"I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" was a phrase Daryl Hall used when he was pressured to go along with the crowd against his wishes. After a recording session for the Private Eyes album in Electric Lady Studios (New York City), Hall, Oates and engineer Neil Kernon improvised this song. In an interview with Mix Magazine, Daryl Hall recalls: "Remember the old Roland CompuRhythm box? I turned to the Rock and Roll 1 preset, sat down at a Korg organ that happened to be lying there and started to play this bass line that was coming to me. It's the old recording studio story: The engineer heard what I was doing and turned on the tape machine. Good thing, because I'm the kind of person who will come up with an idea and forget it. The chords came together in about 10 minutes, and then I heard a guitar riff, which I asked John, who was sitting in the booth, to play."
John Oates continues in the same interview: "Daryl came up with this great bass line, using whatever sound happened to be on the organ, and Neil miked it and the drum machine. Daryl came up with the 'B' section chords, and then I plugged my 1958 Strat directly into the board, which was either an early SSL or a Trident."
The next day Hall and his girlfriend Sara Allen wrote the lyrics. Hall recalls: "I wrote most of the lyrics, but Sara contributed some ideas. I sang the lead vocal, and there's the song - can't get any simpler than that!"
Michael Jackson has confessed that this greatly influenced his hit song "Billie Jean
." Daryl Hall recalls that when they were both recording "We Are The World
," Jackson told him he hoped Hall didn't mind that he copped the groove. Hall told him he did a good job of stealing it because he didn't even notice.
John Oates (from an interview with Livedaily): "'I Can't Go for That' is one of the most sampled songs from our catalogue, maybe ever for all we know. It's been sampled on so many songs. I can name five or six versions of it. Just last year Simply Red did a song called 'Sunrise,' which was basically 'I Can't Go for That.' The entire song. It wasn't a sample, it was the actual track. He just wrote a different verse over it. Puff Daddy sampled it, De La Soul sampled it. I like it [when our music is sampled]. I like when people have a different take on what you do. That's quite a compliment."
Among the songs to sample it are De La Soul's 1989 UK #18 hit "Say No Go" which utilizes it for the vocal hook in the chorus. Also Simply Red's 2003 #7 UK hit was built around "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"'s instrumentation.
This bridged the gap between the black and white charts, which is a rare achievement for a white act. It hit #1 on the R&B charts as well as the Hot 100.
Hall & Oates used a Roland CompuRhythm 78 drum machine on the "Rock & Roll 1" preset for this track. What was the first major Pop song to use a drum machine? We say it was Robin Gibb's 1969 UK hit "Saved by the Bell."
When this song came out, a review in the British press insisted it was about bondage, to which Daryl Hall mockingly replied: "The English... everything has to do with sexual perversion! The English press is great..."
This was the song that knocked Olivia Newton-John's "Physical
" out of #1 in America after a 10 week stay at the top spot.
John Oates elaborated on the song's theme of individuality and personal choice in a Billboard interview: "The theme is sort of ongoing with us, that people should think for themselves, do what they believe. They shouldn't act or do things just because other people do, or because the government says to do it or because their fathers and mothers say this is the right thing. People have to be able to assess each situation, based on their own beliefs, and not just follow along."