Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hall & Oates - Blue Eyed Soul Of The Private Eyes Variety

Having ridden the wave to soul/pop stardom, Daryl Hall and John Oates were about to continue to build on the momentum initiated by the runaway success of 1980’s ‘Voices’, by unleashing a flurry of hits over the ensuing five years, rivalled by only a handful of artists during the same era.

While the dust was still settling on ‘Voices’, Hall and Oates were making serious progress on their tenth studio album.  After a marathon 101 recording sessions, ‘Private Eyes’ hit the record stores during September of ‘81, and based in part on the widespread anticipation, immediately made an impact on the charts.  The album had almost been christened ‘Head Above Water’, but the aquatic reference would be saved for the next album’s title.  Once more Hall and Oates were controlling the production side of things, removing one layer in the communication process, and giving them a sense of immediacy in the recording process.  Daryl Hall worked

closely once more with Oates and the Allen sisters in the writing process.  The duo’s touring band were once more on hand, featuring guitarist G.E. Smith, drummer Mickey Curry, saxophonist & keyboardist Charlie DeChant, and bassist Tom T-Bone Wolk, all of who leant a more kinetic energy to the music.  Due to the overwhelming success of ‘Voices’, the duo knew they had arrived at a good place in the recording process, and were confident in exploring new fields on the sonic-scape, and honing things to a finer grade on ‘Private Eyes’.  But they were careful to retain the pristine pop/soul framework that had been the cornerstone of their recent success.

The first single from ‘Private Eyes’ was the title track.  The song opens with a burst of electric guitar and
surges towards a hook filled chorus, driven in part by percussive hand claps.  The accompanying music video to ‘Private Eyes’ is a personal favourite, and featured Hall & Oates with backing band in full hard boiled detective garb, complete with trilby hats and trench coats.  There was nothing covert or inconspicuous about the rise of ‘Private Eyes’ up the
charts.  It debuted during September of ‘81 and by the beginning of November had surged to #1 (OZ#17/UK#32), knocking Christopher Cross off the perch in the process.  Two weeks later Hall & Oates relinquished top spot to a physical Olivia Newton-John, but it wouldn’t be long before they’d return to lofty heights once more.

During Olivia Newton-John’s marathon 10 week stint atop the U.S. Hot 100 with ‘Physical’, the single ‘Private Eyes’ descended slowly down the charts, whilst its follow up ascended toward the toppermost of the poppermost.  Penned by the duo and Sara Allen, ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ was a pared back affair, sultry and seductive with a hypnotic drum machine percussion track guiding Hall’s restrained vocals.  The songs’ title emanated from a much used phrase used by the duo and associates when they didn’t want to go along with the prevailing tide of thought.  It was almost an after thought in the recording of the album, with Hall messing about with a synthesizer riff that expanded on a chorus left over from the ‘Voices’ sessions. 
The soulful, playful track debuted on the U.S. Hot 100 at #59 during November of ‘81, and 11 weeks later took up residence at #1, the duos fourth chart topper (in turn replaced at #1 by J. Geils Band with ‘Centerfold’ - see future posts).  ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ (OZ#13/UK#8) also proved to be a huge crossover hit, topping adult contemporary, R&B, and dance charts - this was something the duo were particularly proud of, bridging the gap between musical styles, and reducing some of the barriers between ‘black soul’ music and ‘mainstream’ pop/rock.

‘Did It In A Minute’ was the third single, and managed to deliver its vibrant pop/rock payload in just under four minutes, a bit like a mile.  The song is a personal favourite of this author, and reveals a
playful, quirky side to the duos music, but no less finely crafted.  ‘Did It In A Minute’ hit the charts in April of
‘82, and in double quick time peaked at #9 by mid year.  The singles action associated with the album was rounded out in mid ‘82 with the release of single #4, ‘Your Imagination’ (US#33), a dip of the hat to some of the more minimalist new wave fare on offer at the time (think the Police, Cure etc).  Other album highlights included the stellar Temptations tribute ‘Looking For A Good Sign’, and the frenetic ‘Head Above Water’ (originally intended as the album’s title track).

But the ‘Private Eyes’ (US#5/UK#8 /OZ#19 - certified platinum) album was more complete in nature than a receptacle for hit singles.  It was arguably Hall & Oates’ most complete album to date, and the pinnacle of their pop career, not that the duo was walking away from chart success any time soon.  In fact whilst ‘Private Eyes’ was still focussed high on the charts, Hall & Oates were already
laying the framework to yet another sterling LP.

