KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

HALL & OATES Part 2 – From A Silver Cover To A Red Ledge

When Daryl Hall and John Oates signed with RCA Records after the release of their third & final Atlantic Records album, War Babies, the change of scenery benefitted Hall & Oates - Daryl Hall & John Oates (Silver Album)both record labels. Their first single for RCA, “Sara Smile,” reached the Top 5 on the US Pop chart in early 1976, followed shortly thereafter by Atlantic’s Top 10 re-release of “She’s Gone.” Hall & Oates were now bona fide hitmakers. For their first album with RCA, simply titled Daryl Hall & John Oates (aka The “Silver” Album) (1975), they did away with most of the folk-influenced sounds of the first two albums, focusing instead on a blend of soul, R&B, rock & pop that would eventually net them huge rewards. It’s a hit-and-miss affair with only one truly essential song, but it laid the groundwork for better things to come. It also marked the first recording collaboration with their touring guitarist, Christopher Bond, who produced the duo’s first three RCA albums.

No discussion of The “Silver” Album can take place without discussing that cover art. Eschewing the simple, stark images of their first two releases (and thankfully Hall & Oates Photo (from the 'Silver' album)avoiding the cut-and-paste retro look of War Babies), the duo appear as androgynous models/cyborgs, with Hall looking especially effeminate. Had this album been their attempt at glam-rock the artwork might be understandable, but the contents don’t match the packaging, making this one of the most questionable (and possibly most awful) album covers ever released. For a related discussion on abominable album covers, please check out this carefully researched post at my friend Pete Braidis’ blog, where The “Silver” Album shows up at #6: http://chudbeagleblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/101-abominable-album-covers-by-artists-you-have-heard-of-mostly/

Then there’s the inner sleeve photo of the duo in some kind of futuristic room with Oates naked in the foreground, confirming that they could have used an “image advisor” at the time. Fortunately, I’ve been able to look past the visual aspects of this album so I could focus on the music.

The Essential:
♪ “Sara Smile” – I don’t know how I missed this brilliant slice of blue-eyed soul when it was first released, since I was a big fan of “She’s Gone,” but it wasn’t until 1983’s Rock ‘N Soul Part 1 compilation that I finally heard it and I’ve loved it ever since. This song has earned its “classic” status with that weeping guitar figure, the slow-burning groove and perfect vocals (especially Hall’s smooth-as-silk lead vocal performance). The arrangement couldn’t be better and those smooth harmonies are “like butter.”

Hall & Oates Photo (Live 1976)
Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Camellia” – A peppy pop/rock song with an acoustic vibe, written by Oates. It’s mostly generic mid-‘70s pop, with hints of Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom,” elevated by strong harmonies and the catchy chorus: “Oh Camellia, won’t you take me away?”
  • “Out Of Me, Out Of You” – This is one of those slow growers that burrowed into my brain a little more with each listen. It features a slow yet insistent groove, highlighted by what sounds like a clavinet, and Hall utilizing his falsetto through much of the song. I especially love the chorus: “What can come out of me, can come out of you.”
  • “Gino (The Manager)” – Written about their then-manager, Tommy Mottola, who would go on to be the head of Sony Music Group, and may be best known (sadly) for his 5-year marriage to Mariah Carey. The song itself is slightly silly but there are several melodic hooks that won me over, most notably the “Sign on the line, sign on the line, on the line” refrain, the “Gino, no-no, no-no, no-no” section (sort of a proto-Devo) and the excellent chorus (“Hard work means something, live fast die laughing…”).
  • “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” – Co-written by Hall & Sara Allen. The tasteful slide guitar reminds me of George Harrison, who would appear on one of their later albums which I’ll discuss below. This song is carried along by a subdued, midtempo funky groove leading to a smooth & catchy chorus (“You know it doesn’t matter, yes it doesn’t matter anymoooore”).
  • “Grounds For Separation” – One of the more rock-oriented tracks here; it sounds like Hall is singing through a megaphone during the verses. It has the feel of an ELO song, and some of the lyrics (“Isn’t it a bit like oxygen, ‘cause too much can make you high, but not enough will make you die”) are incredibly similar to “Love Is Like Oxygen” by Sweet, which wouldn’t be released until three years later. There are also hints of Paul McCartney And Wings’ “Let ‘Em In.”
    [Hall & Oates – “Grounds For Separation”][audio http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/88ejsq7nka/Grounds_For_Separation_HallOates_.mp3]
  • “What’s Important To Me” – The CD reissue includes two demos recorded prior to the album sessions. This is the stronger of the two; smooth melodic pop with a propulsive groove and great vocals by Hall.

