Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Daryl Hall & John Oates - Mind Over Matter (1981-1990)



Voices (1980)



How Does It feel To Be Back/Big Kids/United State/Hard To Be In Love With You/Kiss On My List/Gotta Love Nerve (Perfect Perfect)/You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling/You Make My Dreams/Every Time You Go Away/Africa/Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear The Voices)     
                        
This was Daryl Hall & John Oates, in 1980, diversifying strongly into the popular, catchy new wave sounds of the time. It is possibly their strongest album to date and gained them many new fans as they stood on the edge of around four really successful years.  New wave, blue-eyed soul, dance-ish pop and doo-wop are all explored in this fine offering.

How Does It Feel To Be Back is a sort of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers meets The Searchers jangly but solid rocker, with Daryl Hall sounding like Petty for all he's worth. It has a real new wave rock feel to it. the jerky rhythms of Big Kids have a real Elvis Costello & The Attractions/Nick Lowe sound with hints of early Joe Jackson. The new wave vibe is continued on The Police/Jags/Vapors rocking groove of United State.

Hard To Be In Love With You is a bit more similar to the pair's traditional rock/soul sound bit still also has that new wave sound to it. Kiss On My List is an incredibly infectious serving of soul/pop/soft rock and for many, myself included, was their first true memory of a Hall & Oates hit single. Yes, I knew She's Gone and Rich Girl but this was the one that was suddenly all over the radio. More importantly, girls loved it, so it was a handy song to say you liked. Claiming to like Hall & Oates got you a long way in 1980, believe me, I was that lucky young man.


The jaunty Gotta Love Nerve (Perfect Perfect) is vaguely Prince-esque with hints of The Police's non-Sting material or maybe even The Boomtown Rats. Hall's lead vocal sounds quite Geldof-influenced. The beat also reminds me of Lene Lovich's quirky one-off hit Lucky Number.

The pair's cover of The Righteous Brothers' classic You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling would seem to be tailor-made for them and they do it full justice. The harmonies/vocal interaction at the song's climax are superb. You Make My Dreams sounds as if Elton John has just been invited to the party, with Hall adopting an Elton voice as convincingly as he did Tom Petty's. Every Time You Go Away was a big UK chart hit for Paul Young, and was never a Hall & Oates single. Although I liked his version, Hall & Oates' is the definitive one - a classic piece of white soul.

John Oates' funky, rhythmic Africa is a bit goofy but fun and infectious too. Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear The Voices) is a (unsurprisingly) doo-wop appealing piece of rock 'n' roll-ish harmony in the style of the sort of thing Billy Joel would do on his 1984 Innocent Man album.

I really like this album. It is by a long chalk the most cohesive and consistently high quality release from the pair. While the others all had good points on them, this doesn't have a duff track at all. Highly recommended.




Private Eyes (1981)


Private Eyes/Looking For A Good Sign/I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)/Mano A Mano/Did It In A Minute/Heads Above Water/Tell Me What You Want/Friday Let Me Down/Unguarded Minute/Your Imagination/Some Men 
                                  
While they were recording this album in 1981, the previous year's release, Voices, slightly unexpectedly became a big hit and suddenly Daryl Hall & John Oates were the biggest thing in US music and they gained a following in the UK too. Punk and new wave's excesses were giving way to the slick look-at-me hedonism of the eighties and the white soul/pop/rock of the couple seemed ideal for a decade that valued lush production and smoothness. This album began the halcyon phase for the pair.

Private Eyes is a white soul number in the style of Kiss On My List and was tailor-made for 1981. Its production is a bit tinny (all those handclappy percussion sounds) and sounds a bit dated these days, but I can't help but get a bit nostalgic at hearing it. A bit warmer in its sound is the rhythmic, slightly bassier groove of Looking For A Good Sign. It is a catchy, instant sort of a song that features a great saxophone solo. It was a tribute to the boys' favourites, The Temptations, apparently.

The album's huge hit was I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) which begins in the way that Michael Jackson's Billie Jean would soon after before that instantly recognisable keyboard riff comes in. It was an iconic merging of contemporary dance grooves and drum machine beats with rock and soul. It was all over the airwaves in 1981 and for several years after. Almost irritatingly singalong, it was never my favourite of theirs, but I cannot deny its addictiveness. Mano A Mano is a great rocker of a track with a killer riffy opening and excellent vocals. Check out that guitar solo too. All great stuff - one heck of a track. The sound of band now in complete control, full of confidence.

