Turning 30: Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”

In early 1982, after the release of their second single from their album Private Eyes, Hall & Oates found that their song “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” had not only topped the Billboard pop charts, but had also reached top 10 on the R&B charts. In an interview with A.V. Club, John Oates said that the new song, and album as a whole, was finally the duo being able to produce from their own experiences:

“We used elements from all those experimental sounds that we tried, and eventually we came upon this thing that was our own. For lack of a better phrase, we called it ‘rock and soul,’ because I guess that’s what it was. Everyone wants to pigeonhole it and create a handle for it, but we really felt like it was our own sound: Daryl’s influences and my influences. It has to do with his classical background, combined with his street and urban doo-wop background, combined with my traditional American folk music background, and also my experience with urban R&B. You put those together, and that’s basically what we do.”

And while a fusion of music was what Hall & Oates did from the start of their musical careers, “I Can’t Go For That” shuttled them to the attention of soul music lovers who were attracted to lead singer Daryl Hall’s rich vocals and funky grooves the two concocted over a simple synthesized groove with a smattering of bass and percussion. While it seemed pretty rare to find two white guys authentically injecting a sense of soul so effortlessly, Daryl Hall was not new kid on the block when it came to singing soul music. He remembers his youth as a musician working in the studio with soul legends Gamble and Huff.

“They sort of are known as the fathers of the Philadelphia sound, the sound of Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia native Hall in an interview with Under the Radar. “Philly in those days was very racially integrated. You know, through the school systems, through the way peoples’ neighborhoods were, it wasn’t uncommon for white people, black people to sing together, to work together, to play together, do everything. It was really not that unusual at all.”

Hall & Oates’ music proves it. Not only influenced heavily by soul music, the song itself has influenced popular language and the music of other artists. While the expression “no can do” has been largely attributed to the song, Hall & Oates’ hit song has also been covered, sampled and imitated by musicians across genres.  Whether you are listening to the popular dance groove “After Party” by the group Koffee Brown or jamming to Heavy D’s “I’ll Do Anything”, you’ll hear a sample of “I Can’t Go For That.” Others include De La Soul, 2 Live Crew, Simply Red, Tamia; it has been said that even Michael Jackson himself borrowed a little something from this classic song for his hit “Billie Jean” (which might be urban legend since both songs were released around the same time).

All in all, “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” will go down in history as a top classic for Hall & Oates as it celebrates its 30th anniversary as a hit. While the duo continues to make quality music as a pair and on solo projects, this song lives on as one of their career high points. Happy anniversary.

-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a Maryland-based writer. Find her at http://www.KhadijahOnline.com.


  1. Jadon says:

    Love them and the song :)

  2. eyemediadiva says:

    Love them!

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