Sunday, June 20

Daryl Hall and John Oates: ‘We had a deadly capacity to experiment’ | Pop and rock

II have been half an hour into my interview with John Oates when he insists that I need to watch YouTube with extreme urgency. “Have you never seen this?” he says, incredulous, 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 & John Oates made for She’s Gone, the featured track from his album Abandoned Luncheonette, and a staple of his live sets to this day. It is certainly an amazing visualization. The couple are slumped, poker-faced, in armchairs (“That’s the furniture in our apartment,” says Oates). Daryl Hall is resplendent in a pair of platform sandals; Oates wears a bow tie and sleeveless dress shirt. A woman walks in front of the camera, this one, Oates informs me, is composer Sara Allen, Hall’s ex-partner and co-author of a series of Hall & Oates hits, followed by a man with a mustache in a glittery devil costume. . The latter helps Oates don a penguin suit tuxedo with a huge pair of fins attached to the arms, in which he nonchalantly mimics a guitar solo. The three of them march around the couches together and then leave.

Perhaps understandably, the local TV show they shot the video for refused to show it (“They called our record company and said, ‘Who do these guys think they are? They’re making fun of us! They’ll never show up again. on TV! ‘”), but you can see why Oates chose to exhume him. On the one hand, it points to the sheer rarity of Hall & Oates in the 1970s, which we’ll talk about later. And on the other, as Oates suggests, it helps explain why the duo so successfully navigated the ’80s. Many of their’ 70s peers struggled in the new world of music videos and synthesizers, but Hall & Oates thrived: yes They would have filmed you marching around a set of wing chairs, you were ready for MTV.

The MTV years were the commercial peak of Hall & Oates’ career. In the ’80s, they had five straight platinum albums and five number-one singles in the US, a relentless succession of the sorts of waterproof hits that continue to rack up millions of streams and ensure the duo keep playing arenas: Maneater, Out of Touch , I can’t go for it (I can’t do it), private detectors.

As if to prove the point about their continued great popularity, this weekend they are reissuing the 7-inch from their 1981 single You Make My Dreams for Record Store Day. It wasn’t even released as a single in the UK at the time, but it did develop a life after death due to its use in the 2009 film (500) Days of Summer – 12 years later, it’s by far their longest track. important. It was played after Joe Biden’s victory speech last November, a month after it hit its billionth worldwide broadcast, a situation that seems to baffle the duo.

Hall, primarily the singer, who is on the phone at his home in upstate New York, suggests that the song’s success has something to do with its “aggressive positivity,” but admits, “I’m not really sure, that’s it. the truth”. Oates, primarily the guitarist, delivers a long and eloquent speech on the pan-generational appeal of classic rock, then shrugs: “It’s just a great beat and a simple, direct statement. I could have cut all the nonsense I just said and said. “

They met while the two were fleeing a fight that had broken out in a Philadelphia ballroom in 1967. Oates was a folkie, country and blues fan. Hall had had a remarkable musical apprenticeship in Philadelphia’s “very intense, highly racially integrated” soul scene. As a teenager, he was friends with the soft soul bands the Delfonics and the Stylistics; in the city’s response to the Harlem Apollo, the Uptown Theater teamed up with the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. When his own band, the Temptones, won a local talent show, the prize was to record a single with producers Gamble and Huff, who would soon change the face of pop with symphonic soul and disco on their Philadelphia International label.

Ken Gamble tried to attract Hall to the new label as an artist and writer, but decided to move to New York with Oates. “We were trying to forge our own version of the Philadelphia sound and we thought the only way to do it 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 debut album in 1972, but, at least from the outside, the next eight years of their career seem like a fascinating chaos. They had big hits, the aforementioned She’s Gone, Sara Smile and Rich Girl, but they also had what Hall calls “a deadly ability to experiment.” One minute they sounded like a pop-soul band; next was the release of War Babies, produced by Todd Rundgren and backed by his progressive band Utopia, home to songs with titles like Johnny Gore and the “C” Eaters, and War Baby Son of Zorro. One minute they were on black R&B radio, the next they were on tour with Lou Reed in full Animal Rock ‘n’ Roll mode (“weird cat, man … his audience was even weirder, like … wannabe drug addicts”).

