Next Step: When Hall and Oates Were the New Wave of America

Posted by in Culture, Music

Daryl, surely there’s a better way to play twister! Hold that pose John! And err stop stepping on my feet!

A BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS

For a while, between 1980 and ’84 Hall and Oates were invincible, purveyors of the American dream; work hard, reap rewards. A rock and soul blend that touched on the new wave but how and where did they come to this magic blend or rather where did the process originate?

For the answer we have to look three years earlier in the songs that make up Daryl Hall’s legendary Sacred Songs album. Like many bands (or artistes) of the seventies Hall and Oates were to an extent allowed to grow over time. To that end you could go as far back as Todd Rundgren’s produced War Babies album, markedly different from the folky Abandoned Luncheonette and its eternal hit She’s Gone.

Hall and Oates together were unusual in that they had a nose for the future as well as their and America’s musical heritage, in the main the soul of Philadelphia. It’s that sound that gave them their first number one in Rich Girl in 1976 following which they hit a creative dry spell in Along the Red Ledge and X-Static. Though the latter’s Portable Radio was very much of the day, a disco driven funk cruise that pre-dated Jake Shears Scissor Sisters by 25 years! 

Yes Mr Photographer you are boring me!

URBAN LANDSCAPES

Sandwiched between the ledge and X-Static Hall hooked up with English musician Robert Fripp for Sacred Songs. As Fripp noted in the reissue sleeve notes for said album, ‘there is only one thing worse than a record company that takes no interest in an artist’s work. A record company that takes an interest.’ And.. ‘if Sacred Songs had come out in 1977 (the same year as Bowie’s Heroes) Hall would have been seen not just as a great soul singer but also an innovator.’ 

You can hear this on tracks like Babs and Babs with Fripp’s extended Frippertronic solo in the middle leading into Fripp’s own Urban Landscape. Something in 4/4 Time might have an odd title but I don’t see it as uncommercial. Likewise Why Was it So Easy could have been a big hit at least in Europe. 

The album eventually came out in March 1980, the same year as the newly invigorated Hall and Oates Voices, though as they told engineer Neil Kernon ‘if this album doesn’t do very well, it will probably be our last.’ 

Just what is it that captivated the American audience or indeed any audience during a particular point of an existing bands career (the same happened with TEXAS in the UK years later) is anyone’s guess. Suffice to say from a distant and fatigued 2020 we know it was not their last but their rebirth!

With that ‘tache, your kiss is definitely not on my list!

BACK FROM THE BRINK

In those four years, the pair delivered as many albums. Not only that but they got better and better with each one. From 1980’s Voices and the mega-hit Kiss on my List whose hit potential was not even spotted by the record label (it was the fourth single) came Private Eyes (1981), H2O (1982) and Big Bam Boom in ’84. 

Only a live album, and Hall’s equally ambitious second solo record Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine halted their momentum. It’s a patchy affair, however, if you’re so inclined, I’d recommend the rockin’ off kilter Next Step and the Joni Mitchell backed Right as Rain from that set. 

Daryl dreaming and secretly hoping there are no ants or scorpions nearby.

THE NEXT STEP

In my opinion Three Hearts should have been a six track EP (Dreamtime, Only a Vision, Next Step, For You, Right as Rain, and What’s Gonna Happen to Us) but in 1986 no one was going to say no to Daryl Hall. Though I quite like 1988’s Ooh Yeah, the audience had evaporated as fast as they had arrived back in 1980. This despite the Billboard top 3 hit Everything Your Heart Desires.

So backing up to the turn of the decade and 1980 in the UK was a strange three-way between the metal of Saxon, Gillan and Iron Maiden, the modish Jam, Bad Manners and Madness and the dystopian imagery conjured up by the synth pop of the new wave; John Foxx’s Metamatic to Japan’s Burning Bridges via OMD’s Enola Gay. 

