Daryl Hall & John Oates - Do What You Want, Be What You Are (2009)

Daryl Hall & John Oates
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In some ways, the most surprising thing about the four disc Hall and Oates compilation, Do What You Want, Be What You Are, is that it took so long to be released.  After all, H&O is, by a wide margin, the best selling vocal duo of all time. But, in many ways, the world wouldn't have been ready for a Hall & Oates boxed set ten years ago, when seemingly every artist of any note was compiling outtakes, live performances and demos into elaborate compilations.  Back then H&O were still paying the price for their fame -- particularly their 80s big hair success -- and were considered by many as hitmakers but not artists, much in the way the Bee Gees had been treated during the 90s.

In some ways, the most surprising thing about the four disc Hall and Oates compilation, Do What You Want, Be What You Are, is that it took so long to be released.  After all, H&O is, by a wide margin, the best selling vocal duo of all time. But, in many ways, the world wouldn't have been ready for a Hall & Oates boxed set ten years ago, when seemingly every artist of any note was compiling outtakes, live performances and demos into elaborate compilations.  Back then H&O were still paying the price for their fame -- particularly their 80s big hair success -- and were considered by many as hitmakers but not artists, much in the way the Bee Gees had been treated during the 90s.

But a funny thing happened as the new millennium arose.  A new generation of less cynical singers who grew up on hits from "She's Gone" to "I Can't Go For That" were not only noncritical of H&O's past, but openly acknowledged their love for duo's contribution to popular music.  Combine that with the group's re-emergence via the #1 song "Do It For Love" and a high profile tour with Michael McDonald and AWB, and a new appreciation arose for the nearly four decades of infectious, soulful pop music that made up the H&O discography.

But it isn't the big hits that make the meticulously compiled Do What You Want so fun, even though they're all here; most of their fans already have those songs in multiple formats.  And it isn't the pre-Hall & Oates tracks of Daryl and John that dot the early part of disc one, or the live versions (of varying quality) of more obscure songs; those are purely for completists among their fans. What really makes the compilation so special is the inclusion of well selected album tracks that may have received limited airplay when they were new, but which have sadly been forgotten over the course of years.  So quality cuts from the 70s like "Love You Like A Brother," "Had I Known You Better," "Back Together Again," "Fall In Philadelphia," and perhaps their greatest true Philly soul cut, "It's Uncanny," hit like a fresh splash of water, sounding terrific more than three decades after they were first recorded.  Sure, it's great hearing "Rich Girl" and the seminal "Sara Smile" again, but my smile was from rediscovering killer songs like "Camelia" and the haunting "August Day."

Disc four will be a treat for those who lost track of Hall & Oates when their chart topping days ended in the late 80s. While it unfortunately omits anything from their late 90s Marigold Sky album, it otherwise includes much of their worthwhile material of the past 15 years, including a newly recorded ballad, "Dreamer," on which Daryl Hall, now in his sixties, shows that he is still a uniquely gifted soul singer.

Time has grown kinder and kinder to Hall & Oates, and Do What You Want, Be What You Are should continue the duo's well deserved rehabilitation from the crime of creating music that was too accessible to be considered cool.  But in the long run, the songs themselves, not the attitude, become more important, and under that lens the music of Hall & Oates stands up very well.  Do What You Want reminds us that H&O was more than just a Top 40 act.  The duo has created a staggering amount of memorable music over the past forty years; music that stands up well as we finish the first decade of the 21st century. So we may not have been ready a few years ago to take a long, slow look at the historic career of Hall and Oates, but that was our fault.  As one odd musical fad after another screamed of its self-importance, we ultimately wised up to realize what we should have known: the there was real power in what we secretly liked all along.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

 
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