Hall & Oates: Looking back at the best-selling musical duo in history

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Daryl-Hall-John-Oates
Take a jump back in time to hear from Hall & Oates in their prime – the ’70s & ’80s, when the duo had a string of #1 singles and sold millions of albums. Plus, at the end, find out what they’ve been up to lately!

Daryl & John/Hall & Oates: A shifting mood for the dynamic duo (1976)

by Michael Barackman – San Antonio Light (Texas) December 19, 1976

As a maid shuffles in time to the music resounding outside the door of their Beverly Hills Hotel room, Daryl Hall and John Oates listen to a tape of their new album, “Bigger Than Both of Us.” They’re trying to guess which song would make the best single.

Hall is slouched on a couch, puffing an imported cigar, but Oates is pacing the room and fidgeting with the monitors. “We’re not very good singles pickers,” he says, and now the small, dark 28-year-old looks confused.

“It’s a smash,” he shouts above the closing strings of ‘Rich Girl,’ a lush, disco-tinged number. “But what do I know?”

Vintage Hall and Oates

It wasn’t Hall and Oates’ idea to release ‘Sara Smile,’ the Top Five single that’s made a name for them. It wasn’t RCA’s idea either. Two other songs (‘Camelia’ and ‘Alone Too Long’) were released from their album, “Daryl Hall and John Oates,” first.

It was only after Cleveland radio station WIXY began playing the stark change-of-pace ballad off the album to great listener response that RCA put it out.

“It was time to have a hit record,” says the 30-year-old Hall. Their three albums for Atlantic Records, who they left in 1975, had been poor sellers, part of the reason being a less-accessible sound at the time.

“War Babies,” the Todd Rundgren-produced ’74 album, for instance, was a harsh, synthesizer-dominated epic chronicling the chaos of urban life. It sold all of 75,000 copies.

“People just didn’t want to listen to anything like that then,” says the quiet Oates. “It was too much of a listening album… we had the birth of the disco people who just wanted to take tranquilizers and dance all night.”

Their RCA album, on the other hand, accentuates light R&B — one of their earliest influences — and subtle hooks. “After ‘War Babies,’ we realized that in order to bring people along with you… you have to make concessions,” adds Hall.

“The reality of the Seventies is that you can’t have merely a cult following and have any type of longevity. So we set out to build a broad audience.

“It’s our natural desire to please people and give them something they can latch onto, but there is a conflict in doing that and what’s important to us.”

But, then, Hall and Oates have always been a schizoid unit. From Philadelphia, both played that city’s polished R&B as session musicians prior to forming a partnership in ’69. But their first album, ’72’s “Whole Oats,” was dominated by contemporary folk music; basically Hall on Wurlitzer piano and Oates on acoustic guitar.

John Oates and Daryl Hall

On “Abandoned Luncheonette,” the two added a rhythm section and displayed their R&B roots, then had a minor hit single in that vein, ‘She’s Gone’ (which Atlantic has re-released).

Rundgren succeeded in helping Hall and Oates away from their Philly sound association. The two lament that with their current popularity and re-emergence of “She’s Gone,” that association has returned.

“It’s the lowest,” Hall smirks. “Obviously we play some Philly music, but it’s only a part. We don’t sound like the O’Jays.”

With “Bigger Than Both of Us” — which has been released — Hall and Oates have crystallized their music inclinations.

The LP showcases accessible musical diverseness, but there is less R&B and more hard rock than before. Tracks like ‘Back Together Again’ and ‘London, Luck and Love’ carry a loose, ragged edge.

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“We’re trying to invent a new style of music that people can have a more sophisticated range of emotional responses to,” says Hall. “When we do a concert, within a 10-minute range, we can get people to sit in total silence, then get them to rush the stage.”

Hall and Oates’ new stage show, with special lighting and set designs, will emphasize these mood shifts. An extensive fall tour is planned, as is a follow-up live album.

Hall & Oates

Regarding their success, both say “The struggle is everything.” And, backstage at the Roxy following a tumultuously received show, the intense performers are enjoying the fruits of that struggle, graciously accepting the endless round of congratulations from well-wishers.

