I come now to praise Daryl Hall and John Oates, without their ampersand. Listen, if you grew up with this stuff playing in the background, you hated it after a while. But now there’s a box set in release called “Do You Want, Be What You Are.” That was a song title from H&O long ago. But I would have named the box set after one of my favorite H&O songs, “It’s A Laugh.” But they are not a duo with much of a sense of humor.
Like most duos, H&O fought all the time. Things finally unhinged when, in the 80s, Daryl Hall started bragging about his voice. Then Lynn Hirschberg nailed them in a 1985 Rolling Stone piece and the party was over. This is what you didn’t say in an interview in 1985, but Daryl said it anyway. The conversation was about gossip that he and Oates had been lovers (they weren’t):
“”The idea of sex with a man doesn’t turn me off, but I don’t express it. I satisfied my curiosity about that years ago. I had lots of sex between the ages of three or four and the time I was fourteen or fifteen. Strange experiences with older boys. But men don’t particularly turn me on. And, no, John and I have never been lovers. He’s not my type. Too short and dark.”
It got worse. “It’s weird,” Hall told Hirschberg. “I’m just about the best singer I know, and it’s time for everybody to say that. I have total facility with my voice. And for some weird reason, critics don’t talk about it. Americans think that if you’re popular there must be something wrong with you. To me, the best music now is music that everyone’s listening to. Obscurity is just obscurity. There’s no romance in obscurity.”
Could there be more? Uh huh. ‘I think we’re the Eighties Beatles,’ Hall said. ‘If we had been born twenty years earlier, maybe the world would have seen that. There’s something about our personalities that is very Lennon-and-McCartneyesque. And there is something about the body of work that we both have that’s similar. I know people will have trouble accepting that. But I don’t have any trouble accepting it.’
Yikes. I have to stop there. Hirschberg was not arrested for murder because the Culture Police ruled it suicide. Read on in the story. Fifteen years down the drain.
So now to the box set. I have always held great affection for the second H&O album, “Abandoned Luncheonette.” It was produced magnificently on Atlantic Records by the legendary Arif Mardin. It’s a gem, a classic that contains the duo’s wonderful R&B hit, “She’s Gone.” It has the promise of so much.
But then Hall & Oates moved on to RCA, where they got commercial. Lots of hits followed, including some that I have enjoyed hearing again: “Your Imagination,” “It’s A Laugh,” “It’s Uncanny,” “Rich Girl.” There are also a pair from later in their hit run: “Out of Touch” and “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid.” The latter should be a reference to that interview. Too bad they didn’t take their own advice.
Well, it’s water under the bridge. H&O were humbled for their hubris. After Hirschberg, the hits dried up. At one point, Daryl sang on an Elvis Costello record for cred. It didn’t help anyone. He does have a beautiful voice, as does Oates, and they always complimented each other well. You hear them more on “She’s Gone” and “Sara Smile” than on later records where the sound is pumped up for radio action. Listening to the box set, putting aside the interviews and the videos (they didn’t help ‘ you wanted to run from them in the 80s), Hall & Oates made a lot of really nice music. Not in the realm of the Beatles. (Ahem, who knows what fueled that conversation?) But it’s nice to hear it all one more time.