Their hits are on your list
Young fans help '80s soul stirrers Hall and Oates pop up – a lot – in current pop culture
When you rattle off a list of Daryl Hall's non-accomplishments — an "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" relationship with Grammys, no presence in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a conspicuous absence in your various Rolling Stone, Spin or Pitchfork best-of lists — the multiplatinum artist is unsurprisingly nonplussed.
"Yeah, I'm devastated," deadpans Hall, 63, speaking by phone. "I'm just breaking up inside not to have any of those things. Can't you tell?"
Hall is flush with confidence and pride in his career — and why shouldn't he be? Few men in popular music have less to prove than Hall and longtime musical partner John Oates. Their bullet-pointed list of accomplishments is enough to make you slightly dizzy: six No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, 34 charting hits, seven platinum albums, six gold albums and more than 60 million records sold in total. They're the most commercially successful duo in rock history.
Plus, they wrote "Sara Smile." Prosecution rests.
Despite all that success, though, the duo was never a critical darling. Millions of albums sold didn't translate into appreciation from the media or from awards shows. That cold reception didn't bother Hall or Oates much — it's hard to care about such things when you're making millions of dollars — but the reality never escaped them.
"The press perception of us was always bad," recalls Oates, speaking by phone from his Colorado home. "You had a situation back in the '70s and '80s when the rock press was able to dictate trends and tastes to people. And being an act that had a lot of success on pop radio was not considered hip in those days."
But when Hall and Oates commandeer the stage at the Long Center tonight , touring behind last fall's career-spanning retrospective box set "Do What You Want, Be Who You Are," they'll be smack dab in the middle of a pop culture-wide Hall and Oates lovefest that kicked off sometime around 2005. It's tough to pinpoint where it started -- was it their satirical appearance in cult Internet show "Yacht Rock"? Hall's own widely praised online series "Live from Daryl's House," where he jams with artists from Smokey Robinson to KT Tunstall to Eli Reed? The duo's appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart?" A show-stopping musical number featuring "You Make My Dreams Come True" in last summer's indie sleeper hit "500 Days of Summer"?
It's tough to say. But one thing has become increasingly clear in the past few years: For the first time in a long time — maybe ever — it's actually pretty cool to like Hall and Oates. You could even call it something of a resurgence.
That is, if you wanted Hall to correct you.
"'Something of a resurgence' is an understatement. It's literally black and white. There's a new generation of people who have suddenly come up and spoke their piece about what we do, and it's a very different world than it was in another generation," says Hall. "The perception is completely the opposite of what it used to be. It fulfills me and vindicates me in my own head, not that I ever had a huge problem with it."
Hall and Oates have one of those great rock band formation stories, a tale so gritty you almost expect to find it in the bio of a hip-hop collective — rather than from two purveyors of blue-eyed soul that seamlessly fuses rock with R&B for a brand of agreeable pop that cuts across every demographic . The duo famously met in a service elevator fleeing a gang-related shootout at a battle of the bands in Philadelphia. They hit it off and found modest success across three albums with Atlantic Records.
But they first ventured into smash success territory with "Daryl Hall & John Oates," which contained their first Billboard top 10 hit, the aforementioned "Sara Smile." A string of successes too numerous to recount followed, but here's a taste: "Rich Girl," "Kiss On My List," "Private Eyes," "Maneater," "Adult Education" and "One On One."
If you've attended a high school dance or wedding reception since 1980, you've heard these songs. Despite — or perhaps because of — that ubiquity, Hall and Oates were often regarded as the exemplars of manufactured, artificial adult contemporary. The Red Hot Chili Peppers — years before becoming elder statesmen of rock music themselves — may have summed it up best in the lyrics to "Nevermind," a cut off 1985's "Freaky Styley."
"Never mind Hall and Oates," rapped Anthony Kiedis in inimitable style, "Those guys are a couple of goats."
"I knew from the beginning that there was a certain prejudice against the kind of thing that me and John were going to do," recalls Hall. "That was just sort of a cross to bear. You hoped you could create and move on and have your own sense of evolution."
They continued to write and record, releasing two albums in the '90s and three in the following decade, but slowly faded from the stratospheric heights they reached during the '80s. Both Hall and Oates ventured into solo material, with Oates releasing his first solo album in 2002.
But they never disappeared from view. Hall and Oates songs remained radio mainstays and favorites for film and television licensing — if increasingly for purposes of nostalgia, as in the Adam Sandler vehicle "The Wedding Singer." And as the years ticked by, the duo increasingly found themselves name-checked by emerging musicians — Las Vegas rockers the Killers, Canadian electrofunk duo Chromeo and the Gym Class Heroes (whose Travis McCoy has Hall and Oates' faces tattooed on his hands) all praised Hall and Oates in interviews. Up-and-coming Los Angeles synthpop duo the Bird and the Bee released an album of Hall and Oates covers March 23. Many of Hall's admirers swung by "Live from Daryl's House."
For Oates, who can still recall ravenously tearing into records by the people who influenced his own music, that's a pretty satisfying feeling.
"A newer generation of musicians came up that appreciated our music and grew up with us. We've been influential to them as kids and beginning musicians, and that means a lot to me. It's personally gratifying," says Oates. "The stuff I listened to when I was young really shaped what I did, so it's gratifying for the shoe to be on the other foot. We're influencers as opposed to being influenced."
For now, the duo are quite content to bask in that gratification and enjoy a flurry of pop culture references and appearances that run the gamut from a recurring role on "The Cleveland Show" to WWE wrestlers John Layfield and Michael Cole adopting their appearances and performing "Rich Girl" on a 2007 episode of "WWE Raw." Though they plan to continue touring, each is pursuing solo projects with no intentions of recording another Hall and Oates album.
In other words, they're going to keep on enjoying being Hall and Oates, an act that takes on added significance in light of the recent death of long-time bassist Tom "T-Bone" Wolk. For Oates, the joys of his unique lifestyle are best summed up by an encounter at a show in fall 2009. A girl, one of many in a crowd who waited behind the performance venue to catch a glimpse of the legendary duo, walked up to him and held out both of her arms for him to examine.
"She was probably 18, and she had 'Hall and Oates' tattooed on each forearm, and I was like 'Girl, I give you all the props, but when you're 50 you're going to regret those,'" laughs Oates. "But stuff like that happens all the time. People write letters about how these songs get them through their lives. And I feel blessed because I'm still here and of sound mind and body and playing music and enjoying it. I don't think you can ask for anything more in a life."
Hall and Oates on recent pop culture references
'500 Days of Summer'
After spending a night with love interest Summer (Zooey Deschanel), Tom steps into the streets of Los Angeles and performs an impromptu dance number to the tune of 'You Make My Dreams Come True.'
Oates says: 'The filmmakers wanted a song that somehow embodied or represented the euphoria of falling in love, and they chose that song. Why? Probably because they're about 35 years old and it was a big hit when they were kids and it stuck in their minds. Honestly I think it's one of the most perfect unions of film and music that I've ever seen. It's so creative. It totally comes out of left field, but falling in love always does.'
'Flight of the Conchords'
Daryl Hall makes a brief cameo in the HBO comedy series as the organizer and promoter of a world music jam where the titular New Zealand 'folk parody duo' perform.
Hall says: 'They were fans of ours, so they just called my manager. And I was a fan of theirs because I watched the show and had seen their comedy. They were fun to work with. They're really interesting guys. There were a lot of outtakes I wish I had been used, though. There was tons more than what they used. I was sad that none of that showed up on the DVD.'
Hall appears as himself in the IFC comedy series as a former fling of main character Dina.
Hall says: 'That was tons of fun. Unlike on "Flight of the Conchords," which was just a bit part, they sort of devoted most of the show to what I did. It was amazing. It was all improv, and I really like improv — I also did it for SCTV back in the '80s. They basically set the idea of the scene and we'd just go for it and do it over and over again until we had a lot of takes. Those people are really talented improv-ers and very funny.'
'The Cleveland Show'
Hall and Oates have recurring roles as the angel (Hall) and the devil (Oates) that appear on the shoulders of lead character Cleveland Brown in the 'Family Guy' spin-off.
Oates says: 'A few years ago after a show, Mike Henry, who is the voice of Cleveland, came backstage with his wife and introduced himself, as it turns out he's a giant music fan. His two favorite groups are Earth Wind and Fire and Hall and Oates. And we started hanging out, and he said, "Hey, if you guys want to do something with 'Family Guy,' we'd love to have you." And I said sure, because I love "Family Guy" and since my son's 13 he, like all 13-year-olds, watches it all the time. We jumped at the chance to do voiceovers. By the time it actually happened, we'd been folded into "The Cleveland Show," and I guess Mike had a little more creative control, so he made us recurring characters.'
'The Rachael Ray Show'
The talk show host and celebrity chef started a petition to get the duo in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and had them on the show to promote it.
Hall says: 'She's a bubbly, enthusiastic person, and she certainly turned her enthusiasm and bubbliness towards us. I didn't realize how much she cared about what we did until we went on and it was really kind of heartwarming. It's great to have support like that. She's a very nice person and she is all that she seems to be.'
'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart'
Hall and Oates performed a reworked version of ‘She's Gone' to commemorate the departure of famously milquetoast 'Hannity and Colmes' co-host Alan Colmes.
Oates says: 'They wanted to create a skit to say goodbye to Colmes, and they thought "She's Gone" would work well for it, so they basically laid out the whole thing out for us and wrote everything. And loving the show and loving Jon Stewart, we both said yes. It was funny and fun and it's good not to take yourselves too seriously. We try not to get too political as a general rule, but it probably won't surprise anybody to know that we're old lefties, so it made sense for us. I understand Hannity took it kind of poorly.'
Hall and Oates perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $75-$150. Call (512) 474-5664 for more information.