Their second album for RCA, Bigger Than Both Of Us (1976), featured another huge hit and a strange yet endearing album cover of the duo collaborating in their futuristic living room inside some kind of spaceship made of recording equipment Hall & Oates - Bigger Than Both Of Us(like volume knobs, tape reels and VU meters). A pair of women’s feet sits atop a coffee table with wine & Ritz crackers, so there’s business AND pleasure taking place. Once again I got sidetracked by the visual elements, but maybe that’s because it’s so distinctive and the music doesn’t really match the packaging. And for the second time in a row they released an album that’s overpowered by a massive hit single. There are a handful of other very good songs but they were still struggling to put together a consistently solid record. Fortunately this was the ‘70s, when record labels would allow their artists to develop over many years, so we get some half-baked albums before they finally hit pay dirt.

The Essential:
♪ “Rich Girl” – Simply one of the great pop singles of the ‘70s; sparse, melodic & perfectly arranged. In many ways, this was the template for a number of their early-‘80s hits. It also helps that the song is less than 2-1/2 minutes long, so we get a short, sharp blast of melody & then it’s over.

Hall & Oates Photo (from Bigger Than Both Of Us)
Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” – A late-night bluesy tune set to a soulful waltz tempo. It’s nice to hear them tackle this type of song, which isn’t quite R&B or blues, but a nice hybrid with lovely Chi-Lites-esque harmonies (“Do you believe in hot cars, leather bars or movie stars; is that what’s real?”).
  • “You’ll Never Learn” – After a moody & atmospheric intro (with percussion, bass, harmonica & other background effects) it morphs into a slowly propulsive groove. Oates sings lead here, and his voice is a little raspier than usual, reminding me of Kiss’ Peter Criss. This might be my favorite John Oates song so far.
  • “Falling” – The album ends with this interesting & adventurous Hall song. At 6+ minutes it goes through a few distinct sections while maintaining one groove through the main section. There’s a great guitar solo at around 2:30, and one of my favorite parts is the quiet section with spacy synths, sounding like a cross between Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project, which takes us through the outro.

Producer Christopher Bond, working on his final album with Hall & Oates, helped to deliver a tighter & more streamlined record than any of its predecessors with Beauty On A Back Street (1977). The sleek, serious cover image might be the Hall & Oates - Beauty On A Back Streetbest representation of the duo to date. It’s too bad that the record lacked that one big hit to draw in the fans. It may have achieved Gold status like The “Silver” Album and Bigger Than Both Of Us but it’s probably been overlooked by anyone who’s not a devoted Hall & Oates follower, and even the two of them have indicated that it’s among the least favorite of their albums. That’s a shame because it’s every bit as good as the previous two, proving that just one hit single can make all the difference in the public’s perception.

The Essential:
♪ “Winged Bull” – This one crept up on me after several listens and it’s become a new favorite. I love the slowly building, epic nature of the arrangement. From Hall’s echoed vocals with electronic percussion over a bed of synths during the intro, to a swirling Indian vibe with bells and a sitar(?), into a full-on rock ‘n’ roll rhythm and then back to the sparse feel of the intro, they showcase various sounds that many people wouldn’t associate with Hall & Oates. The instrumental section, starting at around 2:15, has a Middle Eastern motif that recalls Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
[Hall & Oates – “Winged Bull”] [audio http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/9fjvvs83qu/Winged_Bull_HallOates_.mp3]

