Hall & Oates (Contemporary Musicians)
Universially hailed as "exponents of blue-eyed soul," Daryl Hall and John Oates began performing as a duo in the late 1960s, but first gained widespread attention with their self-titled 1975 RCA debut album. Many albums and hits followed; but in recent years Hall has been adamant about shedding that moniker, calling it "archaic" and "racist." No matter what label is applied, the rock duo remains the most successful pairing in rock history.
Both halves of the duo loved music from their early years. Hall, born in or near Philadelphia on October 11, 1948, was the son of two classically trained musicians. Though they gave him voice and piano lessons in the hope that he too would follow the classical path, Hall was enchanted by the sounds of rock and roll. By the time Hall was in junior high, he was catching rides to Philadelphia to become involved in the city's vibrant rhythm and blues scene. He hung out on corners with black vocal groups who were impressed enough by his devotion to let him sing with them. Unwilling to disappoint his parents, he continued his classical music education. Hall began to experience success in both genres simultaneously: He would purportedly sing with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the afternoon and at night sing backup for performers like Motown great Smokey Robinson in small city clubs.
John Oates, on the other hand, was born on April 7, 1949, in New York, New York, to parents who liked rock and roll and encouraged his interest in it. His mother even took him to concerts by pioneering rock artists such as Bill Haley and the Comets. Oates started guitar lessons when he was eight years old and eventually perfected a routine in which he imitated Elvis Presley. Like Hall, after Oates's family moved to the Philadelphia area, he often went to the city as a teenager to see soul acts like Sam and Dave or Gary U.S. Bonds. Oates also spent a lot of time dancing at local record hops, in addition to practicing with various bands he formed with his friends. He too eventually became a studio backup singer and musician.
Hall and Oates met in 1967, around the time both attended Temple University. They quickly became friends because of their shared interest in soul and rhythm and blues. Oates also began playing occasional sessions with Hall's rock band, Gulliver. By 1969 they had left Gulliver to perform as a pair. At that time both Hall and Oates were also interested in folk music; their first album on Atlantic, Whole Oates, released in 1972, had a predominantly folk sound. Though this effort was generally ignored by critics and fans alike, the two musicians were undaunted. Their next release, Abandoned Luncheonette, had more of the "blue-eyed soul" feel that ultimately became their trademark; it fared better, garnering good reviews and scoring a minor hit with "She's Gone."
Ever experimental, Hall & Oates's third release, War Babies, which was produced by Todd Rundgren, had a harsher, more metallic rock tone, which largely alienated their burgeoning audience. Recalling concert performances of the same period, Hall told Michael Ryan in People: "We played a few gigs where people actually threw things at us." The duo returned to a mellow, soul sound for their RCA debut, Daryl Hall and John Oates. The album's single, "Sara, Smile," raced up the charts in Europe as well as the United States and Hall & Oates launched a successful world tour. Based on this popularity, interest was generated in their previous efforts, especially Abandoned Luncheonette. "She's Gone" belatedly became a much bigger hit. Hall & Oates kept their new found popularity going with the 1976 release of Bigger Than Both of Us, scoring another smash with the catchy single, "Rich Girl."
Their next three albums, however, did not fare as well. Along the Red Ledge was more rock-oriented than their previous successes, while X-Static was influenced by disco. But with the 1980 release of Voices, Hall & Oates were back on track and collected a series of platinum albums. Voices included a hit remake of the Righteous Brothers's classic "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," along with the chart-climbing "Kiss on My List." The following year Private Eyes fared just as well, scoring hits with the upbeat title cut and "I Can't Go For That." Next came H20, which featured "Did It in a Minute," "Maneater," the slow ballad "One on One," and "Family Man." Not content when they released the greatest hits collection, Rock 'n' Soul Part One, Hall & Oates included new hits on the album as wellSay It Isn't So," and "Adult Education." In the late 1980s, the duo bested the record for number one hits set by the Everly Brothers, making them the most successful rock duo ever.
Despite their success, after 1984's Big Bam Boom, which yielded the hits "Out of Touch" and "Method of Modern Love," and the popular Live at the Apollo, the long-time team split to pursue individual projects. Oates helped produce albums for other musical groups, while Hall recorded his second solo effort, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine. Hearts, like Hall's previous solo album, Sacred Songs, drew respectful remarks from critics, but Hall & Oates fans were disappointed; neither disc sold well.
Nonetheless, as Hall predicted in a 1986 interview with Steve Dougherty in People, the duo did re-team to record again and again. In 1988 they released Ooh Yeah! on Arista and had the satisfaction of watching two singles, "Everything Your Heart Desires" and "Missed Opportunity," become popular with Top Forty audiences. Not only fans, but critics too welcomed Hall & Oates's reunion effort; Hank Bordowitz in High Fidelity, for instance, proclaimed gleefully that "Ooh Yeah! attacks the brain and breeds there, causing you to hum incessantly." Hall & Oates's follow-up album, 1990's Change of Season also produced a hit with "So Close," co-produced by Jon Bon Jovi and Danny Kortchmar.