Among them is a lascivious young woman who sidles up to Oates, leans over, and wants to know “the secret of success.”

“A hit single,” is Oates’ embarrassed reply.


Hall & Oates doing it their way (1982)

By Ken Paulson – Santa Fe New Mexican (New Mexico) January 31, 1982

Their friendship was born in an elevator going down, but Daryl Hall and John Oates now find themselves soaring to the top.

The hottest rock duo of the ’80s, Hall and Oates are riding a streak of hits including “Kiss On My List,” “Private Eyes” and “I Can’t Go For That.” Their Voices album sold two million copies last year and their latest, Private Eyes, is selling just as briskly.

Vintage Hall and Oates - Music duo

It’s hard to believe now, but during the late ’70s, the duo hit a three-year dry spell, and not one of their singles dented the Top 40. Hall, 31, says the slump gave them a chance to reevaluate their music.

“It’s very hard when you have people breathing down your neck, saying ‘If you don’t sell as many copies of this one as you sold of the last one, you’re slipping.'”

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Like starting over

During their “down period,” Hall and Oates worked on developing a rougher edge to their music, eliminating the outside producers and slick California studio musicians who were molding their sound.

They began producing their own records, working out of their New York City apartments. “That was the best thing that ever happened,” says Oates, 30. “It’s like we started our careers all over again.”

The two have been friends for 15 years. Both grew up in Pennsylvania: Hall in Pottstown and Oates in North Wales. They met in 1966 at a sock hop in Philadelphia where their respective neighborhood bands were to appear.

While the performers waited backstage, two gunshots rang out and a free-for-all erupted on the dance floor. “Everybody split,” recalls Oates. “We all ran out the back and Daryl and I met in a service elevator going down. We became friends at that point.”

By 1971 that chance meeting had evolved into a musical partnership. After experimenting with electric folk, Philadelphia soul and futuristic rock, the duo broke through in 1976 with the single “Sara Smile.”

Hall and Oates in the 1980s

Hall wrote the song for Sara Allen, his sometime co-writer and companion now for eight years. Although he laughingly concedes that “she was distinctly underwhelmed,” a disc jockey in Ohio was considerably more enthusiastic.

He began playing the tune off a year-old album. Soon the station was swamped with calls, and the duo’s record company was similarly flooded with requests.

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Launching Hall & Oates into the bigtime

That fluke ignited Hall and Oates’ career. “She’s Gone” and “Rich Girl” soon made their distinctive brand of rock/rhythm and blues a staple of AM radio.

With their newfound success, though, came a label that irked them: “blue-eyed soul,” a phrase long used to describe white rhythm and blues artists. “I think it’s a racist term,” Hall says.

“It’s something that white people dreamed up, because they can’t relate to soul coming from themselves.” In time, Hall and Oates learned to laugh at the image, even recording a new version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” a 1964 hit for the original “blue-eyed soul” pair, the Righteous Brothers.

Hall & Oates: Their personal lives

The pair’s personal lives revolve around their music, but Hall is a voracious reader with a love of history, and collects antique armor. He’s also the proud owner of two macaws, Ralph and Alice, named after the lead characters on “The Honeymooners.” (“One of them doesn’t shut up, and the other one never talks,” he explains.)

Oates enjoys skiing, playing racquetball and watching auto races. “I like to do things that take my mind and grab it so completely that I have no time to think about music,” he says.

Hall & Oates - Musicians

Although Hall has recorded a solo album, Sacred Songs, and Oates has plans for one, they see no end in sight for their partnership. “We have a distinctive sound developed, and you don’t want to screw around with that,” says Oates.

“The door has been opened for us and it doesn’t stay open long. Let’s face it — AM success is such a fickle thing.”


Where are they now? (2020)

Find out about them on their website, HallAndOates.com and on Twitter, and on LiveFromDarylsHouse.com.

Daryl Hall and John Oatesat the American Idol Grand Finale 2010, Nokia Theater, Los Angeles, CA. 05-26-10
Daryl Hall and John Oates in 2010 – Photo by S Bukley/Deposit Photos
at the American Idol Grand Finale 2010, Nokia Theater, Los Angeles, CA. 05-26-10


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