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Don’t Change” – A solid start to the album; steady AOR with a tight & slightly funky groove. I like those “chaaange” backing vocals in response to the title.
  • “Why Do Lovers Break Each Other’s Heart?” – A peppy 6/8 rhythm drives this ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll homage, not far removed from The Beach Boys’ “Sail On, Sailor.” They sound confident in this style, and Bond provides some stellar lead guitar work.
  • “Bad Habits And Infections” – They stretch themselves over 6 minutes, shifting from aggressive new wave to angular rock. I especially like the “cutting them out…” vocal section.
  • “Love Hurts (Love Heals)” – One of Oates’ strongest songs with Hall adding solid harmonies & call-and-response backing vocals. It’s a bluesy, soulful tune with a slightly syncopated groove courtesy of studio ace (and future Toto drummer) Jeff Porcaro.

Hall & Oates Photo (from Beauty On A Back Street)

Their first live album, recorded during the Beauty On A Back Street tour with three former members of Elton John’s band, as well as future Hall & Oates mainstay Charlie DeChant on sax, was Livetime (1978). Featuring only 7 songs, they barely scratched the surface of what made them so good at the time, and the beefy arrangements replaced the subtlety of the studio versions with a more aggressive approach (but at least they proved how comfortable they were rocking out on stage). Hall & Oates - LivetimeOne of the things that made this a disappointment for me is the track selection, with 4 songs that didn’t do much for me on the original albums (i.e. “The Emptyness” and “Room To Breathe”) showing up in the set list. Two of their big hits make an appearance: “Rich Girl” is fuller than its studio counterpart but still very strong, and the 8-minute version of “Sara Smile” allows Hall to preach & plead like the great soul man he is, even leading a crowd sing-along. Those credentials make another notable appearance on “Do What You Want, Be What You Are,” where he sounds like a cross between The J. Geils Band’s Peter Wolf and Van Morrison, with hints of Al Green and Otis Redding. Livetime is far from a definitive live album, but it’s a pleasant snapshot of the group at a transitional time in their career.

Along The Red Ledge (1978) was Hall & Oates’ first album to be produced by David Foster, the talented multi-instrumentalist/composer who has also overseen albums by dozens of artists in a variety of genres. Most of his work is clean, Hall & Oates - Along The Red Ledgeprofessional & MOR (middle-of-the-road). He may not be a cutting edge producer but he usually delivers very commercial music and he was an excellent choice to work with Hall & Oates at this point in their career. Along The Red Ledge is also their most consistent (and consistently enjoyable) collection of songs since Abandoned Luncheonette and deserved a wider audience, but again they didn’t deliver that one killer single that would have helped raise its profile. With 7 out of 10 songs worth discussing in detail, it has the highest hit-to-miss ratio of all the albums covered in this post, and it’s the first of their ‘70s RCA records that I would recommend to anyone just discovering this era.

The Essentials:
♪ “It’s A Laugh” – The verses are smooth with a steady midtempo beat, but it’s the power-pop “oooh”s in the chorus, along with the excellent climbing melody, that make this a standout track. The upbeat title is a misnomer for this post-breakup song: “It’s so stupid I gotta laugh, and the funny thing is that everyone thought we were so special.”
♪ “Have I Been Away Too Long” – A moody, intense & soulful ballad with a deliberate groove and stinging guitar stabs. Hall really shows off his range here, especially with his multiple approaches to the line, “Have I been away…,” often soaring impressively into his falsetto. He’s like a classic soul vocalist in their self-described “rock ‘n soul” environment.
♪ “August Day” – This album closer, written by Hall with his partner Sara Allen, is a gorgeous & peaceful way to wrap things up, sounding like a new dawn arriving. Hall’s reverbed vocals, all jazzy & full-voiced, along with the synth washes, generate an almost mantra-like aura. Putting things over the top, I believe that’s Stevie Wonder on harmonica at the end, although he’s not credited in the CD packaging. Hopefully one of my readers can confirm this suspicion.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Melody For A Memory” – A moody & atmospheric Oates song with Hall providing high falsetto harmonies, which also goes into a funky danceable groove with excellent guitar work (there are multiple guitarists listed in the credits so I’m not sure who played on this track). “If you can’t take me with you” is a great hook.
  • “The Last Time” – A very good if completely derivative song with the classic Phil Spector “Be My Baby” rhythm. George Harrison provides the guitar solo but it gets lost in the muddy production.
  • “Don’t Blame It On Love” – A new wave rocker with an insistent driving rhythm, an aggressive vocal approach (“Blame it on yourself, blame it on me but don’t blame it on love”) and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp on lead guitar. His contributions are fantastic and, along with the space-age effects, they make a decent song even better.
  • “Serious Music” – Oates co-wrote this song with someone named George Bitner; a pulsating rocker with an excellent groove, and I really like the call-and-response vocals (“Manuscripted memories, sound but no electricity”). It has a quirky pop feel, along the lines of Todd Rundgren or 10cc, as well as a fantastic guitar solo (possibly by Toto’s Steve Lukather).