Did It In A Minute is a synth-driven rocker with heavy Billy Joel hints (not for the first time). There are bits of The Electric Light Orchestra in there too, for me. Once again, it is a rousing, irrepressible number. Head Above Water also has a fine intro and more Joel-esque piano/vocal influence. It also reminds me of The BugglesVideo KiIled The Radio Star in its piano part. All these tracks so far have bubbled over with enthusiasm and ebullience but the production's harshness is a bit off-putting. The chunky, vaguely reggae-influenced Tell Me What You Want ploughs the same furrow and Friday Let Me Down is also very synth/guitar dominated. This run of material is quite rock-ish and may have disappointed the dance pop fans of I Can’t Go For That.

Unguarded Minute is slightly more poppy in its vibrant piano backing while Your Imagination is a deep, thumping number with a muscular bass line and some swirling saxophone. Some Men ends the album in the same rocking fashion of the rest of the album. It was a bit similar to the 1978 album Along The Red Ledge in that the first half is blue eyed soul and the second half is far more rocking. They often did this and I wonder whether their fans were sometimes left a bit perplexed. Probably not, as this was a huge seller. 

Incidentally the Disco Remix of Your Imagination is far more bassy and has a better sound quality to it. If only the whole album had been produced like this.
 



H2O (1982)


Maneater/Crime Pays/Art Of Heartbreak/One On One/Open All Night/Family Man/Italian Girls/Guessing Games/Delayed Reaction/At Tension/Go Solo                                              
This was the massive one for Daryl Hall & John Oates - their ThrillerBorn In The USA or Brothers In Arms. The one album of their many people had. It was an album that summed up the early eighties - the lads' faces dripping with sweat on the cover - sweat was big in the eighties.

Maneater started with that iconic bass line, one that had been used in slight variations on Diana Ross & The SupremesYou Can't Hurry LoveThe Jam's A Town Called Malice and other tracks that I can't recall at the moment. The song is irresistibly infectious, singalong, catchy, whatever and it was played constantly on the radio at the time and, of course on MTV. Everyone wanted a bit of Hall & Oates in 1982, which was strange as they had struggled for ten previous years - this was their eleventh album. A common comment at the time was "I'm not sure which of them is which". Although they were popular they still retained their understated, intrinsically quiet personae. Nobody really knew what John Oates actually did (he played guitar and sang). Anyway, I digress, back to the music. Crime Pays is a delicious slice of Prince-styled slow funk/rock with a great bass/keyboard interaction. Incidentally, the sound/production is much better on this album than its somewhat tinny predecessor, Private Eyes. Check out the bass on this one - great stuff.

  

The warm groove continues on Art Of Heartbreak, which is a captivating, grinding but soulful track. There is a brooding feel to much of the material on this album. The track features an excellent late night saxophone solo. Nothing summed up the summery, laid-back, carefree feel of the early/mid eighties as the sumptuous, melodic vocals and ambience of One On One. More fine saxophone s to be found here over the song's intuitive, seductive slow beat. Classic wine bar fare. It almost makes me miss my white denim jacket and light pastel blue trousers.

Open All Night is one of those slow, big production rock/soul ballads that they had come to specialise in. Family Man was a Mike Oldfield song, although I didn't not know his original version of it (I've listened to it now- it has Sally Oldfield on vocals, I believe) but Hall & Oates give it a quirky, soulful makeover containing some impressive rock guitar breaks and a hooky chorus. Their version is more powerful than the Oldfield one. John Oates' Italian Girls is upbeat and vibrant and full of more addictive hooks. The pair had got their songwriting down to a fine art by now, nailing hooks in every song. More can be found in the classically eighties synth soul of Guessing Games. Track after track is a killer.

Delayed Reaction is a new wave-ish power pop rocker. Hall & Oates always liked to rock out and I guess by this stage on the album they couldn't resist. It is sort of Nick Lowe-esque. At Tension slows the pace down but it is mysteriously entrancing, with a muscular bass line and some echoey vocals. Go Solo ends with a fine serving of big production soul/rock.

This was the third in a row of absolute copper-bottomed corkers from Hall & Oates. Big seller or not, (I often don't trust huge sellers) this was a great album, overflowing with vitality and sheer joie de vivre.




Big Bam Boom (1984)


Dance On Your Knees/Out Of Touch/Method Of Modern Love/Bank On Your Love/Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid/Going Thru The Motions/Cold Dark And Yesterday/All American Girl/Possession Obsession  
                                      
After going a year without releasing album for the first time, Hall & Oates returned in 1984 with the last of their albums as a huge popular act. It is very synthetic, as was so much music of the era, and, although the pair's long-serving backing band are credited, it sounds as if it was all created, Prince-style, by one bloke in the studio playing around with knobs, buttons and sound effects. An awful lot of the pair's intrinsic soulfulness seems to have been sucked out of them by this type of production, but they were by no means unique in this, the 1984-1990 period was, for me, pretty dire. Natural soul and "proper" musicianship was left behind for a while and computerised sounds defined the latter half of the decade. So much music by so many artists suffered during this barren period. This was merely another in a long line of albums that are probably better left back then.

