Hall & Oates Reveal the Origin of "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"

Hall and Oates (1970). Photo by: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer. Getty Images.

Yesterday, The Guardian published a great interview in which Daryl Hall and John Oates talk about how they made their hit “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)" from their 1981 release, Private Eyes. And as it turns out, it was all a bit of a serendipitous accident.

The duo was in the process of wrapping up at Electric Lady Studios in New York one night, after a long day of recording. Hall was messing around with his keyboards and whimsically flipped on the "Rock 1" beat setting on the early Roland CompuRhythm CR-78. “Then I played the first bassline that came into my head, followed by some chords, and thought: ‘Oh man! There’s something happening here!'"

Hall was right, of course, as "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" became the second single on Private Eyes and dominated the radio all throughout 1982. The song earned top spots on both the Hot 100 and R&B/Hip-Hop Song charts in the U.S. and was the first Hall & Oates tune to crack the top ten on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number eight. On January 7 of that same year, the RIAA certified the single as gold, with 500,000 units sold.

Hall and Oates also revealed to The Guardian that the lyrics weren't those of a jilted lover, as many might assume, but rather in response to the manipulation that the band was feeling within the record industry. "So the song was a cry of defiance, our way of saying: 'Enough is enough.' ... everyone has something they’ve had enough of. So because the song’s quite cryptic, it has universal appeal."

The lyrics aren't the only part of the jam with universal appeal. Even Michael Jackson admitted to lifting the groove for his 1982 hit "Billie Jean" from late 1982's Thriller. Hall told The Guardian, "I got talking to Michael Jackson and he said: 'I hope you don’t mind. I stole the groove from I Can’t Go for That for my song Billie Jean.' I told him: 'Oh Michael, what do I care? You did it very differently.' I can’t say I’d ever noticed but he was quite insistent. Of course, I went away and listened to Billie Jean. And sure enough, it was our groove."

For a deeper look into how Hall & Oates constructed their longstanding classic, check out the video lesson below to see Reverb's William Kurk reconstruct the song from scratch in our "The Synth Sounds Of..." series.

The Synth Sounds of Hall & Oates "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"
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