Hall & Oates Photo (from Along The Red Ledge)

Hall & Oates may have had their first few smash hits during the era covered in this post, but album-for-album it’s been overlooked in favor of the consistent chart-topping success they would achieve a few years later. None of these records is a must-have, although Along The Red Ledge is close, but there are a number of wonderful songs to be found in this portion of their catalog. I’m pleased that I finally got reacquainted with these albums and will be sure to revisit them more frequently in the future. If you’re familiar with any/all of these records, please let me know how you feel about them. Now I will turn my attention to the batch of releases that made them superstars, and I’ll discuss those in my next post.

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21 comments on “HALL & OATES Part 2 – From A Silver Cover To A Red Ledge

  1. 1537
    September 23, 2014

    Man, that Silver LP cover … Who signed that off? Surely record companies employ lots of people specifically to stop that sort of thing?

    I enjoyed this because it’s all new for me, bar the big hits.

    Like

    • mikeladano
      September 23, 2014

      OK good — I’m not the only one who double-taked that. I’d be willing the same person signed off on it, who a decade later would sign off on an album called Look What the Cat Dragged In.

      Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        September 24, 2014

        I always thought that was really a woman next to John Oates.

        At least the cover didn’t kill their careers like a certain choice made by a certain 80’s rocker. You know the one.

        Like

      • Hmm, I’m actually not sure which ’80s rocker you’re referring to. I know that Billy Squier’s video for “Rock Me Tonight” pretty much derailed his career as a serious musician, but his album covers were always pretty solid.

        As for the “Silver” album cover, I believe even Daryl Hall has said that he looks like the type of woman he would have dated at the time. Quite an endorsement for that design, eh?

        Like

      • That’s funny, Mike. At least with “Look What The Cat Dragged In,” that’s the look they were going for and it tied into the music. Not the case with H&O’s Silver album.

        Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        September 24, 2014

        Rich-Yes I should have clarified, yes thats who I was referring to.

        Of course worse being subjective, H&O covers are just poorly thought out and executed. The music however isn’t. I look at some of my favorite bands where a distinct visual fabric is maintained, whether it be Roger Dean, Hipgnosis or Hugh Syme. I’m sure you have seen the new Floyd cover design and I am surprised at how many people hate it. I think it looks pretty good and totally fits the visual fabric.

        Like

      • Not sure what kind of issues fans would have with the upcoming Pink Floyd artwork. It may not be a Hipgnosis/Storm Thorgerson creation, but the design carries on their tradition and seems to fit the contents based on the descriptions I’ve read of the music.

        As for Hall & Oates, I wonder how much say they had when it came to their artwork in the ’70s. Many labels chose album covers and the artists had to live with them. Perhaps that’s their defense.

        Like

    • Glad you agree about that “Silver” cover. Sure, there are plenty of worse album covers out there, but I question their judgement since the image doesn’t have any connection to the music.

      Like

  2. mikeladano
    September 23, 2014

    OK, Hall & Oates…you had the worst album covers. I’m sorry but you do.

    Fortunately though I love this tune that Rich posted called Autumn Day. And I will check out more.

    Like

    • Daddydinorawk
      September 24, 2014

      Mid 70’s rockers like the Scorpions and Uriah Heep had far worse album covers than any of these.

      Like

      • “Worse” is a subjective term, of course. Sure, these album covers aren’t the worst of the worst, but considering the music they’re supposed to represent, they’re either off-base or just amateurish. I do really like the covers for the last two studio albums covered in this post, so at least things improved for them.

