Whole Oats (1972)
I'm Sorry/All Our Love/Georgie/Fall In Philadelphia/Waterwheel/Lazyman/Good Night And Good Morning/They Needed Each Other/Southeast City Window/Thank You For..../Lilly (Are You Happy)
This was the very first album from Daryl Hall & John Oates, dating from 1972. They had been knocking around various Philadelphia soul groups until hooking up with veteran soul producer Arif Mardin and launching their career as a pair of retro soul/r 'n' b artists. It has been all but forgotten in later years.
I'm Sorry is an appealing, rhythmic and soulful opener with a bit of a country-style twangy guitar featuring over its Philly soul backing. The pair's rock 'n' roll-influence vocal harmonies are heard here for the first time near the end of the track. I am surprised this wasn't a hit. It is the album's best track, by far and should always be included on a "Best Of" collection, but invariably never is. All Our Love is a very typically early seventies serving of acoustic, country rock, full of breezy lightness. It was 1972 after all. Georgie is a melancholy folky acoustic song that breaks out with some big string arrangements half way through. It is similar to some of The Beach Boys' early seventies stuff.
Fall In Philadelphia is so very early seventies Elton John/Bernie Taupin it could almost be from Tumbleweed Connection or Honky Château. Check out the guitar/piano break in the middle for proof. Whatever, it is fine track. Nice brass on it too. Waterwheel is a gentle, piano ballad that sounds a bit like something Clifford T. Ward might have done, or Bread. Lazyman continues in the same laid-back piano-backed style. The album had got into a bit of a rut at this point with these type of tracks. However, this is dealt with by the pleasant soul/rock sound of Good Night And Good Morning, which was another understated but confident gem of a song.
The ambience dips back into sleepiness with the quiet, again Elton John-esque They Needed Each Other. It sounds like a cut from 1970's Elton John album. Southeast City Window is in the same vein too, a bit more country-ish, CSNY-style, this time. Both John Oates' tender, Paul Simon-ish Thank You For... and the reflective Lilly (Are You Happy) see the album finish in low-key fashion.
The album was a mixture of attractive white soul and low-key, quiet piano ballads. The latter were no doubt influenced by the contemporary country rock boom. The best cuts were the three upbeat soul ones, however, and it was in this direction that the pair progressed. It would be nearly ten years before they broke completely big, though.
Abandoned Luncheonette (1973)
When The Morning Comes/Had I Known You Better Then/Las Vegas Turnaround ( The Stewardess Song)/She's Gone/I'm Just A Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like A Man)/Abandoned Luncheonette/Lady Rain/Laughing Boy/Every Time I Look At You
Released in 1973, this was Daryl Hall & John Oates' second album and it is a very chilled-out, sleepy serving of soft soul/rock. It doesn't have the blatant poppiness of their later, chart-successful material and is an immaculately-played, low-key, nicely-crafted album. It doesn't really fit into any genre, however, certainly not in 1973. In many ways, it was considerably ahead of its time - amid all that stomping glam rock, street funk and bluesy heavy rock it was mature, soulful fare, rarely getting above walking pace.
When The Morning Comes is an acoustic-driven, slow, melodic shuffler of a song, featuring some excellent harmonies and falsetto vocals. It is all very laid-back, summery and easy on the ear. Even more tranquil is the Simon & Garfunkel-esque Had I Known You Better Then. Many years later, Wet Wet Wet would release lots of stuff in this style. Marti Pellow was surely influenced by the vocals on here. Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song) is similarly relaxing - a tale about an air hostess flying gamblers in and out of Las Vegas.
She's Gone, with its beautifully insistent yet quiet intro vocal part became a big hit in a couple of years' time, following on from Sara Smile. It is a superb, evocative song, enhanced by a great saxophone solo and outstanding vocals that let the world know that these two had something. The guitar and bass build up to the final chorus is great too. I'm Just A Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like A Man) is a gentle acoustic song, with echoes of Bread and Clifford T. Ward.