By 1991, they decided to stop touring together to focus on solo projects. Hall decamped to England, Oates to Colorado. Hall eventually released Soul Alone. But a 1997 interview in Billboard, found Hall repeating his predictions from the post Big Bam Boom hiatus. The duo did re-team to record again and again. This time, they had "made it an open-ended sort of separation."
Despite the number of times either member has attempted to go it alone, the reception has not been anything approaching that of their combined efforts. As Billboard 's Melinda Newman observed in a March 30, 1991 concert review, it is "obvious why the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Together, they offer a textbook case of near-perfect pop songwriting and delivery; alone, their weaknesses are glaringly apparent."
In 1997, the duo released Marigold Sky, their first album since 1990, to fairly tepid praise. "Marigold Sky finds them relaxing into maturity, recording a collection of appealingly smooth, well-crafted soul-pop," stated Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in a review of the album on the All Music Guide website. The project generated a single hit, "Promise Ain't Enough," that snuck onto the adult contemporary music charts. Hall said audiences seemed to accept the new material as part of their live performance setlist. Entertainment Weekly was not as kind, calling it "over-echoed and old" and "competent, professional dross." Erlewine agreed that there was indeed nothing "unforgettably catchy" on the album, "but it's a well-made album ... illustrating that even if Hall & Oates are past their peak, they nevertheless are capable of making engaging music." In a later review of another Hall and Oates release, he said "it wasn't the right album for a comeback."
It would be another six years until their next release. During that period, the pair signed a deal with Columbia Records and began working on a new studio album between touring obligations. They also continued working on solo projects. Oates relased his first solo album Phunk Shui in 2002. In 2003, he announced he was re-releasing it with three new tracks on his own PS Records label. Critics seemed to regard it as a curiosity more than anything.
Do It for Love was on shelves in February of 2003. Part of the success of this release was attributed to nostalgia, fueled by a Hall & Oates episode of the VH1 program, Behind the Music. Erlewine called it "their best album in 20 years," adding that it "hearkens [sic] back to the sensibility of both Abandoned Luncheonette and 1975's eponymous debut for RCA. ... [N]othing here will erase memories of their biggest hits, yet nearly all of these 14 songs hold their own against many of the album tracks and lesser-known hits from their golden period while also having a unified sense of sound and purpose, adding up to a thoroughly satisfying record, the kind that will please the faithful while winning back those listeners who haven't really listened to the duo since the '80s. A really fine, surprising comeback effort."
With Ruben Blades and Nile Rodgers, Hall & Oates were named recipients of the 2003 NARAS Heroes Awards. The award is given to those deemed "outstanding individuals whose creative talents and accomplishments cross all musical boundaries and who are integral to the vitality of the music community," according to the Associated Press.
Whole Oates, Atlantic, 1972.
Abandoned Luncheonette, Atlantic, 1973.
War Babies, Atlantic, 1974.
Daryl Hall and John Oates, RCA, 1975.
Bigger Than Both of Us, RCA, 1976.
Beauty on a Back Street, RCA, 1977.
Livetime, RCA, 1978.
Along the Red Ledge, RCA, 1978.
X-Static, RCA, 1979; remastered re-release, Buddha, 2001.
Voices, RCA, 1980.
Private Eyes, RCA, 1981.
H2O, RCA, 1982.
Rock 'n' Soul Part One, RCA, 1983.
Big Bam Boom, RCA, 1984.
Live at the Apollo, RCA, 1985.
Ooh Yeah!, Arista, 1988.
Change of Season, Arista, 1990.
Marigold Sky, Push, 1997.
Ecstasy on the Edge, Fruit Tree, 2001.
VH1 Behind The Music: The Daryl Hall & John Oates Collection, BMG Heritage, 2002.
Do It for Love, Image, 2003.
The Essential Collection, BMG (UK), 2003.
Associated Press, August 22, 2002.
Billboard, March 30, 1991; August 30, 1997; April 4, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, October 3, 1997.
High Fidelity, July 1988; November 1988.
Mademoiselle, September 1981.
Newsweek, February 20, 1984.
People, May 25, 1981; April 15, 1985; December 15, 1986.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), September 9, 1993.
Rolling Stone, March 22, 1979; January 17, 1985; May 5, 1988.
Stereo Review, April 1978; September 1988.
Times Union (Albany, NY), February 27, 2003.
Virginia Pilot, July 10, 2003.
"Hall & Oates," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 23, 2004).
"Hall and Oates Deemed 'Heroes' in Music," San Jose Mercury News, http://www.mercurynews.com (January 23, 2004).
lizabeth Wenning and Linda Dailey Paulson