Daryl Hall & John Oates
‘Still Doing It All For Love’
From their first hit in 1974 through their heyday in the '80s, Daryl Hall and John Oates' smooth, catchy take on Philly soul brought them enormous commercial success -- including six number one singles and six platinum albums -- yet little critical success. Hall & Oates' music was remarkably well-constructed and produced; at their best, their songs were filled with strong hooks and melodies that adhered to soul traditions without being a slave to them by incorporating elements of new wave and hard rock.
In 1967, Daryl Hall met John Oates, a fellow Temple University student. The two students realized they had similar tastes and began performing together in an array of R&B and doo wop groups. By 1968, the duo had parted ways, as Oates transferred schools, but he soon returned to Philadelphia in 1969, and began writing folk-oriented songs and performing with Hall. Coming to the attention of Tommy Mottola, who quickly became their manager, he secured the duo a contract with Atlantic Records. On their first records -- Whole Oates (1972), Abandoned Luncheonette (1973), and War Babies (1974) -- the duo were establishing their sound, working with producers like Arif Mardin and Todd Rundgren and removing much of their folk influences. At the beginning of 1974 the duo had only managed one hit -- the number 60 "She's Gone" in the spring of 1974, but after they moved to RCA in 1975, the duo landed on its successful mixture of soul, pop, and rock, scoring a Top Ten single with "Sara Smile." The success of "Sara Smile" prompted the re-release of "She's Gone," which rocketed into the Top Ten as well. Released in the summer of 1976, Bigger than the Both of Us was only moderately successful but took off in early 1977 when "Rich Girl" became the duo's first number one single.
Although they had several minor hits between 1977 and 1980, the albums Hall & Oates released at the end of the decade were not as successful as their mid-'70s records. But in late 1980, when the duo released the self-produced Voices, that the album marked the beginning of Hall & Oates' greatest commercial and artistic success. A cover of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," reached number 12, yet it was the second single, "Kiss on My List" that confirmed their commercial potential by becoming the duo's second number one single. Its follow-up, "You Make My Dreams" hit number five. They quickly released Private Eyes in the summer of 1981. The record featured two number one hits, "Private Eyes" and "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," as well as the Top Ten hit "Did It in a Minute." H20 followed in 1982 selling over two million copies and launching their biggest hit single, "Maneater," as well as the Top Ten hits "One on One" and "Family Man." The following year, the duo released a greatest-hits compilation, Rock 'N Soul, Pt. 1, that featured two new Top Ten hits -- the number two "Say It Isn't So" and "Adult Education."
In April of 1984, the Recording Industry Association of America announced that Hall & Oates had surpassed the Everly Brothers as the most successful duo in rock history, earning a total of 19 gold and platinum awards. Released in October of 1984, Big Bam Boom expanded their number of gold and platinum awards, selling over two million copies and launching four Top 40 singles, including the number one "Out of Touch." Following their contract-fulfilling gold album Live at the Apollo with David Ruffin & Eddie Kendrick, Hall & Oates went on hiatus. After the lukewarm reception for Daryl Hall's 1986 solo album, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, the duo regrouped to release 1988's Ooh Yeah!, their first record for Arista. The first single, "Everything Your Heart Desires," went to number three and helped propel the album to platinum status.
However, none of the album's other singles broke the Top 20, indicating that the era of chart dominance had ended. Change of Season, released in 1990, confirmed that fact. Although the record went gold, it only featured one Top 40 hit -- the number 11 single, "So Close." The duo hadn’t released an album since 1997’s tepidly-acknowledged Marigold Sky, but – the twenty-six (26) remastered reissues aside – in March of 2002 Hall & Oates delved into their own library and brought out the acclaimed VH-1: Behind The Music – The Daryl Hall & John Oates Collection which sports the #1 AC airplay (at the time of press) and #2 on Billboards AC chart single, ”Do It For Love.”
And finally, not only do the duo have such a highly requested song on the radio, but John Oates has taken it upon himself to record a solo album called Phunk Shui. Hall & Oates are on fire right now and so braving the flames of a regenerated success I bravely stepped into John Oates’ dressing room for a quiet one-on-one.
Tell me more about your new solo record, Phunk Shui ”This entire project was really a very spontaneous thought that turned into being in a short period of time. I had two months off. I had most of February and all of March before I had to get back to work with Daryl. In February I started to listen to some old demos and I found two or three songs that really sounded just as contemporary as the stuff that I’d been writing currently. And one of them dated back to ’91 and it was a song called ‘Love In A Dangerous Time.’ It was a very topical song, because it was written originally about Aids. It wasn’t directly eluding to Aids, but that’s what it was about. But the lyric was really indicative of what’s going on in the world today and when I heard that I got very inspired by it and thought that the song sounded just as good now as it did before, and I started looking through some other stuff. I found a few songs and I combined them with the newer songs that I was writing and I made a demo and I listened to it in the car and it really sounded like a record. The only problem was that the demos were all made at different times in different manners. Thematically and from a songwriting point of view they really had a continuity, but from the actual production point of view they were all over the place. So, I started getting excited about the idea of this project so I thought the best way to do this was to get a band and just play the songs. That way we would have musical continuity as well as the thematic continuity that was already there. And I called this friend of mine, Jed Lieber and told him what I wanted to do and he told me to send him the demo and he then said it sounded good and said that we should definitely get into it. I told him that he didn’t understand and that we were cutting it next week. I told him he’s gotta come out to my house, you’re gonna do some charts, you’re gonna look at the arrangements and we’re then gonna cut it with a band. He’s like, ‘Are you sure this is what you wanna do ?’ and I just told him yes ! It then took on a life of its own within literally a week. I’d booked the studio, booked the musicians, we went to New York and we cut thirteen tracks in four days !”