Abandoned Luncheonette is tuneful and almost jazzy, but still very laid-back, it sounds to me like the sort of thing Supertramp would do in the late seventies, particularly with its wry, witty lyrics as well as its vaguely proggy, changeable music. Lady Rain has a subtly infectious rhythm to it but, once again, it is a very quiet, reflective song. There is something of Steely Dan about this one. It also has a fine electric violin solo that could almost be Steeleye Span. It morphs into the Billy Joel-ish, piano-driven Laughing Boy.
The final track, Every Time I Look At You, is a lengthy, funky workout that is slightly different to the rest of the album, featuring some slow-paced, addictive wah-wah guitar. Again, it reminds me a bit of Steely Dan, particularly the wah-wah solo. By the end of the track it has developed into a frenetic country rock hoedown that forms the only really upbeat part of the album.
Overall, this is an interesting and intriguing album and one that is considerably different in ambience to the duo's more popular, better-known work. It is a bit of a hidden treasure.
War Babies (1974)
Can't Stop The Music (He Played It Much Too Long)/Is It A Star/Beanie G & The Rose Tattoo/You're Much Too Soon/70s Scenario/War Baby Son Of Zorro/I'm Watching You (A Mutant Romance)/Better Watch Your Back/Screaming Through December/Johnny Gore & The "C" Eaters
After the laid-back, understated soulfulness of Abandoned Luncheonette, Daryl Hall & John Oates employed Todd Rundgren as the producer of this far more rock-orientated album, full of odd song titles, from 1974. It was one that alienated some of their new-found blue-eyed soul fans. There is nothing like She’s Gone on here, for example. It is a bit weird, let's be honest, lyrically and musically, in places, and Rundgren made a bit of a hash of the production, sonically, with its often harsh, grating soundscape. The previous album had a much better, warmer sound.
Can't Stop The Music (He Played It Much Too Long) is actually quite soulfully funky in its rhythmic percussion, guitar and infectious bass line and it is quite an adventurous, innovative number. It is certainly pretty unique stuff for 1974. Is It A Star continues in a laid-back, melodic funk/rock groove but it also contains some seriously fuzzy guitar and swirling, proggy synthesiser. It actually ends up as quite a heavy workout, but freaky too, man. The vocals are great too, almost Earth, Wind & Fire-esque. There is something about this material that requires several listens, actually. It is somewhat difficult to categorise, which adds to its mystery.
Beanie G & The Rose Tattoo is a strange piece of white funk with proggy aspects and some searing guitar parts. The production lets the song down a bit, though. You’re Much Too Soon is closer to the vibe of the previous album, while 70s Scenario has that piano-driven Billy Joel feeling that the pair often conjured up. Daryl Hall’s vocal is excellent on this one. Once more, by the end of the track it has gone into seriously buzzy guitar rock. That sound is also on War Baby Son Of Zorro, a weirdly-titled swirly piece of seventies rock. Again, I have to say that the sound is dreadful.
I'm Watching You (A Mutant Romance) tries to be a bit spacey in its lyrics about a TV beam. Its sound is very early seventies Elton John-influenced. Better Watch Your Back is one of the album’s better tracks with a great, deep bass line snd a catchy rhythm. Screaming Through December is a grandiose, piano and organ ballad that probably not quite as good as it wants to be, if you understand me. There are fine moments in it, every now and then, however and one of these comes half way through when it suddenly morphs into a vibrant slice of jazzy funk. Johnny Gore & The "C" Eaters sounds like something from a T. Rex album from the same era. It rocks as hard as anything the pair ever did, almost punky in its aural, riffy attack.
This was a total oddball of an album, to be fair, and is probably left back in the past, despite some of its admittedly quirky appeal. None of its tracks every appear on compilations, perhaps unsurprisingly. You do have to wonder what H & O were thinking of. At times it is enticingly bonkers, though. Give it a listen and try to make sense of it.
Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975)
Camellia/Sara Smile/Alone Too Long/Out Of Me, Out Of You/Nothing At All/Gino (The Manager)/(You Know) It Doesn't Matter Anymore/Ennui On The Mountain/Grounds For Separation/Soldering
After 1973’s impressive Abandoned Luncheonette, 1974’s War Babies was a bizarre album - poor-sounding, experimental, indulgent and often irritating but this saw Hall & Oates getting back on track. They were now signed to RCA Records from Atlantic. Appearing in full make-up on the cover was an odd move, though. It seemed totally incongruous and, in John Oates’ case, ludicrous. That moustache gave it away.
Camellia is a welcome return to harmonious, melodic West Coast-ish soft rock. This was what the pair did best, I have to say, compared to the proggy, spacey madness of the previous album. Sara Smile, which was a big hit, was one of a number of tracks written with Daryl Hall’s lover Sara Allen in mind and is beautifully tuneful and seductively soulful. Sara Allen often co-wrote the group's songs, but not this one, as it is about her. The same can be said of the sumptuous strains of Alone Too Long. Out Of Me, Out Of You features some superb falsetto vocals from Hall and an infectious backing.
Nothing At All has a delicious, low-key bass intro similar to that which was used so effectively on She's Gone, and when the vocals arrive the slick, polished ambience is continued. There was often a lot of Billy Joel to be heard in Hall & Oates' music in the mid-late seventies and it can be found here on Gino (The Messenger), that sort of staccato beat and lyrical smartness. (You Know) It Doesn't Matter Anymore is another sumptuous falsetto-led sweetly soulful and melodic ballad. This sort of thing is rapidly becoming par for the course for this album. Ennui On The Mountain ups the tempo a bit, but in a punchy, vaguely Stax-ish soul fashion. It is a fine, infectious, brass number.
The Billy Joel vibe is definitely back on the muscular stomp of Grounds For Separation. Soldering (as in melting metal) has a summery, reggae-tinge to it, and features John Oates on deeper lead vocals. "Soldering is what the young girl wants..." says the lyrics, perplexingly. As white cod-reggae goes, it is ok.
This album pretty much consolidated the pair's sound for the next few years and it would be continued on the impressive Bigger Than Both Of Us in the following year.
** There were two convincing non-album tracks from this period too. Hall is back on the lush What's Important To Me and Oates dominates things for the most part (Hall joins in near the end) on the equally pleasant Ice.
Bigger Than Both Of Us (1976)
Back Together Again/Rich Girl/Crazy Eyes/Do What You Want, Be What You Are/Kerry/London, Luck & Love/Room To Breathe/You'll Never Learn/Falling
This album, from 1976, immediately showcases a lively, punchy approach. Back Together Again is a muscular, staccato piece of rock/soul, full of saxophone, pounding drums and soulful vocals. The album's big hit was the sumptuous, infectious singalong Rich Girl. After Sara Smile and She's Gone, this, along with the previous album too, helped to cement Hall & Oates' reputation as a credible rock/soul/AOR outfit.
Crazy Eyes is an appealing bassy and vaguely funky number that shows off some delicious harmonies from the pair. This is really good stuff and easily the equal, if not the superior to the material in the mid-eighties that was so successful which the public. In many ways, this earlier, lesser-known stuff is much better. It is very 1976, providing a bridge between Billy Joel and Steely Dan and is far more credible than it was ever given credit for being.
The slow, late-night soul of Do What You Want, Be What You Are was covered by The Dramatics in 1979. It shows perfectly that H & O knew their soul. It has a slow Memphis/Stax dignity to it, a bit like When Something Is Wrong With My Baby. Kerry is a Billy Joel-ish number. In the late seventies I had a girlfriend called Kerry and never knew this song existed, having searched far and wide for a song that mentioned her name. A pity I couldn't find this great song to serenade her with. I would have loved this at the time.
London, Luck & Love is a beguiling, late sixties-ish song expressing the call of London to a pair of artists well-versed in popular music history. Room To Breathe is one of the rockiest things they ever did - sort of Rolling Stones meets Elton John in a glorious, raucous mid-seventies thrash. You'll Never Learn is also very Elton John-influenced, in that sort of chugging, vaguely bluesy chunky slow rock style. Falling is a bit Billy Joel-esque, once again, in its big, dignified rock ballad ambience. It ends with some proggy, typically mid-seventies synthesiser.
