|Daryl Hall & John Oates.|
I was a music geek, even as a kid and can still remember going to the public library in downtown Kuala Lumpur as a 7 year old, taking out the book 20 Names In Pop Music and learning about all the acts who would soon become my heroes. As a teenager my family would get me music encylopedias and biographies for birthdays and Christmases and somewhere along the line I discovered I could remember chart positions, release dates and obscure music trivia. Unfortunately this brain power didn’t extend to algebra and biology, but it put me in good stead for a career in broadcasting. It was by reading one of those rock enclyclopedias that I first discovered Hall & Oates, one of the last great acts who I’ve never seen live who today gloriously announced a New Zealand tour for January.
The encylopedia told me Hall & Oates were the most successful duo in music history. Not Simon & Garfunkel who I’d grown up listening to? Not the Everly Brothers? As a 16 year old in the heady days of the mid-to-late 90s Massey in West Auckland, Hall & Oates had somehow passed me by. But extreme and lengthy success in the music industry is not by accident. Fads come and go, lousy acts can rack up many hits in a short space of time, but just as I believed then I believe now, you don’t become the most successful duo of all time by mistake. Or to put it more directly, by being a bit crap. So with nothing but biographical knowledge of Daryl Hall and John Oates, I went out and bought their greatest hits, Rock ‘n’ Soul Part 1.
14 years later, these two legends of pop, rock and soul are firmly entrenched in my top 10 favourite artists ever. Being that their greatest success was domestic and substantially less so here and in the UK, we can underestimate just how massive Hall & Oates were, though the timelessness of their music is more apparent now than ever before.
A chronology of their biggest hits represents some of the most perfectly realised pop possible: the soulful agony of She’s Gone, the pure R&B of Sara Smile, the hook-tastic Rich Girl, the pop sensibilities of Kiss On My List, the black credidibility of I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), the Motown pastiche of Maneater, the bombast of Out Of Touch etc etc etc.
And let’s not forget the fact these guys could sing, I mean, really sing. Daryl Hall puts forward a very good case for being the greatest white male soul singer of them all, while John Oates modestly describes himself as the most famous, most overpaid backing singer of all time. I describe Hall in this way with mild trepidation because I know he hates racial separtion in categorizing singers. He dislikes the term “blue-eyed soul” – why not just soul? I understand the point, but while he’s undeniably amongst the greatest soul singers of his generation, as a fan I know I get less argument about naming him the best amongst his white rivals. Either way, it’s praise.
Oates once said the thing that frustrated him the most was people thinking they were some sort of pop hacks; that writing these catchy songs that topped the charts somehow meant their work carried less artistic merit. The passing of time has seen a resurgence in Hall & Oates’ popularity and a huge number of young acts who were too young for 80s cringe / too-cool-for-school dumb-assery who have proudly cited Hall & Oates as major influences.
Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Hall & Oates are cool as they very much are now, particularly with Hall’s acclaimed web series Live From Daryl’s House. I became a fan when I’d never heard of them and many had forgotten them. I am still a massive fan now they are well and truly getting the praise and credibility they deserve. Like the Bee Gees who became victims of their own success and the frankly embarrassing tendencies of rock-and-only-rock fans to disregard all that isn’t rock, Hall & Oates have perservered. Why? Because of the basic fundamentals of popular music: emotional lyrics, melodies only the truly-gifted can create and beautiful vocals.
Most will know the biggest Hall & Oates hits, so I thought I’d feature a lesser known number that is one of my favourites. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid was a slow grower for me. It wasn’t until I’d been listening to the band for some years I fully began to appreciate this song, especially the slowly building tension and the dramatic final stanza. Cannot wait for January.
Hall & Oates (with Icehouse) perform A Day On The Green in Napier at the Church Road Winery on January 28 and in Auckland at Villa Maria Estate on January 29.