40 Years On: Hall and Oates

They met forty-three years ago in a Philly club and they’re still making music together today. Arguably the biggest musical act in the world for a few years, they didn’t have to resort to giving themselves a pompous nickname; they let the charts do the talking. And while they might be flying a little lower and slower these days, Daryl Hall and John Oates have a hell of a legacy.

I’m not the typical Hall and Oates fan. While there was no denying their bouncy dance-pop hits of the early 80’s, I have a fondness for the more organic songs they started out with, like “Sara Smile”, “She’s Gone” and “When The Morning Comes”. I also have a soft spot for some of the more rocking songs that didn’t make big waves; “You Must Be Good For Something” and “Don’t Blame It On Love” being two of my favorites.

Some mistakenly see them as lightweights who got lucky by hitting their stride just as MTV was getting started (in fairness it did seem like their videos aired hourly. But their origins were Philly soul (well documented in the box set) and they ran the table from folk to rock to dance pop with equal success. When they were at the apex of their fame, they cut a great live album with Temptations David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks at the Apollo Theatre, where years before Hall occasionally worked as a backstage gofer.

They attracted excellent studio musicians, especially hot guitarists like Robert Fripp, Todd Rundgren and Rick Nielsen to pinch-hit on the sessions ; the list of their sidemen is a rock’n’roll All Star team. But the music really came alive thanks to a rock-solid touring band featuring future SNL bandleader G.E. Smith on guitar. (For those unfamiliar with Smith I highly recommend finding a copy of his first solo album In The World, a vastly underrated guitar pop/rock gem unlike anything else he has recorded.)

But on to the box set…

While not strictly chronological, the four CDs in this set do loosely follow Hall and Oates’s career path from a studio album perspective. Each CD finishes up with live recordings whose material matches up to the era, even if the date of the recording does not. It’s an interesting choice, perhaps to encourage the listener to take the journey rather than centering on the “live disc” or the one with most of the big hits. It’s also interesting to see how their organic sound formed and then was heavily influenced by producers Arif Mardin and David Foster before the duo felt comfortable enough to take the reins themselves.

Their studio and touring bands were always peppered with first-rate players, and early confidante Tommy Mottola (aka “Gino the Manager”, later the president of CBS and Sony) brilliantly moved them from a solid but struggling pop band to arguably the most popular recording artist of their time. Unlike some who sat back and took success for granted, Hall and Oates were savvy enough to learn how to thrive and survive in a fickle industry.

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters

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1 Comment

Filed under Music, Reviews

One response to “40 Years On: Hall and Oates

  1. I’ve always liked these guys. Maybe it’s ear candy, but it’s extremely well-crafted and soulful ear candy.

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