During the second half of ‘82, Daryl Hall and John Oates returned to the studio with backing band in tow, and co-producer Neil Kernon in the control booth (along with a film crew from MTV, documenting the recording).  ‘Voices’ and ‘Private Eyes’ would prove tough acts to follow, but the duo were about to craft a new album that would complete a trilogy of tremendousness and confirm (as if any one doubted) their place as one of the pre-eminent pop artists of their time.

The cleverly titled ‘H2O’ (Hall/duo/Oates) hit stores during November of ‘82, accompanied by the single ‘Maneater’.  The song
has a seductive groove that lures the listener from its opening bars.  The song had begun life as a chorus John Oates had written, which was accompanied by a reggae style beat.  Daryl Hall then came on board to modify the beat track to a more seductive urban groove, and came up with some versus to match the quality of the chorus.  ‘Maneater’ (OZ#4/UK#6) entered the U.S. Hot 100 at #65 during October of ‘82.  Nine weeks later it had devoured the opposition to hold sway at #1 on the menu….err…charts.  It knocked off Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ (see previous post), and spent a total of 4 weeks at the chart summit (the duo’s longest chart topping run), before being replaced with a ‘Down Under’ desert from Men At Work.  The accompanying music video caused a minor stir, in particular from feminist groups unhappy with a woman being depicted with a jaguar’s face - I mean what else can you do to illustrate a ‘maneater’.

With #1 #5 under their belts, Hall & Oates released two more strong singles candidates on to the market. 
The seductive ‘One On One’, penned by Daryl Hall, cruised its way up to #7 in early ‘83 (OZ#77 /UK#63).  ‘Family Man’, ‘One On One’s stylistic antithesis rounded out the trio of single releases from ‘H2O’ (US#6/OZ#49 /UK#15).  The trio of top tens helped float the album to #3 in the U.S. (OZ#3/UK#24).  Hall and Oates attempted to stretch the stylistic boundaries on ‘H2O’, straying from the more comfortable soul/pop neighbourhood, and venturing into less familiar territory, such as the cover of Mike Oldfield’s paranoid art rocker ‘Family Man’, the synth-pop infused ‘Crime Pays’, and the power pop punch of ‘Delayed Reaction’.  In all the disparity of styles results in a marginally less cohesive album.  Despite the same touring band backing, some of the tracks came across as too well ‘controlled’ from the production booth, lessening the
immediacy of the album as a whole, with some of the tracks getting lost in the precise production wash.  Oates was quoted in Rockbill at the time as saying the album was ‘very streamlined’, which arguably contributed to a sense of ‘over production’.  Regardless, ‘H2O’ is an album of exemplary quality, and went on to become the highest charting, and biggest selling Hall & Oates set.

1983 witnessed something remarkable, something that hadn’t occurred for more than a decade.  Actually, it was something that wasn’t witnessed.  For the first time since they released their debut album in 1972, Daryl Hall and John Oates didn’t release a full album of all original songs.  Maybe after the terrific trio of ‘Voices’, ‘Private Eyes’, and ‘H2O’ the duo needed time to catch their breath.  But fans needn’t have concerned themselves too much, as RCA released a compilation album, aptly titled ‘Rock ‘n Soul, Part 1’ (US#7 /OZ#12 /UK#16), the track listing of which contained all the expected
suspects, but with the bonus inclusion of two newly recorded original tracks.  And these weren’t album fillers, as both would be released on the charts and storm toward the pinnacle of the charts.

‘Say It Isn’t So’ was released in October of ‘83 and immediately was added to MTV and radio play lists. 
The song offered the same seductive percussion line, overlaid by pristine instrumental tracks, and smoothly blended vocal harmonies.  The accompanying music video placed more than usual emphasis on the duo’s backing group, an acknowledgment to their vital role in evolving the Hall & Oates brand of pop/soul.  That ‘brand’ landed Hall & Oates with yet another top ten hit (US#2/OZ#24/UK#69), and one that went dangerously close to yielding the duo another #1 (stopped in its tracks at #2 by yet another vocal expression in the form of ‘Say, Say, Say’ by Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney).  The second original track from the compilation was ‘Adult Education’, released as a single in early ‘84.   Heavy on the percussion and urban grooves, the single most likely appealed more to a sophisticated adult audience  than the MTV generation.  Nevertheless, ‘Adult Education’ climbed to a top ten place (US#8/OZ#94/UK#63), continuing Hall & Oates’ stunning run on the U.S. charts.

Around this time, Daryl Hall took time out from duo duties to record with Elvis Costello on the classic ‘The
Only Flame In Town’.  During April of ‘84, it was also announced by the Recording Industry Association of America, that Hall & Oates were officially the most successful duo in the modern rock era, overtaking the likes of the Everly Brothers in commercial and chart terms, and bigger than the likes of Simon & Garfunkel and the Righteous Brothers combined.