Where did you get the play on words for the title from ? ”During the time we were cutting it, during one of our brief breaks between takes, we were talking about Feng Shui and the album just had this natural life of its own and Jed Lieber was sitting on the couch and said ‘well, if that’s Feng Shui, this is ‘Phunk’ Shui because the album is pretty funky. And we all laughed about it, but as I laughed about it I said to myself that’s the title of the record. It’s all about things just happening and coming together in a very balanced and harmonious way. And even though it really started off as a bit tongue in cheek, it really is very descriptive of what the record’s about, because everything in this project just fell into place and seemed right and there was never any snags. I can be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever done a recording project that had less problems … in fact, there were no problems at all !”
What’s the difference between John Oates now and John Oates 25 years ago ? ”Well, the lack of facial hair would be the superficial answer,” he sarcastically laughs. ”Well, you know I’m a completely different person. I’m 100% different. Yeah, I was a playing rock star through the ‘70s and ‘80s and having fun and doing all that and then I got to the end of that. In a lot of ways. I got to the end of that both professionally and personally and when I did I had a lot of personal problems like a divorce and just not attending to things the way that maybe I should have. You know, kinda living in that suspended animation of rock stardom where you can get away with everything and I finally decided I didn’t want to get away with it any more and I wanted to get into my life in a different way. And I really just restructured my whole life. I moved from the East Coast to Colorado, got remarried, had a son and I decided I was gonna make my family more of my priority than my career and here again, you get back to Feng Shui and balancing; it’s a balancing act. I think I’ve achieved a better balance now in my professional and my personal life and now my professional life is only part of my life as opposed to my entire life.”
Has this new found love for Feng Shui made you more spiritual ? ”Yes, but in terms of I’m not preaching about metaphysical things and about that sorta thing, but definitely more in touch with, I think, the kinda person that I wanna be and the kinda person that I hopefully am deep inside. And I think there’s a lot of those themes on this record; there’s a song about my son (’Little Angel’) and there’s a song called ‘Go Deep’ which is about going deep inside yourself and getting the answers from within. So yes, I’m definitely more in touch with that side of me now.”
Was it hard to lose your infamous moustache ? ”Yes,” he adamantly responds. ’It’s really weird because you would never think that facial hair could actually become so much a part of your personality. It became a thing and eventually it started looking like this weird caterpillar on my face and I don’t know if my face was changing or what it was, but it started looking funny. I think as I distanced myself in my mind, in my soul from the person that I was, into the person that I was becoming, the facial hair became symbolic of this transition. And I don’t wanna make such a big deal out of it, but I’ll never forget that I shaved it for the first time in Japan where we were doing this John Lennon tribute and right after we did the tribute I shaved it off and it looked all funny because it was sweating ! I don’t think my skin had experienced that kinda temperature change, you know,” he laughs. ”So I went to the airport and remember Miles Davis was on the show with us and he was also on the flight with us and when I walked in the room he kinda looked at me like weird and then he made this weird gesture and says, (Right now, John wipes his bare top lip with his index finger and puts on a deep voice) ‘Now the lovin’ gonna be better’ ! But it’s funny, because I kinda like got weak and I grew it back because of a little insecurity and then I shaved it off again ! I remember shaving it off for the last time and thinking that was definitely the end of that.”
Describe yourself in three words ”Short,” he giggles, ”and decreasing powerful.”
You’ve also just recorded a new Hall & Oates album, but do you have a title yet ? ”We don’t have a title yet, but it could be Do It For Love since ‘Do It For Love’ went #1 today,” he smiles broadly and proudly.
Tell me more about how the new album came to be ”A few years ago we signed with Sony and we decided we would try and get back into the big game - so to speak - with Sony, the ‘big machine’ that it is. And they put us together with a production team in England and thought that they would be appropriate for us to work with. So we went to England and did a lot of songwriting and we recorded basically an entire album. Sony didn’t really like it … we didn’t really like it and weren’t happy with it at all, but we were happy with some of the material. So, time went on and we had a mutual release from Sony and we were back kinda on our own and we decided to re-record a lot of the stuff using some of the elements of those English sessions, but not all of them and add a lot of new songs to the thing as well. That all became the new album which we’ve now recorded. We don’t have a record label and it’s kinda ironic that ‘Do It For Love’ was also part of that original recording.”
