By Rebecca Bulnes
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Name any Hall & Oates song and the melody immediately springs to mind. To name just a few, there are "She's Gone," "Sara Smile," "Rich Girl," "Kiss on My List," "Private Eyes," "Out of Touch," "Maneater," and "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)." Each is a pitch-perfect confection of pop-soul brilliance, and each is more infectious than the last.
Daryl Hall and John Oates took the soul inherent in their native Philadelphia streets and created something truly colorblind. In fact, during their early days, the duo had more success on the R&B charts than they did with pop, especially when talents such as Lou Rawls and Tavares took their songs to the top.
But, as everyone now well knows, the world eventually caught up with Hall & Oates. That happened first in 1976, when "Sara Smile" reached the Top 10, and again when a re-released "She's Gone" did likewise. Then, finally, the subsequent single, "Rich Girl," reached number one.
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After a brief semi-dry spell that found Hall sneaking off to record Sacred Songs with no less a mind-bender than Robert Fripp, H&O ditched their adopted L.A. homes and hit the mean streets of New York to record at the legendary Electric Lady Studios. The result was Voices, which produced two more chart-toppers — one for them ("Kiss on My List") and one, later, for Paul Young ("Every Time You Go Away"), though it took the British crooner five years to get with that beautiful ballad.
The rest of the early 1980s read like a storybook of stardom: the LPs H20 and Rock and Soul Part 1, and their respective hits, "Maneater" and "Say It Isn't So." Then there was a collision with hip-hop and pop kingpin Arthur Baker for Big Bam Boom and the smash "Out of Touch," the duo's sixth number one single. And if the ensuing few years with Arista were less memorable than those that preceded them, well, they had a lot to live up to.
For the new century, the perennially dynamic duo has fully embraced the DIY aesthetic. The all-original Do It for Love in 2003, the Motown-heavy Our Kind of Soul in 2004, and the seasonal stocking stuffer Home for Christmas in 2006 were all released on their own U-Watch Records, and enjoyed much adult contemporary success along the way.
And then, perhaps most notably, last year Hall launched his critically acclaimed Internet series, Live from Daryl's House. An off-beat collaborative affair shot in his upstate New York abode, the show included an impressive array of talent new and old, including Nick Lowe, Gym Class Heroes, and Chromeo.
With bands such as the Killers singing the duo's praises, and artists such as Kanye West continuing to sample their wares, Hall & Oates seem to be experiencing a newfound renaissance. For many Americans, however, they've never gone away.
New Times: What gave you the idea for Live from Daryl's House?
Daryl Hall: It came from the idea that I've been on the road forever and I decided to bring the road to me for a change. That's really where it all sprung from. Then, after that, I started thinking, Well, I love collaboration, and I love doing new things and working with new people, so let's incorporate that into [the show]. That was the second thought I had.
I started having guests and interacting with guests, especially people who are brand-new on the scene, and sort of had that thing where my perceptions and all my experiences meet bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new perceptions and what comes out of that kind of thing. It's a pretty exciting concept, and it certainly is generating a lot of excitement.
Do you dig the give-and-take between the then and now?
My take on music has always been very eclectic. I like new ideas; I like good ideas. I don't care who generates them. I don't care if the person is 70 or 20. I'm into interacting with that kind of creative energy.
How did the collaboration with Chromeo come about?
Well, like all of them, they cited me in various interviews as being a big influence on them. I get a lot of my bookings from scouting around, word of mouth, hearing about things, hearing about people who are relating to me, and then I check their music out and do things like that. That's really sort of how I've been finding people. Kindred spirits, so to speak. [Chromeo] had talked a lot about me, so I said, 'Wow, let's check them out.' And I checked them out, thought it would be a very interesting combo, and it was a lot of fun to do the show.
Didn't you end up recording an album together?
No, we didn't record an album. All my guests come on and say the same thing: They want to continue their relationship with me. And that could go in many directions. It could go in collaborations on songwriting; it could go into recording together; it could go into actually going onstage together. Anything's possible, and we've been talking to everybody about all those possibilities.
Who else are you listening to these days?
What I listen to is what you're seeing. I don't think I need to elaborate on that. The whole idea is it's straight from me to you guys, to the world. There's nothing in between. There are no gatekeepers. So whatever you're seeing is what I'm onto.
Animal Collective is getting compared to you a lot. Are you familiar with that band?
Nope, but there you go. You just gave me an idea, so I'll check 'em out!
You're from Philly. I know you released Live in Philadelphia in 2004, and didn't you sing the National Anthem in Game Five of the World Series last year?
No, what happened is I got the flu, so I sent in my pinch hitter John Oates to sing it for me.
I see, but you must get back there a lot. The reception must always be terrific, no?
If you're from Philadelphia, you never really leave Philadelphia. I was just talking to Kevin Bacon about that the other day. There's a regionality that you can't escape, even if you wanted to. Not that I would ever want to. Talk to Sly Stallone about it; talk to Kevin Bacon; talk to me. And the people from Philadelphia will always support people who come from there. There's a certain mindset. I don't know, maybe it's in the water or something.
I know it's a cliché question, but of all your many hits, do you have a favorite?
The answer to that is no. I have an emotional attachment to all my work, they're all personal, and they all mean something to me.
Do you have a favorite among the many who have sampled your work?
I'd have to say De La Soul [for "Say No Go"], because they were the first. They were the pioneers to begin with, and they really opened up the doors for all the others to come, so I do have a particular fondness for that song.
You've played all over the world, in some of the most famous venues. Do you have a favorite?
It's not like a wow factor with any of the many venues we've played. I don't say, 'I can't wait to get back to any particular place.' I'm not blowing smoke up your ass, but I will say that Mizner is among my favorites. I remember every show I've ever played there. Plus it's a great time of the year to come down to Florida.