Daryl Hall & John Oates
aryl Hall and John Oates met in a service elevator while trying to escape a fight between rival black gangs at a record hop in Philadelphia's Adelphi Ballroom. That fateful meeting encapsulizes several keys to the duo's unique personality -- their southeastern Pennsylvania roots, a mixture of balck and white cultures and music, and a career with more ups and downs than an elevator. In over 19 years together, Daryl and John have been stylistic chameleons, though at their core they always "basically tried to combine rhythm and blues and progressive music," Oates has insisted.
Doo-wop groups, the Temptations and the Stax/Volt sound were their earliest influences. In his pre-teen days, Daryl (born Daryl Franklin Hohl on October 11, 1948, in Philadelphia) would skip the piano lessons he hated and ride his bicycle to the heart of the black Chicken Hill ghetto across the bridge from his granfather's farm in Pottsdown, Pennsylvania, so he could absorb the music.
Accordion lessons came first for John (born April 7, 1949, in New York City) but soon gave way to a teacher who showed him guitar chords on a three-string banjo. From the time he assembled his first Motown cover band in sixth grade, he made his living solely as a musician.
Both were leading their own groups (Daryl's was the Temptones and John's was the Masters) and attending Temple University at the time of the 1967 Adelphi Ballroom meeting, but it would take two years before they would officially team together and three more before their debut album, Whole Oates, would be released by Atlantic Records.
The Todd Rundgren-produced War Babies, their first album for RCA, followed. The latter LP spun out their first legitimate hit, "Sara Smile" (number four in June, 1976), even though Daryl didn't like the way his voice sounded on this ballad for his girlfriend, Sara Allen. While the sound of the album caught the ear, the cover, by Mick Jagger's makeup designer Pierre LaRoche, captured the eye. "We decided that if we were going to put our faces on an album cover for the first time we wanted to do it in a big way," John explained in Nick Tosches' biography, Dangerous Dances. "Pierre said, in that French accent of his, 'I will immortalize you!' And he just did. To this day it's the only album cover that people ask us about."
By the time they wre ready to record Bigger Than Both of Us in the summer of 1976, New York's Greenwich Village had become their home, adding still another layer to their black/white, Philadelphia soul and rock fusion. But they flew to Los Angeles to work with producer Chris Bond and the best studio musicians available.
Though the songwriters believed "Do What You Want, Be What You Are" was the most commercial of the album's offerings, it fizzled out at number 39 in December, 1976. The second single from the LP, "Rich Girl," fared somewhat better, debuting at number 81 on January 22, 1977, and becoming the duo's first number one single nine weeks later.
Despite the title, it wasn't penned about a woman at all, but an ex-beau of Sara Allen's, heir to a fast food chain. "But you can't write, 'You're a rich boy' in a song, so I changed it to a girl," Daryl told Rolling Stone. A year or two later Daryl was flipping through a book about the notorious Son of Sam when he found out the killer "was motivated by 'Rich Girl.' "It wasn't exactly a pleasant thing to know," he said with some understatement. The discovery was noted in "Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)," a track on the Voices album that John jokingly referred to as "a song about an ax murderer."
The duo hit somewhat of a commercial slump in the late Seventies, but retrenched and decided to produce their next album themselves. 1980's Voices returned Hall and Oates to the singles charts with a vengeance with four Top 40 singles: "How Does It Feel to Be Back" (#30), "Kiss on My List" (#1), a cover of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" (#12) and "You Make My Dreams" (#5). The following two albums, Private Eyes and H20, kept the Top 10 hits coming: "Private Eyes" (#1), "I Can't Go For That" (#1), "Did It In a Minute" (#9), "Maneater" (#1), "One on One" (#7), and "Family Man" (#6). Their 1985 album Big Bam Boom marked a hip-hop influence and produced their last #1 hit, "Out of Touch." Hall and Oates took a three-year sabbatical after recording a live LP at Harlem's Apollo Theatre with former Temptations Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, which generated a Top 20 hit medley, "The Way You Do The Things You Do/My Girl." They resumed recording in 1988 with Ooh Yeah! for Arista and followed up with Change of Season in 1990, but the third phase of their career was noticeably less successful. A VH1 Behind The Music episode in 2002 spawned a best-selling accompanying greatest hits CD and brought renewed attention to the duo.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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