Dance On Your Knees is a typical piece of mid-eighties programmed dance rock. This sort of pounding fare was all the rage back then and Hall & Oates caught on to the trend. Synthesisers and programmed drums are all over this muscular track. When Daryl Hall's vocal finally arrives, though, and the track merges into Out Of Touch, that old white soul groove kicks in. Although undeniably hooky, it still sounds contrived and harsh, however, the easy swing of H2O having been lost somewhere down the line. Not that it isn't a good track, though, it still is. The metronomic sound of the times is continued on the staccato synthy grooves of Method Of Modern Love which is sort of like Prince meets The Style Council. Again, this track does have its catchy good points.

 

For probably the only time on the album, the production does the rocking punch of the eighties era Stonesy Bank On Your Love a favour, enhancing it, giving it strength and making it one of the album's best tracks. It has a great rubbery bass line too, along with some powerful lead guitar riffs. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid is actually a great ballad in spite of its electronic backing. If you can get past that, it is a good song.

Then the album goes a bit downhill. Going Thru The Motions starts with some of those irritating stuttered, repeated half words so popular with many artists at the time before it launches into an ok-ish song typical of its era but not particularly memorable. It is too long as well, without going anywhere. Cold Dark And Yesterday is a better song, but again is rendered a bit lifeless by the production of the day. A bit like those Mick Jagger solo albums for the period. Another trend of the time was to integrate hip-hop rhythms and vocals into songs and this is done on All American Girl, another track that, to be honest, doesn't really go anywhere. Like its predecessors, it is ok, but that's all. The final track was a single, Possession Obsession, and, in spite of its chugging backing beat has a bit of the soulfulness lacking in some of the preceding tracks. It gets the album back on track slightly.

Overall, however, this was a dense, difficult to properly get into album, it has to be said, despite a few undeniable good points, and the pair would not return for another four years, by which time it had become fashionable to dislike them.




Live At The Apollo (1985)


Apollo Medley - Get Ready/Ain't Too Proud To Beg/The Way You Do The Things You Do/My Girl/When Something Is Wrong With My Baby/Every Time You Go Away/I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)/One On One/Possession Obsession/Adult Education          
                                     
The mid-eighties were a pretty barren time for music but I always enjoyed this live collaboration album (that I owned on cassette and played a lot on my first Sony Walkman) from Daryl Hall & John Oates and ex-Temptations Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, finding it vibrant and showcasing a feel-good feeling between the artists involved. Apparently, however, this was not the case, as Kendricks and the notoriously "difficult" Ruffin felt that they were being exploited by Hall & Oates to boost the chart-topping pair's career. This would hardly be the case in 1985, because Hall & Oates were the group of the moment on both sides of the Atlantic and Kendrick & Ruffin had been reduced to playing small "supper club" dives in the inner city. If anything, Hall & Oates had brought them back from obscurity, maybe it was the reality of this that they couldn't cope with. It was unjust that this should have been the situation, of course, as the Motown pair were living legends, but unfortunately it was how it was in the comparatively soul-less mid-eighties.

 

Listening to it at the time, I loved it, and felt the respect and enthusiasm of both groups of artists shone through on the old "side one", where an admittedly throaty Kendricks and Ruffin join Hall & Oates for a frenetic, enthusiastic medley of Get Ready (just Kendricks)/Ain't Too Proud To Beg/The Way You Do The Things You Do and My Girl. I always found it an effervescent, enjoyable medley. When Ruffin begins Ain't Too Proud To Beg it still sends shivers down my spine. My Girl is just wonderful too.

Hall & Oates do justice to their own hits too - Every Time You Go Away (also covered in the UK by Paul Young, which they acknowledge through gritted teeth, referring to Young only as "an English artist") performed here with some titanic drums and great bass on the backing; I Can't Go For That (No Can Do), with another wonderful bass intro and One On One in particular. Their harmonies are impeccable, like the Motown artists who so inspired them, and the musicianship on the backing is top notch throughout. Also impressive is their barnstorming, soulful cover of Isaac Hayes/David Porter's Memphis soul ballad When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.

Great memories. You have to turn the album up loud though, as it doesn't have much volume to it.




