Gimme Five: John Oates on Hall and Oates’ “She’s Gone,” “You Make My Dreams” + others

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John Oates takes us inside the love-gone-wrong beginnings of Hall and Oates “She’s Gone,” and talks about how the birth of Oates’ son sparked a standout solo track. He also laments that doo wop never gets its due, and how he remade a signature Hall and Oates hit into a boot-scootin’ swing tune on his new record, “Mississippi Mile.”

“SHE’S GONE” (with Hall and Oates, ABANDONED LUNCHEONETTE, 1973): A heartbreaking, brutally honest track, this wasn’t a hit until it was rereleased two years later, after Hall and Oates charted with “Sara Smile.” The tune, which shot to No. 7 on the Billboard charts, has since become a concert staple for H&O — and was honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for helping shape the genre.

John Oates: The mark of a good song is that it stands the test of time, that it can continue to resonate and people can relate to it. The beauty and the magic of that song came from the fact that we were both going through individual separations. I got stood up on a date on New Year’s Eve and as insignificant as that might seem now, I sat around my apartment strumming this thing that became the beginning of the chorus of that song, this little folk lament. Daryl came in and heard it and started playing what’s now this very familiar piano figure, and then that became the verse. We literally wrote that song in as long as it took to sing it. What really makes it work so well are these very simple, mundane images Like, ‘a toothbrush hanging in the stand.’ But how many people would pick up on that, use that as a metaphor to convey loneliness? Things like that are what made it so real.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: An SER Sitdown with John Oates to talk about his new album, as well as key moments from his career with Daryl Hall, the Temptations, Todd Rundgren and, yeah, the blues.]

“CIRCLE OF THREE,” (solo, 1000 MILES OF LIFE, 2002): Part of a mainly acoustic release that featured Bela Fleck, John Popper of Blues Traveler, Jerry Douglas, the Blind Boys of Alabama and Bonnie Bramlett, this final track stands out as one of the record’s more personal moments. “Circle of Three” seemed to point to a new period in Oates’ life — one focused on family, and the simpler joys of life.

Oates: That’s right. This circle of three happened when my son was born. We pulled together as family during that time; we became this tight unit. I put it on last because it seemed to sum things up. I am happier than I have ever been, and doing exactly what I want to do. It’s a great life. I’m so blessed and so fortunate. You almost have to pinch yourself. At the same time, I was still playing the music with Daryl that we created, and I had this whole new rebirth through collaborations that ware helping me take my personal music to another level. That album ended up, really, being all about personal stuff. A lot of people had passed away, and that made for a very adult record — in terms of its mood, and its emotional content. That’s why on the new record, I really wanted to make sure I made something fun. I needed to offset the heaviness of that last one. (Laughs.)

“HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK” (with Hall and Oates, VOICES, 1980): This Oates vehicle features a gruff vocal and jangly riff — bearing more than a passing resemblance to much of the work on his new solo effort. It was also the first of what would become four Top 40 singles from Voices, a string of successes that helped the album remain on the charts for an impressive 100 weeks.

Oates: It was so guitar based, and it you think back, guitar-based music wasn’t that popular in the early 1980s. Instead, there was a lot of synthesizers, so that song was kind of throwback to my folk-rock roots. I played in a lot of folk-rock bands in the late 1960s. I used a 12-string, and with that tuning, it was very much of that time.

“BACK TOGETHER AGAIN” (with Hall and Oates, BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US, 1976): Inspired by Frank Valli, an early vocal hero, Oates’ track opened a platinum-selling recording that included “Rich Girl,” Hall and Oates’ initial No. 1 hit. As old-school as “Back Together Again” was, though, Oates’ idea to pay tribute to the duo’s doo-wop roots paid off when the tune went to No. 28.

Oates: I don’t think a lot of people recognize that for what it is — urban folk music. They were a bunch of kids standing on a street corner, or going down into the subway or a school bathroom to get the right sound, and just singing harmony. Doo wop is not too distinct from the old blues field holler, but set in an urban context. Rap music is the same way, in a contemporary version. It’s the music of the streets.

“YOU MAKE MY DREAMS” (solo, MISSISSIPPI MILE, 2011): Originally a gospel-grooving No. 5 hit in 1981 from Hall and Oates’ Voices release, the tune is completely remade by Oates here as a spritely shuffle. A smart turn on the dobro by Jerry Douglas, completes the rustic, Texas swing-inspired vibe.

Oates: I guess if you really look at the album, that track is an aberration. It’s not a part of the legacy of my youth. Of course, considering it came out 30 years ago, I guess I was little younger. (Laughs.) That happened in a rehearsal. I started playing “You Make My Dreams,” and we liked where it went. We put it on, just for fun. The guys are such great players. Just sit in a room with (mandolin player) Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, and good things happen.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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