Hall & Oates - Biography
Though they have often been derided by critics throughout their career for being too pop or too polished, the duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates have racked up an impressive string of hits, especially in a period from the late 1970s to the mid 1980s and have gone on to be widely regarded as the most successful duo in the history of pop.
Daryl Hall (born Daryl Franklin Hohl in Pottstown, Pennsylvania on October 11th, 1946) was the son of two classically trained musicians and had an eager appreciation for music from the beginning. As a child his parents gave him classical piano and voice lessons in the hope that he would follow a classical path into music. Early on, however, Hall discovered rock and rhythm & blues and fell equally in love with those strains of music. By the time Hall was a young teenager, he was hitchhiking into nearby Philadelphia to check out (and ultimately become part of) the local doo-wop and rhythm & blues scene. Though the scene was mostly made up of African Americans, local groups were impressed enough by Hall's eagerness and chops to let him sit in with them. Hall frequently appeared on sessions with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who, along with Thom Bell, would shape the sound of “Philly Soul” in the coming years. While singing and playing with the R&B groups, Hall continued his classical studies and for a time would perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra during the day, then sing back-up at small clubs in the evening.
John William Oates, born in New York City on April 7, 1949, was raised in North Wales, Pennsylvania by two parents who loved the new music called rock ‘n’ roll. His mother took him to concerts by early rock ‘n’ roll acts such as Bill Haley & the Comets. She even bought him his first guitar at age eight and paid for lessons. Oates eventually fell in love with soul and R&B and was soon making his way into nearby Philadelphia to catch local and touring acts. Before long he was forming small, ad-hoc bands with his friends, trying to figure out how to play their version of the rock ‘n’ soul they so admired. By the mid ‘60s, Oates was finding work as a back-up musician and singer at studio sessions and live gigs in and around Philadelphia.
Hall crossed paths with Oates at some point in 1967, when both Hall and Oates were students at Temple University. Reportedly, during a band competition at the Adelphi Ballroom, Hall was leading his band at the time, The Temptones. Oates was leading his own band, The Masters, when gunfire rang out. Both Hall and Oates escaped the scene by ducking into the same service elevator and soon, due to their similar musical interests, struck up a friendship. The two worked together in various soul and doo-wop groups over the next year or so but severed their partnership in 1968 when Oates transferred to a new school and Hall formed the rock-oriented Gulliver, who released one album on Elektra before disbanding.
After Gulliver broke up, Hall worked again as a studio musician, appearing on sessions for The Intruders, The Stylistics and The Delfonics, to name a few. When Oates returned to Philadelphia in 1969, the pair resumed their partnership and began writing songs together that had a more folk feel than their previous R&B inflected sound. The pair gigged around Philadelphia and eventually attracted the attention of Tommy Mottola, who became their manager. Within a couple of years, Mottola had secured the pair a contract with Atlantic Records. Hall & Oates entered the studio in 1972 with noted producer Arif Mardin to record their debut Whole Oats (Atlantic). Though the album was decidedly folk-rock, Mardin encouraged the duo to play up their R&B background and injected some funky guitar and horn charts on a couple of tunes to open up the pair's sound. Whole Oats didn't do much sales-wise but it did help establish a sound Hall & Oates would hone in years to come.
The duo followed up Whole Oats the next year with Abandoned Luncheonette (Atlantic), which was a return to the pair's more R&B-meets-rock sound. Though Abandoned Luncheonette didn't sell very well either, it did garner better reviews than their first album and contained the single “She's Gone,” which would be a minor hit on its initial release, but became a bigger hit a couple of years later after the duo had more success.
In 1974, Hall & Oates teamed up with producer Todd Rundgren and recorded the album War Babies (Atlantic), which featured a harder, more rock edge than their first two. The record seemed to have alienated whatever fan base the duo was gathering and Hall & Oates returned to the “blue-eyed soul” sound they had initially cultivated. 1974 into 1975 brought more changes to the duo, as they left their native Philadelphia for New York, and switched record labels from Atlantic to RCA.
Their next effort was Daryl Hall & John Oates (RCA), sometimes referred to as “The Silver Album” because of the album artwork of a picture of the heavily-made-up duo against a silver lamé background, The pair hit commercial pay dirt with the album's blend of soft rock, soul and R&B. Hall & Oates saw their first top ten single with “Sara Smile,” a song Hall wrote about his girlfriend and future writing partner, Sara Allen. “Sarah Smile” eventually topped out at #4 in June of 1976. Their old label, Atlantic, re-released their earlier single “She's Gone” and that followed “Sara Smile” into the top ten the following October.
The duo followed up the success of both singles by releasing their next album, Bigger than Both of Us (RCA) in late 1976. At first album sales seemed to stall but Hall & Oates scored their first #1 hit with the release of the second single from the album, “Rich Girl,” which climbed to the top spot in March of 1977.
Seeing the tall, blond Hall as the frontman, RCA pushed for Hall to record a solo record in 1977. Hall had met King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp years before and they found common musical ground. Hall enlisted Fripp to produce and play guitar on his solo debut, Sacred Songs (RCA), which also included contributions from such notable artists as Brian Eno, Tony Levin and Phil Collins. Hall and Fripp, both pleased with the result of Hall's more pop aesthetic blending well with Fripp's more art-rock sensibilities, delivered the finished album to RCA and were rejected. Furious, both Hall and Fripp made tapes of the album and passed them on to reviewers and disc jockeys, generating a grass-roots effort to get the album released. The album did eventually see the light of day in 1980 and sold fairly well.