They looked like regular 70s singer-songwriters, but they were absolutely plastered in makeup on the cover of their 1975 album, Daryl Hall & John Oates. “That 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 quirky character and he said, ‘I’ll immortalize you!’ It’s the only album cover anyone ever asks us about, so I guess he was right. “In 1977, Hall made Sacred Songs, an Aleister Crowley-inspired solo album, with Robert Fripp, that it so horrified his record label , RCA, which refused to release it for three years.

At least part of the problem was that, despite their roots in Philadelphia and their recording sessions in Los Angeles, they spent their free time in the ’70s music scene in downtown New York. “The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Television, it was all happening,” says Oates. “He went out every night, he went to the Mercer Arts Center and Max’s Kansas City… we couldn’t help the influence of that. We wanted to stay true to who we were, but we didn’t want to ignore the spirit of the age of what was happening in our lives. And that’s what we try to do. “

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

They both agree that they really got into the trap when they were allowed to produce themselves and record with their band live – the result was 1980’s Voices, from which You Make My Dreams and America’s No. 1 Kiss on came. My List. In the late 1970s, Hall had been one of the few straight white artists to publicly denounce the Disco Sucks movement (“Because I was straddling the line, because of my background, I knew it for what it was: a racist thing , totally racist. ”) At Voices, he and Oates coined a pop style that was equal parts soul and new wave rock, a rather daring movement in pre-1980s Thriller America, where genres were sharply divided. Certainly, Michael Jackson became interested and later told Oates that he loved to dance to I Can’t Go for That, and that his bass line inspired Billie Jean.

“One of the things I don’t think we get all the credit for is opening the minds of commercial radio to that possibility,” says Oates. “We had our initial success with black radio: the African-American community had been as much a part, if not a bigger part, of our success as anything else. So for us it was normal, that was the music we made, it attracted a wide variety of people. I think we opened the door to a greater acceptance of what they defined as crossover music. “He sighs.” It’s all bullshit, those definitions, but anyway. “

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

The pair’s zenith may have come in 1985. They were asked to headline the Apollo’s reopening in Harlem, insisting that they would only perform if David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations shared the stage: a few weeks later, Ruffin and Kendricks did too. shared the Hall & Oates booth on the US stage of Live Aid. They began to feel that they had achieved everything they wanted to achieve. Hall talks about the Apollo concert “coming full circle … we felt like we had come full circle.” Oates clearly enjoyed his success in the time-honored rock star style – he got started in motorsports and began taking the duo to concerts on his own plane – but acknowledges that he found “the act of becoming much more interesting than the victory lap ”.

After 1990, forcefully titled Change of Season, they more or less moved away: Hall & Oates has released just four albums in the last 30 years. “We almost feel like, what could be the advantage of where we are now?” says Oates. “If we release another album and it doesn’t reach number 1, is it a failure? We just felt that we needed something more. Personally, I needed to get away from writing, recording, touring in order to do that. I got 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 Dan the Automator and Prince Paul’s hip-hop duo Handsome Boy Modeling School to The bird and the bee, indie band from super producer Greg Kurstin. It’s proof, like the ever-declining age of audiences each time Hall & Oates chose to tour together, that the duo’s critical actions had begun to increase dramatically in the decades since their ’80s hits.

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

Hall, meanwhile, worked with the funk duo Chromeo and appeared on Nero’s debut album, which topped the UK charts, and began Live from Daryl’s house, a YouTube series with a wildly eclectic roster of guest artists that has proven to be an immense success and has created a restaurant / club in upstate New York. He says he started it, with a certain strange foreknowledge, after some Hall & Oates shows were canceled as a result of the Sars epidemic in 2003. “I thought: what if this happens on a larger scale? Maybe I should find a way, if there ever comes a point where I can’t travel, that I can bring the world to me. “

He thinks the wide variety of guests involved (soul legends, singer-songwriters, rappers, rock bands) helps explain, “perhaps for the first time,” where he and, indeed, Hall & Oates came from. “It is not easy to link, it is not easy to categorize,” he says. “I blame myself, actually, more than anyone else, more than John. Live From Daryl’s House is a way that I can explain that musical language, where I can have all these completely different musical styles and swim in any of those waters. And that explained to me. Before that, I absolutely think people were confused. “

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