Hall and Oates have always been an enigma. To this day, they remain an immensely talented duo capable of some of the greatest white R&B vocal harmonies ever put down on vinyl.
Yet, during their heyday of the 1980s, when they surpassed the Everly Brothers as the biggest selling duo in history, they succumbed, just like everyone else, to the excesses of the synthesizer. To me, during their hitmaking years they often sounded more like a new wave act than one playing blue-eyed soul while tallying up a ton of hits that included rock standards such as “Kiss on My List, “You Make My Dreams,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do), “Maneater,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and many more.
Don’t misunderstand me. They’re good songs. It’s just that the ’80s production values washed most of the urban grit out of their arrangements. More recently, when H&O have performed the same songs properly with a drummer that isn’t a robot, they have become masterworks of the genre the two Philadelphians love so much.
Hall and Oates began their career with so much promise. After the listenable, folky debut LP Whole Oats, they achieved greatness with one of the best albums of the classic rock era, Abandoned Luncheonette, released in 1973. The best way to describe this record is to use the term “acoustic soul” because so much of it sounds like folk music with Philly soul harmonies.
The album opens with one of their greatest tracks, Hall’s “When the Morning Comes” and moves gracefully to Oates’ “Had I Known You Better Then,” in which his rich baritone nicely complements Hall’s higher register. The same can be said of “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song).” Their classic collaboration, “She’s Gone,” follows and, although it wasn’t an overnight success, it eventually became a huge early hit and one of the finer accomplishments of their career. Side one, in which Oates is both an equal and outstanding contributor, closes with his excellent “I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man).” If you stop listening here, you’ll wonder why Hall became the star while Oates’ contributions were pushed into the background.
The four songs on side two are dominated by Hall and, while he was still working with Oates as a true team, they are less memorable when compared to the genius of side one. If the flip side stands all by itself, the title track, “Lady Rain,” “Laughing Boy,” and the album’s closer, “Everytime I Look at You” (complete with a banjo, an instrument the duo is not known for using) are also quite enjoyable.
Thankfully, after almost a decade long sabbatical in the ’90s, Hall and Oates returned in the new century, ditched most of the computerized gadgetry, and released some of the best work they ever recorded including Home for Christmas — one of the greatest rock Christmas CDs of all time.
Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Hall and Oates. Click through the titles for complete reviews …
DARYL HALL – LAUGHING DOWN CRYING (2011): Apparently playing live on “Live from Daryl’s House” has had an impact on Hall. He performs with a crisp, uncharacteristically loose sound here, in keeping with the friendly, free-form performances which populate that addictively watchable web show — and a world away from the synthesized urban pop that helped make Hall and Oates a signature act of the 1980s. At the same time, Hall retains every bit of the pop-song finesse that gave the duo a truckload of hits back then, and his voice sounds surprisingly resilient after all of these years. A welcome return to form for Hall, who also hadn’t put out a solo studio effort in more than a decade.
SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: JOHN OATES: John Oates has always been more than the Other Guy in Hall and Oates. In fact, the mustachioed one co-wrote half of H&O’s six Billboard No. 1 songs, including “Out of Touch,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “Maneater.” That’s to say nothing of his contributions to memorable sides like “Sara Smile,” “Adult Education,” “How Does It Feel To Be Back,” “You Make My Dreams” and “She’s Gone.” Oates even co-wrote and sang backup on Icehouse’s 1987 Top 10 hit “Electric Blue,” before starting a low-key parallel career on his own. He stopped by for an SER Sitdown to talk about the gritty, cool-rocking Mississippi Mile, as well as key moments from his career with Daryl Hall, the Temptations and Todd Rundgren.
SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: HALL AND OATES: Call them a guilty pleasure. (We have.) But the truth is, there’s more to Hall and Oates than the sum of their blow-dried caricature. So, we set about looking for tunes that made some points: That they brilliantly connected the dots between new wave and and rock music’s R&B ancestry. That they were more than just Daryl. That they had an untold complexity, leaving aside those awful videos. Included are tracks from Voices, Private Eyes, Greatest Hits: Rock ‘n’ Soul Pt. 1, and Hall’s crazy-cool late-1970s collaboration with Robert Fripp, Sacred Songs.
ONE TRACK MIND: JOHN OATES ON ‘SHE’S GONE,’ AN ALL-NEW ‘YOU MAKE MY DREAMS,’ “BACK TOGETHER AGAIN’: On this special edition of Something Else! Reviews’ One Track Mind, we handed the reins over to John Oates, one half of the pop-soul hitmaking duo Hall and Oates. Hear more about the love-gone-wrong beginnings of “She’s Gone,” and 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 solo record “Mississippi Mile.”