Across the pond it couldn’t have been more different. Only Blondie (again sharing a dalliance with Fripp), Devo and Talking Heads (both to an extent Eno) really took on the new wave Stateside. David Byrne has since become a cultural figurehead alongside others such as Laurie Anderson. 

Hart to Hart (sadly not a documentary about H&O)

AMERICAN HEROES MAKE OUR DREAMS

Culturally, Hall and Oates hit at a particular ‘time.’ Welcome Back, Kotter on the TV – How Does it Feel to Be Back on Voices and in the Billboard chart at #30. America was popular not just for its movies and jeans but for TV cop shows Hill Street Blues, Magnum PI, and other shows The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, The Greatest American Hero, and Fantasy Island. 

The whole world was consuming, living and breathing American pop culture. Disneyland in your living room, well almost. In some respects America was making our dreams come true and Hall and Oates were there to sing it to us. On Voices they sang about the present but kind of foresaw the future in Big Kids as they lampoon leaders who are really just little emperors in bigger trousers, no names but you can guess right?

It could be said that H&O have never been afraid of taking on a big subject, War Babies was a long way from their 1972 debut Whole Oates, a decade later on H2O they came up with one of their strongest and a personal fave, At Tension, a stunning six minute assault on the armed forces and the conflicts many American’s found themselves embroiled in.

No Hall and Oates please we’re British!

ROCKIN’ THE SOUL, AN EDUCATION

Hall and Oates lay in their own rock soul niche but this could also reach those digging the new wave coming out of ‘England.’ Quite fitting in that America was about to embrace an onslaught of British talent on its airwaves and on the fledgling MTV which H&O were themselves part of. 

Astonishingly the duo would yield no less than six number one singles in America but were unable to reach the top spot with their albums. In the UK they could only manage number six with Maneater and eight with I Can’t Go For That. But even that’s better (or higher) than some of the bands I write about on here.

One on One was very much my twilight on NZ song as the Tasman sea twinkled beneath me, the song played on my British Airways headphones. Back in the UK I purchase the compilation Rock N’Soul Part 1 on a cheap looking white plastic cassette with Nancy Dwyer’s excellent illustration on the front. 

It was expensive at £5.49 but well worth it featuring their best hits with two new songs (Say it Isn’t So and Adult Education) and even a calendar! Not sure who in RCA marketing thought a H&O calendar was a neat idea but if anything it was different to the standard lyric sheet.

Still out of touch in the UK doh!

WE’RE OUT OF TOUCH BUT SOME THINGS ARE BETTER LEFT UNSAID

Their 1984 smash Out of Touch – number one at home could only manage #48 in the UK – and Private Eyes, another US chart topper peaking at 32. Even with the marketing schtick of sticking a union flag on the front and a carefully worded ‘Remixed for the UK.’ But where did BIG BAM BOOM come from? 

I spent the summer of ’84 in New York, so I really soaked up all the street and dance music. I’d met Arthur Baker through personal friends, loved his records, and we got him right in the beginning, instead of asking him at the end to do a dance mix. DARYL HALL, SWEET DREAMS BOOK

The opening combination of Dance on Your Knees and Out of Touch was a strong statement and continued their winning formula. Method of Modern Love might have been a hit in the UK but strangely it’s one of my least favourite H&O songs, it’s ok, but nothing compared to the mighty ‘Touch’ or Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid (US #18); a mix of pastoral and bombastic rock which Simple Minds would emulate a year later on their album Once Upon a Time.

Big Bam Boom was not just high on hits but even the album tracks were strong on mood (Cold Dark and Yesterday), raw power (Bank on Your Love) or saccharine funk (All American Girl) with a great baseline from the much missed Tom ’T-Bone’ Wolk and some cringe worthy dialogue from Daryl and err an all American girl. 

One more single came from the album, fronted up by John Oates Possession Obsession #US30 was another song bang on the zeitgeist (think Bowie and Pat Metheny’s This is Not America or Icehouse No Promises). However against a televisual backdrop of Live Aid and Miami Vice their crown was slowly slipping.

They are the most successful duo in the history of pop. Not that you’re allowed to admit it, though. When I first worked at The Face in the mid-eighties, I remember one junior editor almost going into shock when I recommended one of their records. In her eyes, the only thing worse than admitting to liking a Hall & Oates record would have been to actually be Hall or Oates. DYLAN JONES, SWEET DREAMS AUTHOR

ooh yeah but no but yeah

WHO SAID THE WORLD WAS FAIR?

It seems unbelievable that the evergreen colossus of Hall and Oates should by the end of the eighties be, as John Oates put it, ‘floundering’ but they were. The times were a changing and although they delivered a perfectly good record in Ooh Yeah, the record company suits had decided H&O were out, Mariah and the power ballad was incoming and even that was in for a shock by the turn of the decade (enter Grunge; Pearl Jam, Live, Nirvana).

It was quite literally a ‘Change of Season.’ The new wave as we knew it had passed as Duran Duran, Simple Minds and their comrades from the bright new shiny eighties moved – or tried to – into the nineties and into the next phase of their careers and eventually the nostalgia circuit some now trade on. If you hang around long enough you become in vogue again. 

You’ve lost that loving feeling…

When Daryl Hall released I’m in a Philly Mood in 1993, Trouserpress stated that he’s been in a Philly mood his entire career and therefore had a ‘Philly’ compulsive disorder. Interestingly it’s Soul Alone (named from the line in Out of Touch) that gave him a couple of hits in the UK (Philly #52 and Stop Loving Me, Stop Loving You at #30) I suspect if ever I get round to visiting Philly and NYC the music will take on a deeper resonance.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
Can’t Stop the Music (from War Babies) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
70’s Scenario (from War Babies) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Rich Girl (from Silver Album) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Portable Radio (from X-Static) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Filthy/Gorgeous (from Scissor Sisters) – Scissor Sisters
Babs and Babs (from Sacred Songs) – Daryl Hall
Urban Landscape (from Sacred Songs) – Daryl Hall
Something in 4/4 Time (from Sacred Songs) – Daryl Hall
Why Was it So Easy (from Sacred Songs) – Daryl Hall
Kiss on My List (from Voices) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Next Step (from Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine) – Daryl Hall
Right as Rain (from Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine) – Daryl Hall
Everything Your Heart Desires (from Ooh Yeah) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Underpass (from Metamatic) – John Foxx
Burning Bridges (from Gentlemen Take Polaroids) – Japan
Enola Gay (from Organisation) – OMD
Rapture (from Autoamerican) – Blondie
Once in a Lifetime (from Remain in Light) – Talking Heads
How Does it Feel to Be Back? (from Voices) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Magnum PI Theme – Mike Post
Believe it or Not (The Greatest American Hero) – Joey Scarbury
Big Kids (from Voices) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
At Tension (from H2O) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Maneater (from H2O) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
I Can’t Go For That (from Private Eyes) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Say it Isn’t So (from Rock ’N Soul Part 1) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Adult Education (from Rock ’N Soul Part 1) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Dance on Your Knees (from Big Bam Boom) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Out of Touch (from Big Bam Boom) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Private Eyes (from Private Eyes) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid (from Big Bam Boom) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Once Upon a Time (from Once Upon a Time) – Simple Minds
Cold Dark and Yesterday (from Big Bam Boom) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
All American Girl (from Big Bam Boom) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
Possession Obsession (from Big Bam Boom) – Daryl Hall/John Oates
This is Not America (single) – David Bowie/Pat Metheny
I’m in a Philly Mood (from Soul Alone) – Daryl Hall
Stop Loving Me, Stop Loving You (single version) – Daryl Hall

Photo Credits: Discogs except for Hart to Hart from Wiki (open domain), Soul Alone and Stop Loving You retouched by KH