#1092: Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me) by Chris Isaak

Peak Month: May 1993
7 weeks on CKLG’s Vancouver Chart
Peak Position ~ #15
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #105
YouTube: “Can’t Do A Thing
Lyrics: “Can’t Do A Thing

Christopher Joseph Isaak was born in 1956 in Stockton, California. He graduated from high school in 1974 and while in university was in an exchange program to Japan. After 1981 he formed a rockabilly band called Silvertone. Then in 1985 he got a record deal with Warner Bros. Records and released his debut album Silvertone. Two of the tracks from the album appeared in the neo-noir film Blue Velvet. Isaak released a self-titled second album in 1986 which garnered more attention and positive reviews. The track “Blue Hotel” was a hit in France. In 1988 Isaak recorded “Suspicion Of Love” which was included in the film Married to the Mob. In 1989 Isaak appeared in the video for the Elton John song “Sacrifice”.

Then in 1989 Chris Isaak released his Heart Shaped World album. It included the single “Wicked Game”. The single was included in the 1990 film Wild at Heart, starring Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe. Isaak told a reporter that the song was inspired by a telephone call from a woman seeking to arrange a casual sexual liaison and is about “what happens when you have a strong attraction to people that aren’t necessarily good for you”. Isaak wrote the song after the phone call ended.

“Wicked Game” gained attention and airplay from its exposure in Wild at Heart. Eventually, in 1991 the song made the Top Ten national charts in Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the United Kingdom and United States. “Wicked Game” peaked at number-one on the Belgian pop chart. That year Isaak also appeared as a SWAT commander in the psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs. 

In 1993 Chris Isaak released his fourth studio album titled San Francisco Days. The debut single from the album was “Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me)”.

J.D. Considine writing in the Baltimore Sun said of Isaak’s San Francisco Days, “His voice, for example, manages to capture both the purring sexuality of Presley’s throaty murmur and the forlorn intensity of Roy Orbison’s falsetto, while infusing both with doomed fatalism of a Chet Baker ballad. Then there’s the way his band uses lonesome guitar moans or a torpid, reverb-soaked pulse to suggest the repressed menace of ’50s film noir.” Considine judged that San Francisco Days was Chris Isaak’s “most interesting and accessible album to date.” And that assessment was due in part to “Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me)”.

Considine writes “It’s easy to hear why this love song was chosen as the album’s first single; not only does mournful guitar glissando in the introduction recall the heartbreak twang of “Wicked Game,” but the way Isaak slides from a whispering croon on the verse to a sweet, soaring falsetto on the chorus communicates the romantic yearning Isaak has made his specialty. What ultimately seduces the listener, though, are the subtleties beneath that surface. Start with the beat, a sort of funky samba that plays a lazily prodding bassline against a quietly percolating swirl of high-hat and snare drum; not only does it deftly propel the tune, it also neatly imparts the itchy intensity of the singer’s carnal desire. Add to that the tension between Isaak’s insistent delivery and the cool reserve of the backing vocals, and you’re left with an arrangement that tells this song’s story as vividly as any lyric ever could.”

In “Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me)” the singer is not with their lover. Instead he’s “making love with somebody exactly like you.” It seems that his remedy for having his lover on his mind – who is not available – is to find someone who physically resembles them and have a casual encounter. The lyrics are also suggestive of an erotic dream state, though Isaak sings “night dreams come true.” Are his dreams at night a catalyst for finding sexual fulfillment in his waking hours?

“Can’t Do A Thing” peaked at #15 in Vancouver (BC), one of the few radio markets where the song got airplay.

In addition, one of the tracks from San Francisco Days was a cover of the Neil Diamond hit “Solitary Man”. But, in Chris Isaak’s hands the lyrics are transformed from self-pity to epic resignation. The track “Two Hearts” was featured in the 1993 film True Romance. Later in 1993 Chris Isaak appeared in the film Little Buddha. 

In 1995 Isaak released his fifth studio album Forever Blue. The album received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Album in 1996. From the album “Somebody’s Crying” received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1996. That year “Graduation Day” was featured in the film Beautiful Girls, starring Matt Dillon and Rosie O’Donnell. Another track, “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing”, was featured in the 1999 Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. In his acting career, Chris Isaak appeared in the Tom Hanks-directed film That Thing You Do!

Chris Isaak’s next three studio albums between 1996 and 2002: Baja Sessions, Speak of the Devil and Always Got Tonight – had their best reception in Australia earning gold or platinum certifications. From 2001 to 2004 Chris Isaak appeared in his own sitcom, filmed in Vancouver (BC), titled The Chris Isaak Show. The show concerned a fictionalized version of the life of Chris Isaak and his band, and the everyday problems they faced.

In 2004 Chris Isaak starred in the sex comedy A Dirty Shame. That year his track “Life Will Go On” was featured in the 2004 film Chasing Liberty. And in 2008 Isaak appeared in the film The Informers about decadence and societal decline. In 2009 Isaak hosted a talk show titled The Chris Isaak Hour. 

His twelfth studio album, Beyond The Sun, was released in 2011. It was a collection of covers of early Sun Record recordings by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and others. It made the Top Ten on the national album charts in both Australia and the United Kingdom. Also in 2011, Chris Isaak was one of the recording artists featured in the tribute album Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, where Isaak sang Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”.

August 29, 2020
Ray McGinnis

Chris Isaak Bio,” Chrisisaak.com.
Michael Goldberg, “Interview: Chris Isaak,” Rolling Stone, April 18, 1991.
J.D. Considine, “Chris Isaak Rides Newly Cool Groove in ‘San Francisco Days’,” Baltimore Sun, April 13, 1993.
Ed Masley, “Chris Isaak: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Says the Rock and Roll Crooner,” The Republic, Phoenix, AZ, July 15, 2018.
Robert Adrian, “Interview with Chris Isaak,” Omaha Night Life, July 18, 2017.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

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