Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serious Music: Hall & Oates '72-'79

Hall & Oates in the '70's
When Daryl Hohl (later Hall) and John Oates, two Temple University kids, met at the Adelphi Ballroom in 1967, the partnership they struck became legend. Christened “the most successful recording duo in American music” by Billboard, Hall & Oates have become a staple of popular music and culture. 

Before “You Make My Dreams” and “Maneater” however, there was “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl.” The latter two songs were from Hall & Oates ‘70’s stretch. Forty years ago, Hall & Oates were adventurous enough to criss cross their love of classic R&B with pop, folk, rock, and every other genre imaginable. The result of Hall & Oates first decade of work was a string of youthful records that defied the rules. Not always full of “hits” like their self-produced output from 1980 through 1988, their ‘70’s material had them learning and trying new things. 

In Hall’s own words, he summed up their first decade of recording,

I went back and listened to our ‘70’s music and I’m hearing us as these guys who came out of Philadelphia, were influenced by people around them there, like (Kenneth) Gamble and (Leon) Huff. And then we went to New York, where we came under the tutelage of Arif Mardin and all those musicians. Then we took the Philly thing to California where we mixed and matched those sensibilities.

On the 40th anniversary of Hall & Oates first recorded release, The QH Blend looks back to the decade where two men took their brand of blue-eyed soul and pop on a decade long road trip that shaped their career, and others, for years to come.

Whole Oats (Atlantic, 1972)
Proudcer: Arif Mardin
Synopsis:  A well-paced set of quiet, reflective pop tempered by R&B and folk dominated Whole Oats. Both Daryl and John had pleasant pipes, Daryl possessed an immediate commercial charm whereas John’s voice held an odd, inescapable quality. “Fall in Philadelphia” and “I’m Sorry” were handsome blue-eyed jewels that sparkled. The pensive “Lilly (Are You Happy)” and comforting “Goodnight and Goodmorning” proved the Hall & Oates pen was sensitive, smart, and accessible.

Abandoned Luncheonette (Atlantic, 1973)
Producer: Arif Mardin
Synopsis: A dreamier album manifested on Abandoned Luncheonette. Dual sun rising classics shone on “When the Morning Comes” and “Had I Known You Better Then.” Groovier undercurrents steered “Las Vegas Turnaround” and “She’s Gone.” The latter saw covers by Tavares, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Lou Rawls from its release here onward. The Philly color was making itself known here, though a rounded trio of aural pop cinema in “Lady Rain,” “Laughing Boy,” and “Everytime I Look At You” closed the record on an empirical note.

War Babies (Atlantic, 1974)
Producer: Todd Rundgren
Synopsis: On Hall & Oates first charting album (U.S. #86), a dramatic shift occurred. A rockier affair than their last two hushed efforts, War Babies made guitar and drums the core of its sound on the aptly titled “I’m Watching You (A Mutant Romance).” Shout-outs to the downright ephemeral post-psychedelic R&B of “Can’t Stop the Music (He Played It Much Too Long)” and “You’re Much Too Soon” that softened the cynical crunch ‘n’ munch of War Babies harder numbers.

Daryl Hall John Oates (The Silver Album) (RCA, 1975)
Producer: Christopher Bond
Synopsis: New label, new look, (sort of) new sound. Referred to commonly as “The Silver Album,” it was the long player that landed Hall & Oates one of their first hits (“Sara Smile”) and struck a balance between the rock 'n' roll of War Babies and the calmness of their first two efforts. Hall & Oates were wearing their soul influences proudly (“Alone Too Long”) and alternated between confessionals (“Out of Me, Out of You”) and comedy (“Gino The Manager”). Consistent and fulfilling, Hall & Oates had made one of their first declarative statements.

Bigger Than Both of Us (RCA, 1976)
Producer: Christopher Bond
Synopsis: Delivering another hit with “Rich Girl,” Bigger Than Both of Us had the boys in full control of their skills. A “Mach 2” variation of Daryl Hall John Oates, the white street soul of “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” and “Back Together Again” played well against the radio friendliness of “London, Luck, & Love.” Closing on the high drama of “Falling,” it pointed to the next direction of the Hall & Oates journey.

Beauty on a Back Street (RCA, 1977)
Producer: Christopher Bond
Synopsis: The last of the Bond trio, Back Street lived up to its ominous title by returning to the harshness of War Babies, but with the slick soul harmonies of Bigger Than Both of Us. In fact, the title track to Hall & Oates last LP appeared here and is the only song that offered a respite to the rough, experimental edges (“Bad Habits and Infections,” “Winged Bull”). An interesting fusion of doo-wop and bar rock claimed a revival vibe on “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Hearts?” and made Back Street a curiosity worth discovering.

Along the Red Ledge (RCA, 1978)
Producer: David Foster
Synopsis:  Not as heavy as the record that preceded it, Along the Red Ledge made its case as a straight ahead pop record. Plays in T-Bird rock (“Pleasure Beach”) and posh Philly treats (“Have I Been Away Too Long”) rode alongside the beautiful balladry of “It’s a Laugh” and the remarkable cool of “Serious Music.” With its smart interpolation of George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue,” “Serious Music” had Hall & Oates still trying on sounds but working toward an overall identity.

X-Static (RCA, 1979)
Producer: David Foster
Synopsis:  Who’s afraid of the big bad disco/punk wolf? Not Hall & Oates. After spending the decade working as pop pioneers of the musical outback, Hall & Oates tackled the scenes of popular music with their Philly soul as the primer. Whether giving that classic ballad (“Wait For Me”) or fussing with dance (“Running From Paradise”), Hall & Oates located their formula. See “Portable Radio” for even more fun details.

 [Editor's Note: All of the records here are in print physically & digitally, with an exception to Whole Oats. Whole Oats can be located for an affordable price used. See Hall & Oates Official for tour events & updates.-QH]