        Like

    • So happy to hear that “Autumn Day” struck a chord with you. It was probably the most pleasant discovery in this series so far. Just stunning. One thing that won’t be included in this series, since I’m only focusing on releases by the duo, is Daryl Hall’s fantastic debut album Sacred Songs, which was produced by Robert Fripp (and features his distinctive guitar work throughout). It’s a fantastic record and would surprise most people who only know Hall & Oates. It might actually be stronger from top-to-bottom than any single album in the duo’s discography.

      Like

      • mikeladano
        September 24, 2014

        Sounds like something to check out on my own.

        Hall had a solo album in the 90’s that was quite good as well, a pop rock album. I think Bon Jovi may have Co-written with him.

        Like

      • I have 4 of his 5 solo albums. They’re all good but none as strong as “Sacred Songs.” Also, they prove how much he needs Oates as a collaborator.

        Like

  3. ianbalentine
    September 28, 2014

    Between Hall and Oats, and ELP (excepting one amazing one), man I tell ya it’s surprising anyone bought their albums in the ’70s! The album art not even bad enough to be considered kitsch, just cringe inducing. The music is another thing entirely, and thankfully. This is a great, eye opening series for me, Rich. Thanks!

    Like

    • I assume the one amazing ELP album you’re talking about is the HR Giger design for Brain Salad Surgery, right? I don’t think their others are that bad, with the obvious exception of Love Beach (but that album is wrong on so many levels). I’ve never had a problem with the Tarkus cover like a lot of fans, and I actually love the cover of their debut.

      I guess the good thing about albums in the ’70s is that the music was the most important thing, not the visuals. Of course, when the quality of both was great it made the experience even better, but excellent music also came in awful packaging. And then the video age started, and The Buggles told us how that turned out. Haha.

      Like

  4. Daddydinorawk
    September 29, 2014

    Surprised how much I like a lot of this stuff. Of course it all sounds so 70’s (not necessarily a bad thing) Red Ledge is a good summation of everything up to that point. As someone practically raised on early 80’s H&O, a lot of this sounds so alien, especially the Oates led material. So its a revelation to me. I’m not saying that I would return to a lot of this, but it is good, better than most of that time period. Its clear from this batch of albums they really are finding out who they are musically. Your 10cc comp is somewhat accurate, they are more earnest in their approach though, 10cc always seemed to me a bit more quirky, more ironic even whittled down to Gouldman/Stewart. I kind of liken them even more to a band like Ambrosia, lite rock radio hits, more diverse catalog of songs.

    Like

    • Your Ambrosia comparison is perfect. I’m a huge fan of those guys. Somehow they managed to have massive AM radio hits while their album tracks got played on FM stations. I don’t think H&O were quite as adventurous or diverse but there’s a lot more to them than just the hits. Also, Ambrosia…like H&O…featured two main songwriters/vocalists, with one (David Pack) scoring the majority of the hits, so the comparison works on multiple levels. Nicely done.

      Like

      • Daddydinorawk
        September 30, 2014

        Thanks Rich that means a lot to me it does. It also should be noted that while Ambrosia had a West Coast feel to a lot of their stuff, H&O had a fiercly East Coast thing going on. All of it having a Steely Dan-lite attention to detail. Something about the 70’s, maybe they had less technology to deal with so they focused on getting the best performances, distinct to now where they just throw freaking everything in.

        Hall really did have such a clear, rich, expressive voice, which Oates knew all to well. Together they sound great. I mean you just don’t get complimentary yet distinct sounding voices to mesh so effortlessly. They make it sound so damn easy.

        Like

      • You continue to make some great points, especially the Steely Dan-lite comment. Some people might see that as a backhanded compliment of both H&O and Ambrosia, but I love all three groups and it’s an apt comparison.

        I’m surprised that H&O stuck together for so long considering that Hall wrote or co-wrote nearly every huge hit, so he had to make a lot more money than Oates. That kind of thing usually leads to groups splitting up, so they obviously have a great working relationship.

        Like

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