through lyrics such as "streamlined simplicity for a twenty-first century" and "electronic alchemists in the new metropolis/enlightened living through practicality".  The song fulfills it's obligation by getting the album moving again, and brings us to one of the albums best songs.

The seventh track to greet us, Gratitude, is a delightful welcome.  With a nice rhythm running through it, Gratitude finds Ronan giving some personal insight into the things that he's thankful for.  That sounds a bit corny, but it's refreshing to hear Ronan singing about people real to him, as opposed to the usual unknown "you" he substitutes in many tracks.  He even references his father in this song, the first time in any VNV Nation song where a personal figure was specifically named [edit: I've been corrected, apparently he says 'former self' not 'father's self']  (alas, we'll probably never get to know who Ronan was singing about in the haunting vocal version of Forsaken from 1998's Solitary EP).  Actually, I'm not entirely sure if the whole song is meant for his dad or for multiple people as it becomes a bit muddled partway through.  Either way, this is a truly great song, with a terrific rhythm and pacing and sweet chorus that manages to elevate itself above sappiness.

Nova (shine a light on me) is Automatic's ballad.  It's a nice song with a nice sentiment and adequately fulfills its purpose as the song VNV get to perform live while loved ones in the audience hold each other.  If that sounds cynical, then it just goes to show how skilled VNV are when it comes to delivering ballads.  Earlier in the band's career it was a complete novelty to see a band associated with the underground club culture of electro-industrial sing a ballad.  At this point in their career however, we've been given a ballad on each and every album, and they've begun to blur together a bit.  I'm not saying Nova is bad or even clichéd, it's just that some of their earlier ballads seemed to have a bit more heart to them (see Standing) no matter how much Ronan may turn up his broguish crooning here.

The second-to-last track is Photon.  If you know your VNV Nation then you know how they like to include a long danceable instrumental track somewhere on their albums.  Empires birthed Saviour (and later Saviour [Vox] ), Futureperfect begat Electronaut, Matter and Form featured Lightwave, Judgement generated Momentum (har) which added some spoken word, and 2009's Of Faith, Power and Glory continued the spoken word instrumental (how else do I describe it?) with Art of Conflict.  Photon is a fine addition to this lineage (and the name is so similar to Lightwave and Momentum that one wouldn't be blamed for confusing which song was which) and it allows us to move on to the final song off of Automatic

Radio begins with some synthesized blips and bloops and then partway through adds a thudding drum beat to provide some rhythm.  Radio functions as the album's final departing message, with VNV albums usually giving the listener something profound and stirring to ponder.  This song is exactly that, and brings us all the way back to Weltfunk, with the radio as a metaphor for broadcasting VNV Nation's vision that "one should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret".  In fact, attentive listeners of this song can hear the distant crackle of a radio between Ronan's opening lines, while the beat that kicks in, despite being unrelentingly thumping, has a surprising amount of bounce to it.  This song takes a while to sink in, but provides some great payoffs.  There's a certain urgency to Ronan's voice here that creates just the mildest bit of uneasiness, something the unrelenting rhythm accentuates.  Rather than go with something wondrous and whimsical like Futureperfect's album closer Airships, here we are given something with just a little bit more edge, but something that fittingly caps off an album devoted to retro-futurism.  Lastly, I have to point out that the song's length is 7:47, a number I'm curious if Ronan deliberately chose (we've seen Mark and Ronan hanging out in front of vintage planes before).

Like it's earlier cousin Weltfunk, Automatic presents us with a vision of a world from a more innocent age, where it was hoped that technology would one day provide for and unite all people's of the Earth.  As VNV Nation's music has progressed, the lyrics have become a tad bit simpler, with the synthesizers given a bit more room to breathe.  Gone are the days of overwrought lyrics and harsh industrial noise.  Though some fans may lament that VNV are no longer the industrial band they once were, it's amazing to see just how far they've come in terms of style and sound.  What began as an infusion of more trance into their earlier sound with the album Futureperfect, has slowly evolved into a wonderfully distinct sound that really sets VNV Nation apart from any of their contemporaries.  I also have to note how amazing Ronan has become in the production department.  Everything on this album sounds smooth and polished, with the synths sounding amazingly powerful.  Ronan is known to toy with his collection of vintage synthesizers, and it would seem that he's become quite proficient in their use.  At this point I wouldn't mind seeing Ronan provide some production on another band's album just to see how he'd fare.

