Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hall & Oates - The Dynamic Duo of Blue Eyed Soul

During the first half of that decade commonly referred to as ‘the 80s’, if you spent any amount of time surfing the FM bandwidth you will have encountered the musical musings of one Daryl Hall and John Oates, referred to in unison as Hall & Oates.  The aforementioned duo established an almost ubiquitous presence on both commercial radio and music charts during the first half of the decade, and in so doing carved out a place in the pantheon of popular music history.

I’ve always had an interest in how bands/duos came into being, what chain of events or happenstance led to two or more individuals combining their talents to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.  Both Daryl Hall and John Oates were raised in Philadelphia, New York born Oates having moved there as a small child.  Both studied music from an early age and by their teens were involved with local doo-wop vocal groups.  In 1967, Daryl Hall provided vocals for a single recorded by local group Kenny

Gamble and the Romeos, but his primary gig was with his vocal group the Temptones.  Hall’s Temptones entered a local battle of the bands contest held at Philadelphia’s Adelphia Ballroom.  John Oates was also entered in the contest with his group the Masters.  At one point in the evening’s proceedings one of the contestants doo-wop disagreed with anothers shoo-wop, and a melee broke out backstage.  To escape the fracas, Hall and Oates ducked into a nearby freight elevator and therein became acquaintances, soon to be friends, and thereafter career partners.  But some water had yet to pass under the bridge before the duo would collaborate fulltime.

While Oates focussed on completing a journalism degree at Temple University, Hall moved away from his formal music studies and continued to work as a backing vocalist for various artists, working for labels such as Arctic, Neptune and Philadelphia International out of Sigma Sound Studios, the ‘Philly sound factory’.  During the late 60s/early 70s Hall quickly honed his craft in studio with top soul/R&B artists such as Smokey Robinson, the Delfonics,
the Stylistics, and the Temptations.  In 1970, Daryl Hall teamed with songwriter Tim Moore, and producer Tom Sellers to record an eponymous album under the name ‘Gulliver’.  The album failed to attract much attention but it gave the young vocalist valuable in studio experience.  During the ‘Gulliver years’,  guitarist John Oates took time out from his own band the Masters, and would occasionally sit in on sessions and at live gigs, and by the time Gulliver’s travels were over in 1972, Daryl Hall and John Oates agreed to try their luck as a duo.  After all, it had worked a treat for Simon and Garfunkel so why not.

With favourable word of mouth working in their favour, Hall and Oates landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records, and with acclaimed producer Arif Mardin calling the shots in studio, the duo’s debut album ‘Whole Oates’ was released in November 1972.  Recorded in New York City, neither album nor associated singles troubled the charts, but it provided the palette over which to layer the duo’s burgeoning R&B/pop/soul fusion, and was yet another important step toward pop’s pinnacle.  1973
saw the release of the more urban soul/pop flavoured dish…album ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’, featuring the single ‘She’s Gone’, written about both Hall’s divorce and a New Year’s Eve date that stood John up.  The single on first float surfaced at #60 on the US Hot 100 in early ‘74 , but would return for a more successful outing a couple of years later.  Incidentally, R&B vocal act the Tavares covered the song and scored a major R&B hit just a few months later.  The duos Atlantic label experience was rounded out by the 1974 album, ‘War Babies’, produced by studio guru Todd Rundgren.  The album was an edgier more experimental rock endeavour, and fell well short of impressing enough listeners to make the charts, though did sell well in the New York area having been pushed favourably by local radio stations..  Soon thereafter, the duo parted ways with the Atlantic label.

