Hall and Oates Hit No. 1 With ‘Maneater’
The first thing to know about Hall & Oates’ Maneater is that it’s not about what you think.
On the surface, the 1982 hit seems to be about a woman of grave importance.the skinny and hungry type“who doesn’t hesitate to turn a man’s life upside down in one fell swoop.
But like a number of Hall & Oates songs, “Maneater” shouldn’t be taken so literally. There’s another terrifying figure who could just as easily tear the world apart: New York City, especially in the ’80s.
“It’s about greed, stinginess and tainted riches,” John Oates explained in 2014. “But we put it in a girl’s environment because it’s more relatable. It’s something people can understand.”
Although Oates was born in New York City, he grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the city where he and Daryl Hall met and launched their careers. But after their first album from 1972 Whole oats, did not bring the success they had hoped for, the duo made the decision to move up the coast to New York and work there. A melting pot of styles and genres, New York proved a difficult musical environment to break into, especially for an act not yet fully committed to the sound they were trying to achieve. They eventually landed a couple of Top 10 hits — including “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl” — toward the middle of the decade — but the duo still struggled to maintain consistent radio play.
The 80s called for a different approach. One way for Hall & Oates to do this was to switch to producing their own albums – a crucial step if they were to find their niche. Another was to hire new session musicians who they hoped could help bring their vision to life, like guitarist GE Smith, who later became the bandleader for the Saturday night live House band as well as the first lead guitarist in Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour band, among various other prestigious projects.
But by the late ’70s, Smith was simply a Pennsylvania musician, something he shared with Hall & Oates. Smith was recommended to the duo through mutual friends, but when he arrived for an audition at Hall’s West Village apartment, the two discussed anything but Smith’s technical skills — their stylish clothes, their similar backgrounds and shared love of Motown records. “The guitar never came out of the case,” Smith recalled in 2016. He got the job.
There was also drummer Mickey Curry, who had made a good impression on Hall & Oates manager Tommy Mottola after doing a recording session at New York’s Electric Lady Studios. Mottola approached Curry directly and asked if he would like to keep his drum kit set up and record with Hall & Oates the following week. (Ironically, Curry and Smith were former bandmates, since they both played in a group called the Scratch Band in the New Haven, Connecticut area.) Luckily, Curry already knew all about Hall & Oates.
“I was a big fan because [drummer] Bernard Purdie played hers  album Abandoned Luncheonette‘ Curry later recalled Modern drummer. “He’s on ‘She’s Gone,’ which is one of my favorites. So I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.'”
Rounding out the rest of the studio band were Tom “T-Bone” Wolk, another of Smith’s former bandmates, on bass and saxophonist Charles DeChant.
Watch the music video for Hall & Oates’ Maneater
The scene played out inside, but meanwhile life outside on the streets of New York City was getting tougher. Safe, clean, and welcoming weren’t words often used to describe America’s largest city in the ’80s, struggling under the weight of a skyrocketing crime rate and a crippling drug epidemic. Making it in New York – musician or not – was a real challenge. “Maneater” tried to express this hard fight: “the beauty is there, but an animal is in the heart.”
“What we’ve always tried to do,” Oates later explained, “and if we’ve developed any kind of philosophy for our lyrics over the years, it’s tried to take a universal theme and make it kind of personal, so that we can people can relate to doing it like it’s a personal thing.”
Hall & Oates did this by impersonating New York City as a voluptuous but dangerous woman, although it took a while for the song to fully come out. Oates had worked on it with Edgar Winter and tried it out as a semi-reggae number.
Hall had another idea. “I said, ‘Well, the chords are interesting, but I think we should change the groove,’ I changed it to this Motown groove,” he later recalled American songwriter. He then showed it to his girlfriend Sara Allen, the namesake of Hall & Oates’ “Sara Smile.”
“I played it for Sara,” Hall said, “and sang it for her…[Sings] ‘Oh, here she comes / Look out boy, she’s gonna chew you up / Oh, here she comes / She’s a cannibal… and a…“I forgot what the last line was. She said, “Drop that shit at the end and go, ‘She’s a cannibal’ and stop it! And I said, ‘No, you’re crazy, that’s screwed up.’ Then I thought about it and realized that she was right. And it made all the difference in the song.” (Allen ended up getting an official co-writing credit for the track.)
Hall provided lead vocals on the track, which Oates later described “happened naturally”. Tasks were more evenly split in her earlier days, but Oates could see Hall’s strength – and how it worked in her favor on the charts.
“At that point, if I was being controlled by my ego, I might have said, ‘Okay, I don’t want to be involved in this,’ and I would have left,” Oates explained The Vinyl Dialogues blog in 2017. “But I’ve always accepted that Daryl was such an exceptional singer and such a unique talent that, to be honest, it didn’t really surprise me when his voice cut the way it cut through radio quality.” . It’s a natural gift that he happens to have that I obviously don’t have. So be it.
Like many other artists of their day, Hall & Oates had little control over the music videos that accompanied their songs — that was often left to record company executives, who tended to up the shock value of videos, especially when tens of thousands of eyes were watching the new watch the launched MTV channel. The video for Maneater was created this way, with shots of a woman and a real beast interspersed between shots of the band. “Someone decided that the ‘Maneater’ video wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have an actual panther, a man-eating animal, in the video,” Hall said of the 2011 book.
Watch Hall & Oates perform “Maneater” at Live Aid in 1985
“Maneater” was an enormous success, reaching #1 on the charts billboard Hot 100 on December 18, 1982, just over two months after it appeared on theirs H20 Album. The song stayed at the top for four weeks, eventually becoming the highest-grossing single of the duo’s entire career. (H2O reached number 3 on the billboard 200 and is the band’s best charting album to date.)
Decades later, in early 2007, “Maneater” made some headlines again when Hall & Oates sued their own music publisher for failing to adequately protect their rights to the song. The lawsuit alleged that an unnamed musician used “Maneater” on a 2006 recording, but Warner Chappell Music would not sue them for copyright infringement. The duo claimed that the publisher “failed based on their own conflict of interest and refused to take action.”
“Maneater” reportedly served as the inspiration for a 2006 song by Nelly Furtado titled “Maneater,” though a likely culprit is “Dangerous” by the Ying Yang Twins, another 2006 recording that directly ties the used the original melody and lyrics by Hall & Oates. A spokesman for Warner Chappell said at the time: “We will defend ourselves vigorously.”
The song ultimately stands as one of the best examples of Hall & Oates’ enduring partnership – one that sometimes needs outside support but is a sign of creative collaboration at its best. “The point is,” Oates said in 2017, “we were really sensitive to each other. We inherently know what each person needs to keep this thing going, and that’s why we’re still together.”
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