It would be fair to assume, while listening to Hall and Oates’ No. 1 smash hits “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Maneater,” that they are about relationships gone bad. But you know what happens when you assume, right?
Turns out neither of those singles, which tore up the charts in 1981-82 after being plucked off Private Eyes and H2O respectively, has anything to do with women, John Oates tells Philly.com. Not really. “I Can’t Go For That,” he says, “is about the music business. That song is really about not being pushed around by big labels, managers, and agents and being told what to do, and being true to yourself creatively.”
Oates adds that he and Daryl Hall would often take a specific idea like that and transform it into a broader subject so that their songs together were more relatable. Clearly, listeners responded.
“That song is typical of a lot of the lyrics we’ve written over the years: It seems like it’s about one thing, but it’s really not,” Oates says. “What we have always tried to do, and if we have any kind of philosophy for our lyrics over the years it was to try to take a universal subject and somehow make it seem personal so that people could relate to it as if it was a personal thing.”
The same goes for “Maneater,” Oates says. The tune “isn’t about a girl; it’s about New York City. ‘Maneater’ is about NYC in the ’80s. It’s about greed, avarice, and spoiled riches. But we have it in the setting of a girl because it’s more relatable. It’s something that people can understand. That’s what we do all of the time.”
Oates earlier revealed that 1977’s “Rich Girl,” Hall and Oates’ initial charttopping smash, wasn’t about a girl, either.