Daryl Hall and John Oates – I Can’t Go For That

First Hit #1: January 30, 1982

I Can’t Go For That is almost completely synthesized. There is a bit of incidental guitar – which probably could have been changed if they had wanted to hit that completely synth target – and a very early 80’s sax solo, but otherwise we’re hitting completely artificial instruments, all the time. It’s the first time Hall and Oates have gone very noticeably inorganic, and I think that was on purpose. The guitar, what little there is, is almost played like a heartbeat, and the song has repeated mentions of having a soul but no body. If the song is about unwillingness to completely devote to something, it makes sense to have the instruments to reflect those themes. The guitar is the heart, the sax is the soul, and the keyboards are used to communicate after everything else has been taken away by the other person. It’s not a minimalist song by any stretch of the imagination, Hall and Oates push as much as they can through it, but it also is just fake enough to be clearly artificial. It’s a musical attempt to rebuild after the breakup the lyrics are recounting, using the parts that can be salvaged as best they can.

I might be misreading the whole thing, but the group is normally not quite so obvious about what they’re using to play the song.

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2 Responses to Daryl Hall and John Oates – I Can’t Go For That

  1. Robert Berman says:

    I see the heavy synth sound as just fitting in with the times, from “Pop Muzik” and “Video Killed the Radio Star” behind to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “Always Something There To Remind Me” ahead. This is also their song that topped the R&B charts, which is amusing considering its synth-heavitude; I count three or four layers at times. Michael Jackson reportedly got the idea for the baseline of “Billie Jean” from this song. If that’s true, both songs join a lineage of related basslines reaching back to The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup” and forward to “Like a Virgin.”

    The sparse lyrics (only ten lines in the whole song, by my count) seem like a typical commitment-phobic sentiment. Whoah, baby. I wasn’t in this fling to find a soul-mate! I can’t go for that.

  2. Robert Berman says:

    Correction: The song with the bassline is not “Buttercup” but rather “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops.

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