I remarked in my review of Of Faith, Power and Glory that "with each new release Ronan Harris not only expands on the group's sound, but shows that he still has a good ear turned to the club scene. Not a single bleep, bloop, or synth seems misplaced... VNV Nation's strength comes from their ability to meld industrial anthems with catchy hooks and emotive lyrics."  At the time of that writing I thought Of Faith, Power and Glory was the pinnacle of VNV Nation's sound, and could act as a perfect final album for the band if they so chose.  Instead I was completely mistaken, as it seems that it was only with that album that they finished laying the foundation for their future, or, in their own words, "all great things to come".  Like my surreal morning drive across that bridge, VNV Nation are heading down that same stretch of highway and they understand where they're going better than ever.  4.5/5 Zrbo points.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yacht Rock: Episode 11

Apparently, by Episode 10, Yacht Rock had become quite the hip little show - hip enough to bask in some genuine celebrity cameos. Drew Carey and Sara Silverman made guest appearances alongside Hollywood Steve. Episode 11 even features Jason Lee as Kevin Bacon, and what appears to be The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac as James Ingram (!).

You see, while Kenny Loggins was on the phone with Michael McDonald, he was eating an apple, so when he told McDonald, "I'll be there in fifteen minutes," it came out sounding like "Yah mo b there in fifteen minutes."

A notorious song title was born.

Likewise, you probably thought that lyrics like "Jack, get back/Come on before we crack" and "Geez, Louise/Blow me off of my knees" were just Loggins' absurdly lame attempts to sound energetic, right? Little did we know, but the song was actually a direct plea to Jimmy Buffet's two most senior Parrotheads, Jack and Louise. And when Loggins sang "Cut foot loose," he was literally asking Michael McDonald to cut ... his foot ... loose.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Footloose Soundtrack: George Orwell Never Imagined 1984 Would Be Quite This Scary

Now, I will admit an area of weakness when it appears before me. Granted, I have not heard every cheesy '80s soundtrack that there is to hear. But I would be impressed if there were an '80s soundtrack both as cheesy and as impressive as the Footloose soundtrack.

Sadly, my newfound passion for '80s music has not extended into '80s cinema - yet. Thus, my appreciation for the Footloose soundtrack has not filled me with the overwhelming desire to actually go and watch Footloose. But I imagine I'm not the only person to have ever felt this way. How else do you explain the Footloose soundtrack topping the US Billboard album chart for 10 weeks in the summer of 1984 - a time when actual, you know, "real" albums like Thriller, Born In The U.S.A., and Purple Rain were also available for purchase? Surely not all of those listeners went and saw Footloose. Maybe they figured, hey, why buy a bunch of unrelated hit singles when six of them - that's right, six - are all on the same album!

Surprisingly, the album contains not one, but two hits from Kenny Loggins. While the aforementioned title cut continues to live and breathe within the hearts of all God fearing Americans, "I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)" has been relegated to the dustbins of shitty '80s pop music history. If your idea of a great music video is Kenny Loggins breaking out of prison, hot-wiring cars, jumping from rooftops, and rescuing teenage girls, then ladies and gentlemen, "I'm Free" may be your Citizen Kane.

Not that Shamalar's "Dancing In The Streets," Sammy Hagar's "The Girl Gets Around," and Moving Pictures' "Never" are lacking in any noticeable way, but let's be honest, it's the first four tracks that really put the Footloose soundtrack ahead of the pack.

"Footloose" was neither the album's only Kenny Loggins hit single nor the album's only US #1 single. Let's hear it for Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It For The Boy," one of the cornerstones of a genre to be featured in an upcoming series of mine: Aerobic Rock.

