I Can't Dance

Album: We Can't Dance (1991)
Charted: 7 7
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Songfacts®:

  • Not unlike the Right Said Fred hit "I'm Too Sexy," this song is a send-up of male models. "It's not about being unable to dance," Phil Collins told Rolling Stone. "It's about guys that look good but can't string a sentence together. Each verse is a piss-take at the scenario of a jeans commercial. It was good fun, but the audience thought, 'What does he mean that he can't dance?' They didn't see the humor, and it killed the fun."
  • Genesis wrote this song in the studio in one session. "Once we started we kept going 'til we finished it," Phil Collins said in the documentary Genesis: Sum of the Parts. "It didn't take a ridiculous time to write."
  • The lyrics are made up of bits that Phil Collins improvised in the studio. When they started working on it, they decided to just write spontaneously to keep from over-thinking it. This explains the rather disjointed story about a guy who can't dance and is "just standing here selling."
  • In the Way We Walk DVD, Tony Banks told the story of how this song came together. "Mike had this basic riff which he played, and we worked it into a 16-bar riff. Then we started doing it heavy, which it immediately demanded, so Phil was playing heavy drums and I was adding big chords and sounds. It was one of those bits we felt would go nowhere - it sounded fun but it wasn't really special. But there was one time when Mike was playing it, and Phil was at the microphone so he wasn't playing drums. I started playing drums on this thing (his sampler), and that gave it a completely different feel. It suddenly had an edge of humor in it, and Phil started singing in this kind of high voice, giving it instant character. We knew if we worked on it, we would ruin it, so we didn't even give it a middle eight or anything. When we actually put the song down, we put some more chords in but left it really simple. We put it down in a few hours. It shows a certain direction we could go in for certain songs, which is totally opposite what Genesis used to do in the past, which was to overblow a thing - take one idea and make it massive. This was taking an idea and leaving it really small and making it work."
  • Helmed by their go-to director Jim Yukich, the video created a lasting image thanks to the "silly walk" the three band members did. This walk was something Phil Collins did from time to time - he got the idea for it when he attended drama school and noticed that the worst dancers would always lead with the hand and foot on the same side. There is a twist ending in the video when at the end, Phil Collins does some Michael Jackson dance moves and an impressive little tap routine.
  • In our interview with Tony Banks, he explained that having a lead singer who was comfortable in front of the camera made the music videos much easier to create. "It gave us a chance to explore some quite fun ideas," he said. "When the lyric had an obvious way to go - with something like "I Can't Dance" or "No Son of Mine" - you could do it and express it quite well."
  • The outlandish vocal inflections were inspired by the strange but captivating singing of Roland Gift, frontman for Fine Young Cannibals. Around the time Genesis was writing this song, FYC was on the charts with "She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing."
  • The We Can't Dance album was the group's last with Phil Collins, who left after recording his 1993 solo album Both Sides. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford did one more album without him, Calling All Stations (1997), with Ray Wilson on vocals.

Comments: 2

  • Mark Boyle from Johnstone, ScotlandThe song was largely written by Mike Rutherford to lampoon The Clash, who after a career of spouting specious Trotskyite platitudes in the music press and attacking prog rock bands like Genesis "formed in public schools" (despite the fact Joe Strummer went to public school, another two went to selective Grammar Schools, and another was a roadie for Yes!), were happy to allow "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" to be used for an advert for a denims company notorious for using Third World child labour - in short, showing they were as shallow and motivated by money as the "dinosaurs" they'd attacked on ideological grounds during their brief, modest heyday.

    Americana adverts were also becoming evermore the norm on UK TV at this time as corporate globalism bit, and American cultural norms - especially its mulish over-competitiveness and oneupmanship - were swamping others more than could be deemed healthy. Rutherford chose to parody the "stories" within said adverts in order to lampoon the corporate culture they represented and the hypocrisy of those happy to take its blood money while demanding others disown it.

    "The Walk" Genesis did in the video was in itself a very direct dig at the band Madness, whose set piece "Nutty dance" conga appeared in many of their videos, and who like The Clash had attacked bands like Genesis from privileged backgrounds without bothering to acknowledge their own.

    Despite much being made by Madness of their impoverished childhoods, it was having a band member's mother as one of the manager's in the BBC's Light Entertainment department - not talent - which resulted in its disproportionate number of appearences of "Top Of The Pops" (at that time the single most important TV show for any musical act) and many other shows run by the state broadcaster, even when the band went into terminal decline as its records began to stiff (this included having a prime time documentary about the making of the song and video for the single "One Better Day" a week before its release). Genesis by contrast had no "helping hands" in their rise to fame and fortune.
  • Miles from Vancouver, CanadaI can't believe nobody's written anything about this awesome, cool song! This is a song that DEFINES the (good side of the) 90's. I recall hearing this song for the first time when I was 5. My dad and I loved it. One thing about the 90's is that many people bought the CD albums for the one hit...and the rest was more or less filler. Not so with We Can't Dance. I don't care what people say about We Can't Dance...I love that album to bits! I finally bought it in '96 for the one song - but I loved all 12 tracks! "No Son of Mine" was such an uplifting, glorious song (never mind the lyrics). In fact, I loved the album so much, I had to discover all the previous Genesis releases before. Mind you, when I first heard on "Dance on a Volcano" (A Trick of the Tail was the second Genesis album I heard), I thought, "Hey! When did Genesis sound like King Crimson?!?" I had no idea that's how they started - and I was more familiar with the solo stuff of Peter Gabriel. Anyway, I love the Gabriel era, I love the Collins era, I love it all!
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