Though having recorded three relatively modest selling albums, Hall and Oates had impressed enough people
in the know to land a new recording contract with the RCA label, in 1975.  The duo set to work soon after on recording a self titled set, which would prove to have the breakthrough formula.  The ‘Daryl Hall & John Oates’ (US#17/UK#56) set was released in September of ‘75 (again produced by Todd Rundgren, and featuring an eye catching cover), and featured the lead out single ‘Camelia’, the album’s opening track and an engaging welcoming to the listener.  The single flopped and initial sales for the album were sluggish, but the album’s second single would change all that.  The delicate, soulful ‘Sara Smile’ had been co-written by Daryl Hall and his then girlfriend Sara Allen.  It soon had everyone associated with it beaming as it ascended to #4 on the U.S. charts in mid ‘76, gaining gold certification in the process.  On the back of ‘Sara Smiles’ success, the duo’s former label Atlantic re-launched ‘She’s Gone’ as a single and delivered Hall & Oates with a second (unexpected) top ten hit within three months (US#7/OZ#52/UK#42).

Hall and Oates re-entered the studio during the first half of ‘76 to record the all important follow up to their
commercial breakthrough.  The resultant album, ‘Bigger Than Both Of Us’ (produced by Chris Bond) hit the shelves in September ‘76, and was to prove bigger in more than just title.  The first single was the languidly smouldering ‘Do What You Want, Be What You Are’, which dipped its toes into the US top 40 (#39) late in the year.  But it was to be the follow up single that would elevate the names of Hall and Oates to the spotlight on charts across the world.  ‘Rich Girl’ debuted on the U.S. Hot 100 during January of ‘77, and took just nine weeks to reach the top of the charts during March of that same year (replacing Barbra Streisand), earning the duo their first chart topper (2 weeks at #1 in total/OZ#6).  Written by Daryl Hall, the hook laden ‘Rich Girl’ packed a powerful pop/soul punch into its run time of just under 2 ½ minutes, in the process making Hall & Oates a lot richer.  On the back of ‘Rich Girl’, and the follow up single, the gritty, soul infused
‘Back Together Again’ (US#28/OZ#65), the album ‘Bigger Than Both Of Us’ scored a platinum accreditation (US#13/OZ#23 /UK#25).  The album’s slicker, more pop oriented sheen added an appealing layer to the duo’s solid R&B/soul base.  ‘Bigger Than Both Of Us’ also featured, in my humble opinion, the most beguiling of the duo’s album cover art.

The duo’s next album appeared in chart traffic during October of ‘77.  ‘Beauty On A Backstreet’ (US#30/OZ#60 /UK#40) presented the Hall & Oates model with a slightly grittier, rock edged finish.  The album didn’t yield any hit singles but did possess in its grooves one or two minor gems.  ‘Bigger Than Both Of Us’ was a lushly layered, soul styled song which should have been a hit single (and ideally should have been included on the duo’s last album of the same name).  The doo-wop shaded
‘Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts’, was co-written by Hall, Sara Allen, Tony Powers, Phil Spector, and Ellie Greenwich - not a bad collective pedigree in that collaboration.

Having toured tirelessly in recent years, Hall & Oats finally released a live set ‘Livetime’ (US#42/OZ#76) in mid’78 to little fanfare.  Despite having toured with a team of highly regarding session players as their backing band, reviews indicated that there were some limitations in recreating the polished studio sound in a live setting.

A few months later, Hall & Oates re-emerged from studio seclusion with their seventh studio album in as many years.  ‘Along The Red Edge’ (US#27/OZ#69) continued the duo’s rock edged approach, but with finely crafted, soul infused melodies promoted to more front and centre.  The lead out single, ‘It’s A Laugh’ (US#20) could have fitted comfortably in the E.L.O. songbook, with it’s melodic,
layered harmonies enticing the listener from the album’s opening track.  The follow up single, ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose You’ (US#42), was an effervescent, soul styled number, reminding listeners of Hall & Oates’ firm allegiance with the rich Philly soul sound.

The next album, ‘X-Static’ (US#33/OZ#74), found Hall & Oats caught in the same disco vortex as just about every other act during 1979.  Despite experimenting with disco rhythms, the album (released late in ‘79) did retain some soul/ pop/rock integrity, as evidenced on the mid tempo first single ‘Wait For Me’ (US#18/OZ#81).  The follow up single, ‘Running From Paradise’ (UK#41), ventured into new wave synth-pop punctuated by strident fills of electric guitar, perhaps explaining Hall & Oates’ rare foray (to that time) into British chart territory.  Another track highlight was the blend of genres contained within the five minutes of ‘Portable Radio’, somewhat of an experimental effort.