This was a really good album, and a surprisingly rock-influenced one, but one very much of its time, but none the worse for it.
Beauty On A Back Street (1977)
Don't Change/Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts/You Must Be Good For Something/The Emptiness/Love Hurts (Love Heals)/Bigger Than Both Of Us/Bad Habits And Infections/Winged Bull/The Girl Who Used To Be
From 1977, Hall & Oates were following a familiar pattern by now and subtly preparing their sound for larger arenas and stadiums. Big rock/soul was the order of the day - forget the fact that punk was gnashing its teeth all around them. Listening to this you would have thought punk never happened.
Don't Change is a solid serving of adult-oriented rock with a soul edge to it. It is what you expect from Hall & Oates by now - fine, soulful vocal harmonies, nice bass, chunky drums and muscular rock guitar. The classic Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Hearts is covered inventively, concentrating on H & O's strengths to make it their own, as opposed to covering it doo-wop straight. There's a great guitar solo in it too.
You Must Be Good For Something is a chunky, riffy rock number. As often with the group, the Billy Joel influence is present. The handclapping part is slightly new wave too. The Emptiness is a slow, low-key ballad that also still finds space for the trademark big, grandiose breaks. Check out that guitar solo too. Love Hurts (Love Heals) is a nice, mid-pace saxophone-enhanced song.
Bigger Than Both Of Us was, strangely, the title of their previous album but it appears here as a track. It is a typically orchestrated, lush big soul/rock ballad, full of synthesiser breaks. All very end of the seventies. It is still a good track though. They had a sort of unique sound, really, that no-one else did, if that doesn't sound too stupidly obvious.
Bad Habits And Infections is a six minute-plus chugging rocker featuring lots of riffs and some convincing rock vocals. It is a bit prog-rock in its lengthiness and changes of pace and melody. it ends with an odd bit of vocal, Hall proclaiming that "I am the doctor" in increasingly crazed fashion. The track sits rather incongruously with the rest of album, it is not polished soul/rock, that's for sure. Winged Bull actually also has a bit of a proggy, swirling rock feel to it as well. I have a vague memory of this track from back in 1977 for some reason, but I have no idea where I heard it. I didn't have the album at the time. the final track, The Girl Who Used To Be is also a bit of a mysterious number - this time a slow, gentle, almost sleepy ballad.
Overall, this was largely a soul/rock offering with vague proggy hints here and there, particularly at the end of the album. It has a nice, warm sound quality to it and I guess it is very much of its time, but there's nothing wrong with that is there, 1977 had all sorts of great music on offer. That is from an old punk too.
Along The Red Ledge (1978)
It's A Laugh/Melody For A Memory/The Last Time/I Don't Wanna Lose You/Have I Been Away Too Long/Alley Katz/Don't Blame It On Love/Serious Music/Pleasure Beach/August Day
This album, from 1978, initially continued in the polished, Philly soul-influenced feel that had characterised the previous two releases. Although rock guitars and drums are used, they never completely drown the soul ambience, which was something that made Hall & Oates comparatively on their own, genre-wise, difficult to properly pigeonhole. As with the previous album, the existence of punk and new wave at the same time seemed not to matter in the slightest, especially at the beginning of the album, but having said that, the pair attempt to rock pretty hard on the second half of the album, but, as with most of the similar efforts from other artists around the same time, it sounds somewhat contrived and clumsy and they really didn't need to do it. Stick to what you're good at, lads.
It's A Laugh is a catchy, mid-pace soulful piece of harmonious soft rock. Melody For A Memory is slow and soully, but also containing that big production sound that the pair were now specialising in. The vocal interaction between the two is superb as is the guitar solo half way through. The Last Time starts with a Be My Baby/Don't Worry Baby drum beat and continues as a sort of vocal homage to The Ronettes and The Beach Boys. Daryl Hall loved his classic soul/rock 'n' roll and it often showed on tribute tracks drenched in nostalgia like this one. Tribute or not, it is a really good song. I love it. Incidentally, George Harrison plays guitar on it too.