What would an '80s soundtrack be without a terrific power ballad? Here we get "Almost Paradise," a duet between Heart's Ann Wilson and Loverboy's Mike Reno. I'll tell you what almost paradise is. Almost paradise is listening to this song.

Finally, Bonnie Tyler and songwriter Jim Steinman re-team after "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to contribute the frantic "Holding Out For A Hero." According to Wikipedia, "The opening couplet - 'Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?/ Where's the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds?' - could be seen as an example of the Ubi Sunt motif in literature." See Paula Cole, you're not the only one who can pull off that Latin shit.

I guess she really needs a hero. Somebody just get her a damn hero already.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kenny Loggins, Meet Movie Soundtracks

Most musicians don't stay up in their bedrooms late at night playing air guitar, dreaming that one day, if they're lucky, they could write hits for movie soundtracks. Kenny Loggins, however, is not your ordinary musician.

So country rock wasn't good enough for him, and then mildly soulful soft rock wasn't good enough for him? I'm afraid Kenny Loggins was a restless spirit who would never be satisfied.

"I'm Alright," his initial foray into the world of cinema, appeared on the soundtrack to Caddyshack, a movie I have not actually seen. It seems to be praised by people whose taste in movies I generally do not respect, but perhaps one day I will give it a viewing.

Nor have I seen Footloose, the Kevin Bacon film to which Loggins provided the smash title track. The undisputed highlight of this song can be heard at the 2:44 mark.

And yet, somehow I have seen Sylvester Stallone's Over The Top, or at least parts of it on TV. Children, do not play with this '80s movie at home.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Last Of The Great Loggins/McDonald Collaborations

As a kid I always wondered why all these Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins songs sounded so similar to each other, and then one day, a couple of years ago, I finally found out why: because they were all secretly written together by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins!

Although not featured in Yacht Rock, "Heart To Heart" was a cherished track on my '80s Tape (sadly, McDonald doesn't sing backing vocals, but he apparently plays keyboard), and I am not the only one who fell for the tune's sultry spell. In Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review of Loggins' 1982 album High Adventure, he writes that "Heart To Heart" is "the second of two pop classics Loggins cut as a solo artist" (the other being "This Is It," which he praises in an earlier review). "Here, he has a great mid-tempo groove, a good lyric and an indelible melody that is soft rock at its finest." Erlewine goes on to admit that "the rest of the album may not match this height -- most of the genre didn't..."

Ah, but Loggins would soon reach heights of a different, more hard-rocking kind.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Crazy Rant #6: Why Is Everything Closing?

A couple of months ago, I decided to kill some time in Borders. Only problem was, when I walked in, there was nothing on the shelf. Because Borders was closing.

Was someone going to tell me that Borders was closing? I mean what the hell is going on? Borders? There were two Borders in downtown San Francisco, and every time I walked into either one, the place was always packed. Sometimes there were chairs in which I could sit. I didn't have to worry about looking like a douche if I wasn't buying something. Where am I supposed to kill time now? A park?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to purchase a CD. I did not want to order the CD online. I wanted to purchase it in person. But I couldn't think of a store that still existed where I could actually go and do that. Borders? Closed. The Virgin Megastore? Closed. Tower Records? Closed. Was it now impossible to buy a CD in person? Suddenly I remembered a store that had probably not closed and that probably still sold CDs: Amoeba. I went to Amoeba, and no, they had not closed, and yes, they had the CD I was looking for.

Circuit City, I didn't really miss. No love lost over Mervyn's. But every time I turn my head, some major company is disappearing. It's like the day I looked at an atlas and wondered what the hell happened to the Soviet Union. What were all these little new countries? I could have sworn there was a moment in the '90s where I honestly thought, "Everything that's here right now is still going to be around forever, right, Chris Farley?"

When I first received consistent home internet access, I thought it was a cool new thing. I didn't think it was going to destroy newspapers, record companies, bookstores, and porn theaters. I should have made the connection. But I didn't. I mean, couldn't we still have the internet ... and Blockbuster too? Can you imagine a time when the Postal Service no longer exists? I can. Because it might be next year.

Yes, Paula Cole: where have all the cowboys gone?

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.

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.)