As the 70s drew to a close, Hall & Oates had experienced a mild dip in commercial fortunes, but all the while the duo were refining their stylistic formula.  And soon that evolution would pay huge dividends.

During the first half of 1980, Daryl Hall and John Oates parted ways, albeit briefly, to focus on solo
projects.  Hall released the solo album ‘Sacred Songs’, produced by Robert Fripp (King Crimson), recorded earlier but held back from release by RCA.  Stylistically, the album was a prelude to the duo’s next studio album.  Meanwhile, John Oates wrote the soundtrack to the film ‘Outlaw Blues’.

By mid 1980, Hall & Oates were back together in the studio (to be precise, Studio C at New York’s Electric Lady Studios), this time acting as producers and artists, working on the first of what would be a trilogy of albums that would redefine their career, and one that would create a relentless momentum toward the top of the pop charts.  The lead out single, ‘How Does It Feel To Be Back’ (US#30/OZ#48), was also the album’s opening track, and hit the charts in August of ‘80.  The power-pop styled track was penned by John Oates, and if there were an answer to the title’s question,, the answer would soon prove to be very good indeed.

The follow up singled was a cover of the Righteous Brothers classic, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’.  With lead vocals from John Oates, the track parked itself just outside the U.S. top ten late in 1980 (UK#12/UK#55 - I’m not certain if the single was released in Australia, but it didn’t chart here).

Aside from self producing this album, Hall & Oates opted to replace session players with recording with their own road band, a move that immediately improved on the overall synergy and energy in studio.  The

cohesiveness that had been honed on the road was now flowing through the recording process.  It was the third single lifted from the ‘Voices’ album which would best illustrate the duos arrival at a winning formula.  ‘Kiss On My List’ debuted on the US Hot 100 at #69 during February of ‘81, and eleven weeks later this perfect slice of pop/rock heaven puckered up and planted one at the top of the charts (OZ#13/UK#33).  The song had replaced Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ at #1, spent 3 weeks at the pinnacle of the charts, and in turn was usurped by Sheen Easton’s ‘Morning Train’ arriving at platform 1.  The genesis for ‘Kiss On My List’ had its origins in a collaboration between Daryl Hall and Janna Allen, younger sister of Sara (Hall’s once girlfriend, and also a regular song writing partner in ensuing years).  The pair knocked out the tune over a borrowed Wurlitzer keyboard.  Though bright and breezy in nature, and featuring the romantic word ‘kiss’ in the title, ‘Kiss On My List’, according to Hall & Oates, wasn’t a love song, but if anything decried the notion of romance, inferring that a kiss is just another thing people add to ‘the best things in life’.

The fourth and final single lifted (in May of ’81) was the irresistibly catchy, funk tinged ‘You Make My
Dreams’.  Co-written by Hall, Oates, and regular collaborator Sara Allen, ‘You Make My Dreams’ enjoyed a dream run to the US. Top 5 (OZ#40).

The aforementioned tracks were all lifted from the album ‘Voices’ (released 9/80), a set which announced to the world loud and clear that Hall & Oates were on the verge of being pop/rock royalty.  The album revealed to mainstream record buyers a sleek, polished culmination crafted over a decade long evolution to yield the perfect fusion of pop/rock/soul and R&B, with a hint of ‘new wave’ added to the recipe.   ‘Voices’ (US#17/OZ#19 - platinum accredited) sat perfectly between the dominant
new wave style of the era, and the duo’s roots in melodic, hook laden musical alchemy.  Non singles highlights included the original version of ‘Ever Time You Go Away’ (later a hit for Paul Young - see previous posts),  and the power-pop synthesis of ‘Big Kids’.

By the early 80s, a decade long, unbroken chain of finely crafted albums had firmly established Hall & Oates as the premier purveyors of ‘blue eyed soul’ in the land, and the best was still to come.

No comments: