On Track… Hall & Oates
*this blog includes an affiliate link
Every now and again someone, in this case fellow Brit Ian Abrahams, sends me their book to review and on this occasion I was happy to receive it. Stranger still is the fact that someone other than me is a fan of Hall and Oates on this side of the pond (along with Dylan Jones author of Sweet Dreams).
The forward tells how author Ian Abrahams got into their work in of all places Cornwall! More or less around the same time I had firstly in NZ and then Wales. He makes no secret of his crush on Along the Red Ledge and of drifting away for Marigold Sky and Do It For Love – I think I began my drift at Change of Season, literally and metaphorically.
THE ATLANTIC YEARS
So we begin with The Atlantic Years (I don’t know if I knew John Oates had been a journalism student!) And who knew Daryl Hall played Cello on the duo’s first album Whole Oats (news to me anyway).
Likewise Axl Rose telling them one of their songs was one of the most beautiful he’d heard! And that’s not all Cleo Laine (remember her?) covered the gorgeous They Needed Each Other on one of her albums. Georgie meanwhile could be what Black Eyed Dog is to Nick Drake, a terrifying lyric bound together with more jovial music.
When the Morning Comes – nice folky but more realised than Whole Oates as Abrahams says in his book. And it’s clear he is particularly fond of the title track even if Hall himself wasn’t.
I quite like Laughing Boy (a title recently copied by Duran Duran but not a cover of H&O) it’s even got a flugelhorn on it, another oddity for the duo.
War Babies gets a lengthy and not undeserved appraisal with an interesting take on the subject of artist and fan perspective. The album is certainly a departure from their ‘Philly’ sound. There’s also an appendix of related tracks.
THE RCA YEARS PART ONE
Begins with the much fabled tale of opener Camillia intended as a hit and one that was never intended to be but was, Sara Smile. Alone Too Long was also a single but I can’t see why it was chosen myself. There’s a funny take on Dead or Alive’s Spin Me Round like a record baby as Abrahams describes Ennui on the Mountain.
Bigger Than Both of Us
Bigger Than Both of Us is literally built up in Abrahams detailed analysis which begins with the Starsky and Hutch bad-ass vibes of Back Together Again (actually about Frankie Valli). This is followed by the legendary Rich Girl and the point in case that its rhyme with the word bitch was a controversial move at the time – didn’t stop it hitting number 1 though.
As an interesting footnote and to nod towards Duran Duran’s last album Future Past, H&O have songs called Laughing Boy (not on BTBOU) and the album closes with a song called… Falling which is one of its best.
Beauty on a Back Street
This album comes from the same year as Hall’s Sacred Songs. You Must Be Good For Something is somewhere between Bryan Adams and the Manics but the chorus is very H&O. Love Hurts is better than described in the book, however the following title song to the last album does feel a bit tired.
Winged Bull is all over the place; part Indian it could almost be a precursor to What’s Gonna Happen to Us from Hall’s 1986 album Three Hearts, in addition I’d call it out as part Scissor Sisters, part Led Zeppelin (think Kashmir).
But yes I can see why they consider it a nadir though it’s not as bad as H&O they themselves purport it to be. Oates The Girl Who Used to Be is a pleasant and dreamy end to a record with a reputation.
All Along the Red Ledge
Without the book I wouldn’t have given much thought to the fact Red Ledge is a breakup record …of sorts; the first three for sure. The fourth is one of my fave H&O songs and could’ve been on Bigger Than Both of Us. But it’s not without it’s crap, Alley Katz would be it.
Don’t Blame it On Love sounds like an outtake from Sacred Songs (Fripp guests). It’s a Laugh (a sign of Romeo is Bleeding) and Serious Music are better than I previously thought beyond it having a melodically rich chorus. August Day is Red Ledge’s Without Tears and also better than I remember, Abrahams book makes you re-evaluate and re-appreciate the H&O catalogue.
THE RCA YEARS PART TWO
I always liked this record, Oates resembles Freddie Mercury in the videos for Woman Comes and Goes and Wait for Me. Portable Radio is brilliant! And as I say in my own H&O blog is the Scissor Sisters 25 years ahead of time.
Into the eighties and the beginning of their mega run begins with Voices. Abrahams notes that at this stage they were very much a duo before the camera honed in on Hall and the perception of Oates being nothing more than a Klingon took hold.
And I’m pleasantly surprised that this very blog receives a mention in the note for Big Kids (probably my fave off here along with Kiss On My List and Dreams). Africa gets lampooned as out of place which I suppose it is but if you think of it in terms of the tribal pounding of Adam and the Ants or Bow Wow Wow it’s place in the zeitgeist is assured. They definitely had a nose for new wave.
The book is good but doesn’t come without flaws, I’m pretty sure Kiss On My List was the fourth single from Voices and Private Eyes wasn’t a top ten single (or does he mean the album had been top 10?). But this is just to present an alternate slant on things, all in all it’s great to see the whole H&O catalogue getting its day in the sun and reading the backstories to the songs especially from a British perspective.
Their highest charting album at home and mid 20s in the UK this is their third eighties album and is arguably the best. Abrahams comes at the songs with integrity and looks at the opposites to both their writing styles and their choice of cover versions; Mike Oldfield’s Family Man in this case. Nice take on Italian Girls being a hit in a parallel universe too although I strongly disagree about At Tension – it’s an absolute stunner (though I don’t think I would have said that in 1982).
Big Bam Boom
I still love this album but as Abrahams points out on Bank On Your Love – it’s 80s bombast. Agree with the author about the sleazy spoken word pap on All American Girl but T-Bone’s bass is wow! And I like Possession Obsession – no mention of it being a single though he does mention the video.
THE ARISTA YEARS
This begins with a summation of the Apollo live album, Daryl’s second solo record and Oates foray into co-writing (with Icehouse) and production (Parachute Club).
Abrahams loves Downtown Life – I think it’s good – and pans the AOR fodder of the big hit Everything Your Heart Desires and its many mixes. Glad he liked Talking All Night which still makes me laugh.
Change of Season
Read about the muddle of So Close and its two versions (I am more familiar with the rock stomping hit single version which apparently Hall hates! I didn’t know that either). Heavy Rain is my other fave off this rather bland album hence my fan drift in the early nineties.
THE REUNION YEARS
Romeo Is Bleeding is a bit like Say it Isn’t So and as mentioned It’s a Laugh, but strangely no mention of its similarity to either here just that it’s good for latter day H&O.
Do It For Love
Someday We’ll Know is a good cover as Abrahams duly notes, and although it is kind of bland, I quite like Forever For You.
THE COVERS ALBUMS
Our Kind of Soul
I really liked this (almost) covers album and it’s a pity it’s not covered in quite the same way as the rest of the book is.
Home for Christmas
In order to fulfil my reviewing commitment I end up playing a Christmas album in May! The first Overture/The First Noel is really quite good but as Abrahams observes even Daryl Hall can stretch an ad-lib too far.
Hall’s title track Home for Christmas is not bad and Robbie Robertson’s Christmas Must Be Tonight shines as bright as the title suggests (some might say it’s as bland as Forever For You or their version of I Can Dream About You, personally I like all three).
COMPS, SOLO AND LIVE ALBUMS
Again I disagree on Can’t Stop Dreaming (Abrahams berates it, I like it) and Laughing Down Crying which the author says is a winner but I found to be boring (save a couple of tracks).
John Oates catalogue doesn’t begin until 2002 with Phunk Shui – sidelined in the book by Abrahams as a misstep and a stepping stone, and he’s largely right, the title track is very good funk but the rest is aural wallpaper and I’m not sure why he plonked a live track in the middle (lovely as it may be).
Unspoken and All Good People are reasonable and similar to latter day H&O recordings. Mississippi Mile is exactly what it says on the tin; blues based folk rock. Arkansas follows this vein of music. I would probably appreciate it more if travelling in the US of A.
The comps list is truncated e.g no Looking Back – a top 10 best of in the UK in the early 90s. Neither is Camden’s 2008 run down The Singles. He does give mention to 1983’s excellent Rock N Soul Part 1 and 2009’s Be What You Want, Be What You Are.
On track… Daryl Hall John Oates is available from Burning Shed
LISTEN FOR LOVE: HALL AND OATES ALBUMS RANKED
This is my personal ranking NOT the books, of course this is all relative and could change depending on mood but the general lay of the land looks something like this…
18 DO IT FOR LOVE
17 MARIGOLD SKY
16 WAR BABIES
15 WHOLE OATS
14 BEAUTY ON A BACKSTREET
13 CHANGE OF SEASON
12 HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
10 ABANDONED LUNCHEONETTE
9 RED LEDGE
8 ‘SILVER’ ALBUM
7 OUR KIND OF SOUL
6 BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US
4 OOH YEAH
3 PRIVATE EYES
2 BIG BAM BOOM
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
Meanwhile, stay tuned with things here at Kulture Kiosk via THE ATLAS or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world.
When the Morning Comes
Back Together Again
You Must Be Good For Something
What’s Gonna Happen to Us?
The Girl Who Used to Be
Don’t Blame it On Love
Woman Comes and Goes
Wait for Me
Kiss On My List
You Make My Dreams
Bank On Your Love
Talking All Night
Romeo Is Bleeding
Say it Isn’t So
Someday We’ll Know
Forever For You
Let Love Take Control
Home for Christmas
Christmas Must Be Tonight
Photo Credits: book cover from publisher, iTunes screenshot KH