Daryl Hall & John Oates: “We had a lethal capacity to experiment”

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Daryl Hall & John Oates: “We had a lethal capacity to experiment”


isI spent half an hour in my interview with John Oates when he insists I need to watch YouTube urgently. “Haven’t you ever seen that?” He said incredulously over the phone from his home in Nashville. “My friend, I don’t know you very well, but you are missing a great moment in the history of music. Your life will change. Your perceptions of us will never be the same again.

This is the 1973 video Daryl Hall and John Oates made for She’s Gone, the flagship track on their album Abandoned Luncheonette, and a staple in their concerts to this day. It is certainly a striking sight. The duo are slumped, poker faces, in armchairs (“These are the furniture in our apartment,” Oates notes). Daryl Hall looks resplendent in a pair of platform sandals; Oates wears a bow tie and sleeveless shirt. A woman walks past the camera – that’s, Oates informs me, songwriter Sara Allen, former Hall partner and co-writer of a Hall & Oates hit series – followed by a man with a mustache wearing a glittering devil costume. The latter helps Oates don a penguin costume tuxedo with a huge pair of fins attached to his arms, in which he casually mimics a guitar solo. The three of them walk around the armchairs together, then walk away.

Perhaps it’s understandable that the local TV show they recorded the video for refused to show it (“They called our record company and said, ‘Who do these guys think they are? are? They’re laughing at us! They’ll never appear on TV again! ‘”), but it is understandable why Oates chose to exhume him. On the one hand, this underscores the sheer strangeness of Hall & Oates in the 1970s, and later. And for another, as Oates suggests, it helps explain why the duo sailed so well into the ’80s. Many of their’ 70s peers struggled in the new world of music videos and synths, but Hall & Oates did. thrived: If you had been filmed walking around a set of armchairs carrying fins, you were ready for MTV.

The MTV years were the commercial peak of Hall & Oates’ career. In the ’80s, they had five consecutive platinum albums and five US No 1 singles, a relentless succession of the kind of waterproof hits that continue to rack up millions of streams and ensure the duo still perform in arenas: Maneater, Out of Touch, I Can’t Go (No Power), Private Eyes.

As if to prove their popularity, they are reissuing the 7 inch from their 1981 single You Make My Dreams for Record Store Day this weekend. It wasn’t even released as a single in the UK at the time, but developed an afterlife through its use in the 2009 film (500) Days of Summer: 12 Years Later It’s by far their biggest piece. It was played after Joe Biden’s victory speech last November, a month after recording his billionth worldwide stream, a situation that seems to baffle the duo.

Hall, the singer, who is on the phone at his home in New York state, suggests that the song’s success has something to do with its “aggressive positivity,” but admits, “I’m not really sure it is. ‘is the truth. Oates, the guitarist, delivers a long and eloquent speech about the cross-generational appeal of classic rock, then shrugs, “It’s just a fucking awesome groove and a simple, straightforward statement. I could have cut out all the bullshit I just said and said that.

They met while they were both fleeing a brawl that broke out in a Philadelphia dance hall in 1967. Oates was a folk, passionate about country and blues. Hall had made a remarkable musical apprenticeship on the “very intense, very racially integrated” soul scene in Philadelphia. As a teenager, he was friends with the soft soul groups the Delfonics and the Stylistics; to the city’s response to the Harlem Apollo, the Uptown Theater, he hung out with the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. When his own band, the Temptones, won a local talent competition, the prize was to record a single with producers Gamble and Huff, which would soon change the face of pop with symphonic soul and disco on their label. Philadelphia International.

Ken Gamble tried to lure Hall to the new label as an artist and writer, but he chose to move to New York with Oates. “We were trying to forge our own version of the Philly sound and we thought the only way to do that was to separate ourselves from Gamble and Huff – they were doing what they were doing, and we wanted to do something different. “

They released their first album in 1972, but, from the outside at least, the next eight years of their careers looked like fascinating chaos. They had huge successes – the aforementioned She’s Gone, Sara Smile, and Rich Girl – but they also had what Hall calls “a lethal ability to experiment.” One minute they sounded like a pop-soul group; next, they released War Babies, produced by Todd Rundgren and supported by his prog band Utopia, which houses songs with titles such as Johnny Gore and the “C” Eaters, and War Baby Son of Zorro. One minute they were on a black R&B radio, the next they were on tour with Lou Reed in Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal mode (“weird cat, man … his audience was even weirder, like … junkies-wannabes “).