But rather than rest on their laurels, it wasn’t long before the dynamic pop/soul duo reunited in studio to lay the groundwork for their 12th studio set.  They had parted ways with long time producer Neil Kernon, opting to collaborate in the control booth with Bob Clearmountain (went on to produce Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen and INXS among others), with production taking place once more in New York’s Electric Lady Studios.  Having perhaps exhausted the winning formula that dominated the triumphant trio of early 80s albums, Hall and Oates decided to make
some stylistic changes for their next album.  By the time recording commenced, the duo had just nine songs in mind to include on the album, and one of those was little more than an intro track to side 1.

The lead out single was the big sounding ‘Out Of Touch’, a track bursting at the seams with bombastic percussion lines, overpowering synthesizer tracks, and layered vocal harmonies throughout.  It could be argued the track lacks a rawness because a strong production hand is so in evidence throughout, but for mine it delivers a powerful punch right on the chin of the listener, who could be but stunned in admiration of the track.  ‘Out Of Touch’ originated as a chorus by John Oates.  Daryl Hall took the song in studio and enhanced the ‘urban groove’ feel the duo were going for.  Hip-hop, rap producer Arthur Baker came on board to oversee the final mix, and Hall & Oates had the fresh new sound they’d been looking for.  ‘Out Of Touch’ first touched the U.S. Hot 100 at #48 during September of ‘84, and ten weeks later
replaced Wham! at the top of the charts (for 2 weeks), delivering Hall & Oates their sixth (and final) U.S. chart topper (OZ#11 /UK#48).  Incidentally, the first rate music video features arguably the world’s biggest kick drum.

The follow up single was the funky and quirky ‘Method Of Modern Love’, with the ‘method’ spelled out as ‘M.E.T.H.O.D.’ in the chorus.  The funky track brought more S.U.C.C.E.S.S. on the charts for Hall & Oates in early ‘85 (US#5 /OZ#56 /UK#21).  For an album of just eight full length songs, four singles seemed to be pushing their luck, but the slow rocker ‘Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid’ (US#18), and  the John Oates voiced ‘Possession Obsession’ (US#30) rounded out associated ‘Big Bam Boom’ activity by mid ‘85.  Though a notch or two down on the performances of its predecessors in critical terms, ‘Big Bam Boom’ accomplished more than respectable sales figures (US#5 - their fourth consecutive top 10 album /OZ#20/UK#28), proving that Hall & Oates hadn’t lost their way, rather taken a short detour or two from the oft chosen path.

Whilst the marketers and video production crews did their thing to promote ‘Big Bam Boom’, Daryl Hall and John Oates took time out from studio work to catch their breath, and re-examine some of their
soul/R&B roots.  It led the duo to perform at the re-opening of New York’s Apollo Theatre, on stage with child hood idols, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, ex of the Temptations.  The concert was recorded and led to the release of the live album, ‘Live At The Apollo’ in October of ‘85 (US#21/OZ#39/UK#32).  The opening medley, titled ‘Apollo Medley’ was released as a single (US#20/OZ#81/UK#58) and credited to Daryl Hall and John Oates with David Ruffin & Eddie Kendrick.  The balance of tracks on the live album were a selection of Hall & Oates hits, including ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ and ‘One On One’ along with a stirring rendition of the Sam & Dave hit ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’.  The experience led to the participants joining forces once more to perform at the Philadelphia concert of Live Aid in July of ‘85 (Hall & Oates had also appeared on the U.S.A. For Africa charity song ‘We Are The World’), and
for a brief period touring more broadly.  The experience added further to the duo’s credibility as purist soul/R&B exponents, as if they needed any more credentials.

By the end of their ‘85 ‘soul’ tour, Daryl Hall and John Oates decided to take a proper sabbatical from duo duties, for what would turn out to be a period of three years.  Whilst Oates continued to write and tinker in the studio, the irrepressible Daryl Hall remained the much more active in studio.  The sessions resulted in Hall’s second solo album, ‘Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine’ (US#29/OZ#42/UK#26), released in August of ‘86.  The lead out single was the deliciously playful new wave psychedelic number ‘Dreamtime’, resplendent with cascading guitars, swirling keyboards and echoing drum machines.  ‘Dreamtime’ kicked off the album in style, and promised much for the sonic
journey ahead, even if that journey doesn’t quite deliver on the promise shown at the beginning.  ‘Dreamtime’ scored Daryl Hall yet another top five hit in the U.S. (#5/OZ#28 /UK#28), and was backed by one of the most visually enticing music videos of the era.  The rather bland ‘Foolish Pride’ crept into the US top 40 (#33), but there were one or two other highlights on the set, including the strong melody of ‘I Wasn’t Born Yesterday’(penned with Dave Stewart), and the surging chorus hook of ‘For You’.