Ooh Yeah! (1988)


Downtown Life/Everything Your Heart Desires/I'm In Pieces/Missed Opportunity/Talking All Night/Rockability/Rocket To God/Soul Love/Realove/Keep On Pushin' Love    
                                               
After a four year hiatus during which they only released the Live At The Apollo album, Daryl Hall & John Oates returned in 1988 to find that were now considered uncool and were no longer critically credible. They were treated almost as sad old comeback artists. Quite why the music media and the public in general turned against them was not clear. It just happens in popular music, unfortunately.

Downtown Life is a lively enough opener, although it is still blighted by those accursed synthesisers and programmed drums. It was still 1988, remember. The return to "proper music" hadn't started yet. Everything Your Heart Desires has an eighties backing but it doesn't detract from the fact that it is a most appealing slow, romantic soulful number. The vocals are excellent on this one. I'm In Pieces is a delicious, saxophone-driven rock soul ballad. You can't synthesise a saxophone. Wet Wet Wet made a career of sounding like this, beginning around now. Marti Pellow must have used Daryl Hall's voice as a starting point.


The smooth groove of Missed Opportunity, despite some eighties traits in the backing, shows a willingness to return to the white soul that made their name, leaving behind the electro-disco and hip-hop explorations. It is a fine track with a nice, seductive rhythm and more cool saxophone. Talking All Night has a late night, romantic, wine bar feel to it. A similar vibe can be found on Rockability despite its upbeat-sounding title. It is very much of its time, though.

Rocket To God is a sensual smoocher of a track with more high quality vocals. It features some infectious "world music" style percussion in places. Soul Love is a pretty typical piece of late eighties fare that washes over you warmly, as does Realove. Both of these tracks are powered by too much synthesiser for my taste, though. Keep On Pushin' Love has Daryl Hall sounding just like Prince with a bit of Lou Reed in there slightly, too.

This was a much better album that it was given credit for at the time. Yes, it is a period piece but it certainly isn't a bad album at all. Played by a "proper" band it would actually be really good, as the songs are fine.



© HallAndOatesForever. H & O with Cyndi Lauper Billy Joel in 1988.


Change Of Season (1990)


So Close/Starting All Over Again/Sometimes A Mind Changes/Change Of Season/I Ain't Gonna Take It This Time/Everywhere I Look/Give It Up (Old Habits)/Don't Hold Back Your Love/Halfway There/Only Love/Heavy Rain/So Close (Unplugged)  
                                              
This was the first Hall & Oates album I bought and it came at a time when the were considered old hat. That was a shame because, after virtually a whole decade, those much-maligned eighties synthesisers and programmed drums had been thankfully replaced by the wonderful sounds of a real band again. For me, this was one of their best albums. Coming out of the eighties resulted in so many better albums from so many artists as they re-discovered what music should be all about - authenticity, soul and rock. This was the pair's most soulful album for years, full of Stax feel.

So Close is an excellent, big production rock/soul number and it was the track that inspired me to buy the album. It was so good to hear those "real" drums once more. Man, the eighties were bad for music. Up next is an absolute classic. I always loved Mel & Tim's Stax soul number Starting All Over Again from the late sixties and it is right up Hall & Oates' street. They pay it due respect, as only true soul aficionados like those two could. It's bloody wonderful.

Some Times A Mind Changes has a lovely, deep, warm bass line, crystal clear acoustic guitars and an excellent soulful vocal from Daryl Hall. Change Of Season is solid, genuine Stax-influenced fare. Hearing the pair do stuff like this again is so refreshing. Proper music, proper soul. I Ain't Gonna Take It This Time has a bit of an eighties feel to it in its slow but dramatic Wet Wet Wet style but it also pays several nods to the great soul ballads of the sixties/early seventies. Everywhere I Look is in the same vein but a bit more muscular and rock ballad-influenced. The chorus hook is archetypal Hall & Oates.

Give It Up (Old Habits) is a catchy, saxophone-introduced soul number with yet another killer hook and Don't Hold Back Your Love is a wonderful vocal and acoustic song with huge hints of Southside Johnny in there, I'm thinking of All The Way Home from 1991's Better Days album. The song is a big, heartbreaker of an anthem. Great stuff.

Halfway There is a seductive, smooth soul track that has echoes in the chorus of Forget-Me-Nots by Patrice Rushen, I think. Only Love is a staccato, bassy and rhythmic number with vague hints of Tom Petty and some fetching electric violin. Heavy Rain is a big, bold ballad and So Close is reprised in slow "unplugged" style to finish what is an underrated, enjoyable album.




No comments:

Post a comment