Smarting from the reaction from RCA, Hall returned to working with Oates and — wanting to spread their creative wings a bit — the duo flirted again with a more rock-oriented sound on their 1978 album, Along the Red Ledge (RCA). After they failed to score a hit off of the record, the pair retooled and tried to jump in on the disco bandwagon with X-Static (1979 RCA). By the time the album was released, disco was declining in popularity and the album failed to find an audience.
By 1980, Hall & Oates had gone through enough in their time that they started to figure out their strengths and how they needed to do things and began producing their own. Rather than rely on hired backing musicians, the pair used their live band (including guitarist G.E. Smith, drummer Jerry Marotta, bassist John Siegler, and saxophonist Charles DeChant) to lay down a mixture of their beloved “blue-eyed soul” with elements of R&B and the new wave music popular at the time.
The first album to benefit from their new arrangement, 1980's Voices (RCA) hit the commercial jackpot better than any album the duo had released before. The first single from the album, “How Does It Feel to Be Back,” did respectfully and charted at #30 on the pop charts. The follow-up, a cover of the Righteous Brothers’ “You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin',” almost made the top ten and spent over fourteen weeks in the charts. The third single, “Kiss on My List,” scored the band their next #1 hit in April of 1981. The fourth single, “You Make My Dreams,” made it to #5 that summer. The album also included the song “Everytime You Go Away,” later a #1 hit for British soul singer Paul Young.
Hall & Oates were now a pop juggernaut and before “You Make My Dreams” had even fallen off of the charts, the duo released their next album, 1981's Private Eyes (RCA). Private Eyes would spawn four top forty singles and would be the group's first album placed in the top 10 of Billboard's Top 200 album chart. Singles from the album included the title track, (a #1 hit), “I Can't Go For That (No Can Do),” another #1 hit which also hit the top of the R&B charts, “Did It In a Minute,” which reached #9. “Your Imagination,” reached #33 on the pop charts.
Hall & Oates tweaked their formula slightly for their next release, relying more on synthesizers and making changes to their backing band, with drummer Mickey Curry replacing Marotta and bassist Tom “T-Bone” Wolk replacing Siegler. The new group recorded and released H2O (1982 RCA). It surpassed even Private Eyes in sales. The album boasted three top ten singles, “Maneater,” another #1 hit, “One on One,” and a cover of Mike Oldfield's “Family Man.” “One on One,” with its mixed references to romance and basketball, was used as backing music for a series of ads run by the NBA in the mid ‘80s.
By the end of 1983, with the combination of several hit singles in a row, heavy rotation on MTV, a string of best-selling albums, and numerous sold-out tours; Hall & Oates were arguably one of the biggest pop acts in the United States, if not the world. In late 1983, the duo released the greatest hits collection Rock N' Soul Part 1 (RCA), which included two new songs, “Say It Isn't So” and “Adult Education.” Both singles became top ten hits.
Though the duo was as hot as they would ever be, the grind of their success made them take some time off before starting work on their follow-up, 1984's Big Bam Boom (RCA). Using their back-up band as well as the newest electronic gear (including the then-new Synclavier II, one of the first digital sampler/synthesizer workstations), Hall & Oates delivered an album that was slick and urban but still featured the pair's attention to pop songcraft. The duo used noted producer Arthur Baker as a consultant on the album to give it more of a “street” edge. “Out of Touch” was another #1 hit. “Method of Modern Love,” “Possession Obsession” and “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid,” all charted as well.
After flirting with futuristic touches to their music, their next step was to return back to their soul and R&B roots. They collaborated with two of their heroes, former Temptations singers David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, on the album Live at the Apollo (1985 RCA). The quartet of Ruffin, Kendricks, Hall and Oates scored a hit with a medley of “The Way You Do the Things You Do/My Girl” and reprised the performance at Live Aid and again at the MTV Video Awards.
After their RCA contract was fulfilled, the group signed with Arista Records in 1987. Ooh Yeah! (1988) went platinum and included “Everything Your Heart Desires,” which reached #3 but “Downtown Life” and “Missed Opportunity” both failed to do well. Though a platinum selling album would spell massive success for any other band, Ooh Yeah! didn't sell as well as their previous albums and was seen as a disappointment by their new label. Even with a hit single “So Close” produced by Jon Bon Jovi, the duo's follow-up, Change of Season (1990 Arista) barely went gold. The string of Hall & Oates hits that dominated the airwaves through the 1980s ended with the decade.
Hall & Oates spent the better part of the ‘90s working seperately. Oates mostly worked on production projects from his new home base in Colorado while Hall moved to England and recorded another solo album, Soul Alone (1993 Sony), and the (initially) Japanese-only Can't Stop Dreaming (1996 BMG International) — released in the US in 2003. On a personal side, Hall broke up with his long-time girlfriend Sara Allen and also contracted Lyme disease.
Hall & Oates didn't work together until 1997, when they released the album Marigold Sky (Push). Though marketed as a comeback, it was much mellower than their previous work and the pair only garnered a minor adult contemporary hit with the single “Promise Ain't Enough.” No longer pushing for the pop success they enjoyed in the ‘80s, Hall & Oates took longer between projects together. The two showed up on an episode of VH1's Behind the Music in 2002 and put out an accompanying greatest hits package that same year. In 2002, John Oates finally put out his solo debut, Phunk Shui (PS), an album that was accompanied by a live DVD of Oates in concert. The following year, the pair teamed up again for the Do it for Love album, released through their own imprint, U-Watch Records. The title track of the album became a hit on adult contemporary radio and was seen as more of a return to the duo's patented rock ‘n’ soul sound. With some momentum back in their career, Hall & Oates issued the primarily covers album Our Kind of Soul (U-Watch) in 2004, which featured covers of many of the old soul and R&B gems that had so shaped the young songwriters in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The duo continue to tour and make appearances together and, as of 2008, are at work on a new album in collaboration with Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo.