In a lengthy Hall of Fame career, Hall and Oates may not have had a more abrupt shift than the one between 1973’s platinum-selling folk-tinged Abandoned Luncheonette and their Todd Rundgren-produced follow up from 40 years ago, the thrillingly eclectic War Babies.
In retrospect, Daryl Hall and John Oates’ most popular sound would only be forged when these two albums’ disparate sensibilities were blended during the breakthrough decade to come. But, in 1974, there was only the stunned looks that follow sudden change.
“The record company was definitely shocked, coming off of Abandoned Luncheonette,” Oates tells us in an exclusive SER Sitdown, “but it was really an indication of the kind of people that Daryl and I are. We were very experimental. If you take War Babies and Abandoned Luncheonette and put them together, that’s what we were able to do in the 1980s when we had so much success. That all became part of the palette that allowed us to make those hits. Although War Babies was not commercial, it was another step in expanding our musical scope — another step toward encompassing all of these styles.”
There would be five more albums, and a No. 1 hit in 1977’s “Rich Girl,” before Hall and Oates began hitting their stride with 1980’s Voices. Meanwhile, War Babies remains as intriguing now as ever — if for no other reason than the huge impact that Rundgren has throughout.
He took over many of the lead guitar duties, even on the comparatively familiar-sounding “You’re Much Too Soon,” and brought in his Utopia bandmates John Seigler and Jon Wilcox to add punch to an album that blended everything from psych-rock (“War Baby Son of Zorro”) to funk (“Better Watch Your Back,” “Beane G. and the Rose Tattoo”) to something close to prog (“Screaming Through December”). The results sometimes sound more like 1974’s Todd than anything else.
“If there was a negative,” Oates adds, “it was that Todd Rundgren’s personal stamp was maybe too obvious. That was the mark of what he did in those days; everything Todd did sounded like Todd.”