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John Oates Reveals the Real Meaning Behind Hall & Oates’ Hits

John Oates
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Most rock songs are about love (or something like it), so it’s easy to assume that any given hit was written about someone’s romantic feelings for someone else. But as John Oates reminded us during a recent interview, that isn’t always the case.

Discussing the 1981 Hall & Oates hit ‘I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),’ Oates told Philly.com that what might sound like a guy telling off his significant other is actually “about the music business.”

Explained Oates, “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. Calling it “typical of a lot of the lyrics we’ve written over the years,” he added, “It seems like it’s about one thing, but it’s really not. 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.”

Oates, who also recently disclosed that Hall & Oates’ ‘Rich Girl’ isn’t actually about a girl, went on to reveal that although it seems to be about a predatory woman, the duo’s 1982 smash ‘Maneater’ was really written about New York City. “‘Maneater’ is about NYC in the ’80s,” he explained. “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 is currently out promoting his latest solo release, ‘Good Road to Follow,’ which bundles his recent series of digital singles into a triple-EP package of 15 songs. “This project has been a labor of love,” Oates says of the album, which found him working with country legend Vince Gill, OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, and many others. “Almost every song was recorded with a different producer and a different co-writer, so I got to step into the worlds of so many creative and inspiring people. Some of whom I have worked with in the past and some folks that I’d never met. I reached out to the songwriters, musicians and producers that I respect and asked them if they would work with me on one individual song. Each song became an intense and focused creative experience…it was a pure collaboration from beginning to end.”

Next: Top 10 Hall & Oates Songs of the 70s

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