And you’ve also just released your own ‘Greatest Hits’ album that actually contains that new #1 single ”We put the new song ‘Do It For Love’ on the new greatest hits album (VH-1: Behind The Music: The Daryl Hall & John Oates Collection) really because we thought our fans needed to hear something new. We decided we just needed to put some new stuff on it because we had lots of ‘Greatest Hits’ albums sitting around.”
Yeah, there are a huge amount of ‘Hall & Oates – The Greatest Hits’ albums to be found out there ! ”When you don’t own your Masters, and you’re not in control of your catalogue, a lot of times that will happen … but that’s another story,” he ends, a look of plagued resignation adorning his face. ”So, here we are, no label, a #1 record and an album coming out. It’s a great place to be and encouragement for all the young artists out there that it actually can be done.”
So, what’s the secret behind the ever-continuing Hall & Oates hit machine ? ”Well, maybe because it’s not a ‘machine.’ It’s the exact opposite of a ‘machine.’ We were criticized in the ‘80s when we had our string of hits for being this calculated ‘hit machine.’ Well, trust me, no one is because you can’t do it. It’s just too hard to do. It was just our time. We were on a roll and were creating a sound that got on the radio and where radio was with us. It was one of those things where the juxtaposition of luck and time and sound all come together. The reason that we’ve sustained is that we love what we do and we really don’t think about it as hard as people probably think we do. We just do it ! We try to please ourselves first and over the years I think that we’ve found that the formula for our successes is that if we really like it, that’s usually it. During the ‘90s when grunge was kinda the happening thing, we were totally out of it because being melodic and harmonic it was just not our time. So we kinda fell by the wayside, but even during that time we continued to work, we continued to write and make records, but now if you look at what’s going on in music the younger artists are getting more real. They’re playing real instruments and the sampling and the prepackaged, pre-teen acts are on their way out now and I think there’s a return to realism and that plays into our hands because that’s what we’ve always done. So now, I think the ‘pop swing’ has come back in our favor and I think we’re all now seeing the results of that with our acceptance back on the radio. So, we always try to do what we do and do the best version of Hall & Oates that we can do.”
What stands out to be your own personal fav Hall & Oates album ? ”I would say, Abandoned Luncheonette only because it was really like my solo album in terms of it was one of those moments where everything came together in a very perfect way. Daryl and I were writing good songs and we were surrounded by some of the best studio musicians from New York at the time and so it was just one of those things. That and I’d say the Voices album because Voices was the first album that we produced ourselves. And the Voices album led the way through the ‘80s and contained all the big hits.”
Is there a ‘hit single’ that you would love to never play live ever again ?! ”No, because we have a real good problem ! We have enough hits to not play something. We don’t play ‘Private Eyes,’ but there’s never some that I wouldn’t ever play, but there’s songs we choose not to play, because I think what we did is try and go for the older songs that had some sense of time and quality. ‘She’s Gone,’ for instance, when we play it live it sounds just as good as it did when we recorded it. ‘Sara Smiles,’ the same thing. ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ also, but ‘Maneater’ is a song that even though it has its fans, it just screamed ‘80s … but it doesn’t scream ‘80s as loudly as ‘Private Eyes’ does ! So, we play ‘Maneater’ but we don’t play ‘Private Eyes’ but when we go to Japan we play it because it’s the biggest song we ever had out there. So, we never want to be considered one of these human jukeboxes that goes up there and rattles off their hits. We play the songs that a lot of people wanna hear, but we also play a lot of new songs and stuff like that.”
In one or two words, sum up your feelings at the time you were making these singles:
’Rich Girl’ - ”Rich guy ! It’s really about a guy, but it wouldn’t have sounded right so Daryl changed it to ‘Rich Girl’ !”
’Private Eyes’ - ”Janna Allen. She was a co-writer on the song and she was the one that actually came up with the idea for the song.”
’Maneater’ - ”Late night New York.”
’Family Man’ - ”A roadies idea. One of our roadies came into our studio a Mike Oldfield record and it was on that record. We thought it was such a great song and so we just cut it.”
’Kiss On My List’ - ”Janna Allen ! She co-wrote that also. She gave Daryl the idea and Daryl kinda went and hooked it up.”
Didn’t you guys just cut a promo spot for Sarah Fergusons new talk show ? ’Yes,” he replies sheepishly and possibly even slightly embarrassed. ”They asked us to do it for her new show. Daryl’s an Anglophile, so I guess that’s why we did it !” he half-smirks.
Lastly, what would be your advice to these new up-and-coming bands be about getting into the business ? ”Don’t,” he laughs, a really sarcastic smirk of a grin back on his face. ”No, stay true to yourself and learn from the masters. Study the people you love, study the people you respect, find your own sound and just let it happen.”
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
Check out Hall & Oates' web site at: www.hallandoates.com
Simply click here to go to the recent Daryl Hall & John Oates concert review in the magazine.
Simply click here to go to the new Daryl Hall & John Oates CD review AND the brand new John Oates solo CD review in the magazine.
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