During the late 60s, as Detroit ruled the pop and soul airwaves, the seeds for the next dominant soul city, Philadelphia, were germinating. And while they're often not given their due as soul artists, two Temple University students, Daryl Hall & John Oates, were among the most talented and influential of these upstart Philadelphia musicians. While in school, Hall became a member of the Romeos, a vocal group that included the future "Big Three" foundation of the Sound of Philadelphia, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, and shared the music sensibilities and song craftsmanship of those music giants. Hall and Oates were then acquaintances, and ultimately teamed together for good in 1969 under the management of future Sony chief Tommy Mottola, who landed them a recording contract with Atlantic Records.
Alternating between blue-eyed soul and folk sounds, H&O recorded three relatively unsuccessful Altantic albums, though working with top producers Arif Mardin and Todd Rundgren. The best of these was Abandoned Luncheonette, a wonderful acoustic soul album (twenty-five years before the appropriate labeling by India.Arie) that was shockingly ignored at the time (it would get its revenge later), but which demonstrated the developing songwriting skills of the duo. They received vicarious props, though, as Tavares took a cover of their ballad, "She's Gone," to the top of the Soul charts.
In 1975, H&O moved to RCA and hit gold immediately with the smash "Sara Smile" (later covered by After 7) a brilliantly soulful ballad that showed Daryl Hall to be one of the great soul voices of that decade. This led to the re-release by Atlantic of Abandoned Luncheonette and the single "She's Gone," which then went top 10. They followed the next year with the excellent album Bigger Than Both Of Us¸ which was propelled by the pop hit "Rich Girl" but also included the underrated soul ballad "Do What You Want, Be What You Are" (later covered by the Dramatics).
Hall and Oates consciously transitioned to more of a rock sound over the remainder of the decade, and the resulting albums were both less satisfying and less popular. Then in 1980, when the group appeared to be on the verge of becoming irrelevant, they released a remake of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" that recaptured radio's attention. They followed with the chart-topping "Kiss On My List," and then with a string of well crafted, upbeat, radio-friendly songs that dominate airplay for the next decade. Songs like "Private Eyes," "You Make My Dreams," "Maneater" and "I Can't Go For That" all topped the charts (the latter song even went to #1 on the Soul charts), ultimately making Hall & Oates the best selling duo in music history and one of the biggest acts of any kind in the 80s. But while the group's music in this era certainly went down easy, it was far less thoughtful and satisfying than their mid-70s work and, interestingly, sounds much more dated today.
After releasing a well-intentioned but mediocre live album with former Temptations Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin (and helping secure a recording contract for the Ruffin & Kendrick), H&O moved to Arista Records for two lesser albums before going silent, their chart magic behind them. During the remainder of the 90s they worked the oldies circuit, hitting the casinos and summer outdoor amphitheaters. Daryl Hall recorded a couple unsuccessful solo albums during this period, and the group's one release, the surprisingly enjoyable Marigold Sky, was ignored.
In 2002, after a decade out of the spotlight, H&O became the subject of a VH1: Behind the Music episode. It was extremely popular and coincided with the release of the group's best single in 20 years, "Do It For Love," a wonderfully crafted song that was clearly the product of mature artists, but with the lyrical joy of early Philadelphia soul. It shocked the music world by shooting to the top of the AC charts. The duo planned to reunite with then-Sony President Mottola for the Do It For Love album. However, his departure from Sony stalled the project for several months and it was nearly a year before the album was independently released. The wait was worth it, though, as the disc, a welcome return to their acoustic soul sound, was their first truly great album since the 70s and the perfect complement to the hit title song. Do It For Love is a virtual songwriting clinic for younger artists (listen to the title cut or "Something About You") and a lesson for older artists on using maturity as an ally in making music.
The success of Do It For Love led Hall to release a previous Japan-only album,Can't Stop Dreaming, in the US. Dreaming attempts to straddle soul, AC and smooth jazz sounds, and does it pretty effectively. Nothing on it is as irresistible as "Do It For Love," but is a solid pop/soul album - something that is hard to find these days. And Daryl Hall again proved he is one of the great soul singers of his generation.
Hall & Oates followed in 2005 with a covers album and then a very nice Christmas CD in 2006. In 2008, Daryl Hall launched a new website and ongoing series of music videos with friends called Live at Daryl's House. It became an internet sensation and was ultimately picked up by several cable networks. In 2011 he released the album Laughing Down Crying, an excellent representation that Hall is still relevant and making great music into his 60s.
by Chris Rizik