They looked like regular ’70s singer-songwriters, but were absolutely in make-up on the cover of their 1975 album, Daryl Hall & John Oates. ” It was [makeup artist] Pierre La Roche, ”says Oates. “He was responsible for Bowie’s look, he worked with Jagger. I remember sitting with him at dinner; he was a very flamboyant character and he said: “I will immortalize you!” It’s the only album cover we’re asked about, so I guess he was right. In 1977, Hall released Sacred Songs, a solo album inspired by Aleister Crowley, with Robert Fripp, which horrified their RCA label so much that he refused to release it for three years.

At least part of the problem was that despite all of their roots in Philadelphia and recording sessions in LA, they spent their free time hanging out on the music scene of downtown New York in the ’70s. Dolls, Patti Smith, Television – it was all going, ”Oates says. “I was out every night, going to the Mercer Arts Center and Max’s Kansas City… we couldn’t avoid the influence. We wanted to stay true to who we were, but we didn’t want to ignore the trend of what was going on in our lives. And that’s what we tried to do.

Hall and Oates in November 1981. Photographie : Paul Natkin/Wire Image

Both agree that they really hit the ground running when they were allowed to perform and record with their live band: The result was Voices from the 1980s, out of which You Make My Dreams and American number 1 Kiss on My List. By the late 1970s Hall had been one of the few straight white artists to publicly denounce the Disco Sucks movement (“Because I was riding the line, because of my background, I knew it for what it was: a racist thing, totally racist ”). On Voices, he and Oates created a pop style of equal parts soul and new wave rock, a fairly cheeky move in pre-Thriller America of 1980, where genres were heavily divided. Granted, Michael Jackson was interested in it, later telling Oates that he loved dancing to I Can’t Go for That, and that his bassline inspired Billie Jean.

“One of the things I don’t think we have all the credit for is opening the mind of commercial radio to this possibility,” Oates says. “We had our first success with black radio – the African-American community had played an equally important, if not bigger, role in our success. So for us that was normal, it was the music we made, it appealed to a wide variety of people. I think we’ve opened the door to more acceptance of what they defined as crossover music. ” He sighs. “That’s all bullshit, those definitions, but nonetheless. “

Back to their roots… Hall & Oates with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick in 1985. Photographie : Ebet Roberts/Redferns

The couple’s climax may have come in 1985. They were asked to headline the reopening of the Apollo in Harlem, and insisted they would only perform if David Ruffin and the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks shared the stage: Weeks later, Ruffin and Kendricks also shared the Hall & Oates slot at the American stage of Live Aid. They began to feel that they had accomplished everything they wanted to accomplish. Hall talks about the Apollo concert “completing the circle… we felt like we had come all the way around”. Oates clearly enjoyed their success in rock star style – he took up racing and began flying the duo to gigs in his own plane – but concedes he found “the act of becoming a lot. more interesting than the victory lap ”.

After the 1990s revealingly titled Change of Season, they’re more or less gone: Hall & Oates have released just four albums in the past 30 years. “We almost felt like, what could be the bright side of the current situation? Oates said. “If we release another record and it doesn’t go to number 1, is it a failure?” We just felt like we needed something else. Personally, I needed to get away from writing, recording, touring to do this. I divorced, sold everything I owned, moved to Colorado, and started my life in the mountains.

He returned to his musical roots, playing country and folk, while collaborating with everyone from the hip-hop duo Handsome Boy Modeling School of Dan the Automator and Prince Paul to The Bird and the Bee, the indie band. by super-producer Greg Kurstin. This is proof, as the audience’s age steadily declined each time Hall & Oates chose to tour together, that the duo’s critical stock had started to increase dramatically in the decades following their ’80s hits. .

Daryl Hall and John Oates in concert in 1985
Daryl Hall and John Oates in concert in 1985. Photographie : LGI Stock/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Hall, meanwhile, worked with funk duo Chromeo and appeared on British dance group Nero’s debut album. / club in New York State. He says he started it, with some odd prescience, after some Hall & Oates shows were canceled following the Sars outbreak in 2003. “I was like, what if this happens? on a larger scale ? Maybe I should find a way, if there is a time when I can’t travel, that I can bring the world to me.

He thinks the wide range of guests involved – soul legends, singer-songwriters, rappers, rock bands – help explain, “maybe for the first time,” hence he and indeed Hall. & Oates were coming. “Not easy to tie down, not easy to categorize,” he says. “I blame myself, really, more than anyone, more than John. Live From Daryl’s House is a way for me to explain this musical language, where I can have all these completely different musical styles and swim in any of those waters. And that kind of explained to me. Before that, I absolutely think people were confused.

Daryl Hall and John Oates single, You Make My Dreams, is released by CMG on June 12 as part of Record Store Day.

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