I Don't Wanna Lose You has pure Philly style strings, excellent vocals and real seventies soul feel to it, complete with a bit of jazzy saxophone. It reminds me in places of Elton John's Philadelphia Freedom - the strings, the drums and some of the vocals. Have I Been Away Too Long is a slow ballad with a Harold Melvin meets Billy Joel feel to it. Hall's falsetto vocal is sublime here. A nice track.
The old "side two" saw the pair making their slight nod to punk and rocking out on a track like the riffy, grinding rock of Alley Katz. While enjoyable, it was pretty unconvincing, and nowhere near up to the retro-soul high standard of "side one". The rock continues on the chunky riffs of Don't Blame It On Love, which is a sort of stadium-ish rocker. Riffage continues on The Stones/early Mott The Hoople vibe of Serious Music. I am enjoying these upbeat cuts, but I have to admit that they haven't really aged well in comparison the the pair's soul/rock material, which remains pretty timeless.
Pleasure Beach starts as a Beach Boys-ish slow number before it breaks out into a Ramones-influenced thrash full of handclappy drums, crazed guitars, fairground organ and screeching backing vocals. It is so bonkers I actually quite like it. The pace finally reverts to normal on the closer, August Day, which is a laid-back, sleepy, almost jazzy number with some nice Stevie Wonder-esque harmonica.
It is a bit of a strange album, this one, very much one of two halves to probably be best enjoyed separately.
The Woman Comes And Goes/Wait For Me/Portable Radio/All You Want Is Heaven/Who Said The World Was Fair/Running From Paradise/Number One/Bebop Drop/Hallafon/Intravino
I have seen this described as Hall & Oates' "disco album", after all, they were all doing it in 1979, weren't they? Elton John, Rod Stewart, The Stones, ABBA, even Jackson Browne - they all got their big collars and dancing shoes out. This does have several contemporary nods to disco but it also has a couple of pretty archetypal Hall & Oates rock/soul offerings at the outset. Overall, though, I guess a considerable amount of diversification took place on this one.
From the intro, I would have sworn The Woman Comes And Goes was Billy Joel, from the lyrics and the atmosphere too. It is great rock track with a stonking saxophone solo too. Wait For Me is typical Hall & Oates soft soul/rock with a sumptuous catchy chorus. It is one of their best tracks, for me, showcasing them at their best. These first two are probably the two best ones on the album. Portable Radio has a synthesised disco beat and some funky, disco guitar. It has a singalong rocking chorus, some great guitar and an infectious rumbling dance-ish bass line. I actually really like it, the groove is disco and rock all at once. I have a memory of this track from back in 1979, I think a girlfriend liked it.
All You Want Is Heaven is also a killer of a song, with lots of very late seventies clunking piano and power chords. Yes, it is very much of its time but I cannot help but like it, a bit like The Electric Light Orchestra from the same period. Despite my punk credentials, stuff like this was my guilty secret. More now than then, though, I have to admit.
Who Said The World Was Fair sees a return to upbeat disco rhythms on a track full of chicka-chicka disco guitars, pumping synthesiser and another infectious chorus. A slightly less frantic but still seductively appealing disco rock beat is found on Running From Paradise, complete with some Level 42-style slap-bass. I like the riffy guitar interjections too. Number One is a pretty convincing stab at a dubby reggae beat that fits well into the mood of 1979. Bebop Drop is a rocking number with a disco-style melody to it.
Hallafon is a brief synthy instrumental that leads into the equally synth-driven and frantic Intravino that mixed electro pop with new wave. Despite some disparaging reviews floating around, this was actually quite a brave attempt at creating a contemporaneously relevant record. It deserves some credit for that and the fact that it is eminently listenable. You know, I really like it.
The two non-album tracks are the disco pop of Times Up (Alone Tonight) and a very new wave-ish number that has echoes of Joe Jackson and The Police in No Brain No Pain. Both are pretty good, especially the latter.