Though Hall’s ‘Three Hearts’ set had been released on RCA, the duo of Hall & Oates had parted ways with the label (signing with Arista) by the time they reconvened in studio to begin work on what would be viewed as a ‘comeback’ album.  Though their chart dominating days were behind them, there was no reason to think in 1988 that Hall & Oates couldn’t
still make a noise chart side.  The much anticipated lead out single was ‘Everything Your Heart Desires’, a mellow but soulful track which climbed to a more than respectable #3 on the U.S. Hot 100 (OZ#75).  Its follow up was ‘Missed Opportunity’ (US#29), a smooth and sleek ballad co-written by Hall, Oates and long time song writing partner Sara Allen.  ‘Downtown Life’ (US#31) was the funky little rocker and the opening track on the source album, ‘Ooh Yeah!’ (US#24/OZ#46/UK#52), promotion of which took place in the form of the duo touring for the first time in nearly three years.

So accustomed to expecting an album a year output from Hall & Oates, long time fans must have taken some adjusting to 2-3 year periods elapsing between studio albums.  And so it was that two years had passed by before 1990’s ‘Change Of Season’ was released.  The opening track, and lead out single, was the guitar rock ballad ‘So Close’, co-written by co-producer Jon Bon Jovi (who’d have thought?), which
managed a very acceptable #11 Stateside (UK#69), but the follow up ‘Everywhere I Look’, though a pleasant enough soul track, almost disappeared before it had been released (UK#74), making it the first single cut from a Hall & Oates album to miss the Hot 100 in over 15 years.  The source album also sold poorly Stateside (US#61), though oddly attracted more interest in Britain (UK#44), something of an anomaly to that time.  It appeared that the duo who had been so ubiquitous on music charts from the late 70s to mid 80s, were, like so many of their kin, unable to make the jump to commercial entities in the 90s.

Once more, Daryl Hall and John Oates decided to pursue solo interests, though numerous and sundry Hall & Oates compilations satisfied long time fans, and introduced the younger generation to one of popular music’s most revered duos of all time.

Over the next few years Daryl Hall found a new audience for his solo work, namely Britain.  His 1993 solo
album ‘Soul Alone’ (rather apt title - UK#57) was released on the Epic label and acted as much as a cathartic experience for Hall as a commercial pursuit.  A longing for Philly soul was evident on a number of tracks, homages to the idols of his youth.  ‘I’m In A Philly Mood’ (UK#59) was the most obvious of these and found Daryl Hall in typically good vocal form.  A cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Stop Loving Me, Stop Loving You’ (UK#30) reminds me of the sound of UK soul/pop act Level 42.  ‘Help Me Find A Way To Your Heart’ (UK#70) was another easy listening track with a sprinkling of soul pedigree.  Hall continued to have some commercial success on the U.K. charts, in 1994 with ‘Glory Land’ (UK#36), the official theme song for U.S.A. 1994 World Cup, and credited to Daryl Hall and Sounds Of Blackness.  In 1995, Hall recorded a duet with soul singing legend Dusty Springfield, titled ‘Wherever Would I Be’ (UK#44).  Hall has subsequently released two solo albums; ‘Can’t Stop Dreaming’ (1997), and ‘Laughing Down Crying’ (2011).

By 1997, Hall & Oates had joined forces once more to record an album of new material. Released on the
Push Records label, ‘Marigold Sky’ reflected a duo acknowledging that they can no longer push the contemporary envelope, and instead returning to the musical palette they know best, recording an agreeable collection of soul-pop songs.  Subsequent years have seen a steady balance between album releases and touring (including playing with the likes of Icehouse - see previous post - in Australia, and my sister said they still put on a great show), with albums ranging from ‘Do It For Love’ (2003), through ‘Live At The Mirage’ (2008), to ‘Angelina & Other Favourites’ (2012).

When looking back in retrospect at the career of Daryl Hall and John Oates, it’s nigh on impossible to overstate just how hugely successful they were in both commercial and critical terms.  Hall & Oates ranks as the next to biggest selling
act ever on the RCA label, second only to Elvis Presley.  As mentioned earlier, they rank as the #1 pop/rock duo of all time, surpassing the careers of the Everly Brothers, the Righteous Brothers, and Simon & Garfunkel.  By sheer weight of chart numbers, Daryl Hall and John Oates have few peers with six US#1 singles, a further nine certified top ten entries, and 17 Hot 100 hits, not to mention four consecutive top five albums.  When they were big, Hall & Oates were really, really big, and carved a place of distinction in the epoch of popular music.  Not bad for a couple of Philly kids pursuing their passion for soul music.

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