By Alan Sculley
Last year marked a milestone in the career of Daryl Hall and John Oates – the 35th anniversary of their album Voices. Almost anything they can say about that album understates the impact it had on their career.
“It’s a very important album,” Oates said in a recent teleconference interview with a group of reporters. “I would rank that probably in the three or four most important albums we’ve ever made for a lot of reasons. One, it was the first album we produced ourselves. It was a chance for us to stand on our own creative feet, for better or worse, which is always exciting and scary at the same time. For us, it worked out very well. It set the tone for what we would do for the decade of the ‘80s. It coincided with the birth of MTV and videos.”
Until then, Hall & Oates had gradually been working their way into the public consciousness, releasing a string of albums beginning with 1972’s Whole Oates that showed considerable stylistic diversity, but in the process made it hard to pin down exactly what kind of music the duo was chasing. Still, the ‘70s gave them two big hits, “Sara Smile” and the chart-topping “Rich Girl.”
But with their ninth album, Voices, Hall & Oates hit their musical stride with a tuneful mix of pop and soul (specifically the Philadelphia soul of the early ‘70s) topped off with just the right touch of grit. The sound connected in a big way with audiences, as Voices spawned four hit singles, including the chart-topping “Kiss on My List’ and Top 5 hit “You Make My Dreams.”
“It’s almost like a perfect storm of creativity all coming together on that album,” Oates said of Voices. “It was, as I said, the first album we really produced by ourselves, so we felt like, OK, this is really going to be, we’re going to represent who we really are with no filter. That’s why that album (is special). It had a lot of good songs as well.”
Voices became the first salvo in a run of albums that made Hall & Oates the best selling duo in rock history.
The album Private Eyes arrived in 1981 and took the duo to new heights with a pair of chart topping singles, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” and the title song. Then a year later, H2O, became the most popular Hall & Oates’ album, selling more than four million copies in the United States alone behind the chart-topping hit “Maneater” and top 10 singles “One on One” and “Family Man.”
The 1985 album Big Bam Boom extended the hot streak (“Out of Touch” became yet another No. 1 single), and the duo wrapped up the decade with a popular concert release, 1985’s Live at the Apollo, and the 1987 studio album Ooh Yeah!
These days, Hall and Oates aren’t focused on making new music as a duo. They released only two albums in the 1990s – Change of Seasons (1990) and Marigold Sky (1997). And their last album of original music was 2003’s Do It for Love – although they released an album of soul covers, Our Kind of Soul, in 2004, a holiday album, Home for Christmas, in 2006 and had a concert film, Daryl Hall & John Oates: Recorded Live From Dublin, shown in theaters nationwide in February 2015.
Instead, the past decade has seen Hall and Oates concentrate on their own projects.
Oates has released a pair of solo albums over the past five years – 2011’s Mississippi Mile (a DVD, The Bluesville Sessions, followed in 2012 as a companion to that album) and 2014’s Good Road To Follow (made up of three five-song EPs, each with its own stylistic theme). He now has released a DVD to accompany that latest album called Another Good Road.
“I went into a studio in Nashville with a lot of the players and singers who I perform with and record with. We cut it live,” Oates said of Another Good Road. “It’s kind of a documentary, a musical documentary.”
Hall hasn’t been as busy recording. His 2011 release, Laughing Down Crying, was his first solo album since 1997’s Can’t Stop Dreaming. But he’s developed quite the franchise with his popular monthly Internet/syndicated television show, Live From Daryl’s House, in which he performs live with a guest musician on each episode.
“Right now, we have grown into a place where we’re very individualistic, more than we ever were,” Hall said. “We are our own people. I don’t think either one of us has any particular desire to sit in a room and try writing songs with the other guy. We didn’t even really do that that much through our whole career.
“I mean, if I want to write a song, or record a song, I just go in and do it, and so does John,” Hall said. “I don’t call him up and say, come on and join me on this. It’s just one of those things. Life changes. People move on. Time moves on. People develop. They grow as people. The whole thing became more individualistic, I think, as you get older. All those factors are…I’m sure they lead to the separateness of us.”
Except when Hall and Oates get together to perform at shows. The duo continues to maintain a regular touring schedule (including May 13 at Gexa Energy Pavilion in Dallas) and enjoys playing the songs that make up a deep catalog of well over 100 songs.
In fact, Hall feels Hall & Oates is, if anything, better as a live act, than ever. Without hit albums to promote, the duo is able to craft a set that more fully represents their entire catalog, rather than weighting the set heavily toward whatever songs were current at the time.
“Our set is varied,” he said. “It changes night to night, and it comprises of songs that we’ve written throughout our career. We’ll mix songs from 1972 with songs from yesterday. In that respect, it’s a much more varied show and it doesn’t relate to just one moment in time or anything like that.
“Our band, without any doubt in my mind, this is the best band we ever had,” Hall said. “A lot of these guys have been with us for a long time and there are a few new guys, but the combination is just the best. They understand us and we have a fantastic communication and understanding of the music, and so I think it’s better than it ever was. I guess that’s the best way I could put it.”
In fact, as a live act, Daryl Hall & John Oates (as they prefer to be billed) have seen their popularity surge over the past five years or so. Hall knows exactly why that has happened.
“I can say it very simply: Live From Daryl’s House. It all happens coincidentally with my show,” Hall said. “I think that I started, and as far as dealing with modern technology, dealing the digital age or whatever, dealing with the Internet, it happened because the Internet happened and allowed it to happen.
“It’s a show that showcases me in a timeless way, working with young people, working with veterans, playing every kind of music you can imagine. I think that perception has carried over into a new perception of what I do with John as well. I really do see that there’s an immediate correlation between that show and the resurgence of our popularity.”