KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

HALL & OATES Part 4 – So Close, Yet So Far Away

The appropriately-named Big Bam Boom (1984) marked the end of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ golden era, reaching #5 on the Albums chart and achieving Double Hall & Oates - Big Bam BoomPlatinum status in the US. It was their last ‘80s album that I excitedly bought upon release, thanks to the infectious leadoff single, “Out Of Touch.” The massive sound of the album, thanks to a number of synthesizers, triggered drum sounds and the influence of co-producer Bob Clearmountain & new collaborator Arthur Baker (the noted hip-hop DJ & producer), was both a sign of the times and a natural progression from the two new songs on the previous year’s Rock ‘N Soul Part 1 compilation. Back then it sounded fresh but many of the tracks haven’t held up well. The best songs work in spite of the studio trickery while lesser songs are dragged down by the plastic nature of the production. Although their Hall & Oates - Out Of Touch (Picture Disc)touring band (guitarist G.E. Smith, bassist Tom “T-Bone” Wolk, drummer Mickey Curry and saxophonist Charlie DeChant) is credited in the packaging, their contributions are less distinguishable than they were on previous records, and when they do emerge it makes me wish that some of these songs were written & recorded a few years earlier since they’re all such incredible musicians. Unfortunately, Big Bam Boom is a product of its time, for better or worse. I remember liking it a lot more in 1984-85, but following hot on the heels of a string of excellent albums (which I revisited just last week), it’s hard not to be at least slightly disappointed.

The Essential:
♪ “Out Of Touch” – Following the brief hip-hop influenced, mostly-instrumental “Down On Your Knees,” which was co-written by Hall & Baker, this wonderful song emerges. It was their final #1 Pop hit, and also reached that spot on the R&B chart. In spite of the production, this is just a modern-sounding update of the classic Hall & Oates sound, with their knack for memorable melodies intact.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Method Of Modern Love” – A prime example of the typical “80s sound,” with programmed percussion and synth horns, that managed to be a Top 5 Pop hit and reach the Top 20 on the Dance chart. I’ve always disliked the way they spell out the title as a melodic hook, and I’ve included this as a notable track solely for its catchiness and the lilting melody in the verses. It’s still not among my favorite Hall & Oates songs.
  • Hall & Oates Photo (from Big Bam Boom tour program)“Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” – The third Top 20 hit from this album, and Hall’s only sole songwriting credit. It features a more subtle arrangement that’s still synthetic but slightly earthier without the massive drums and over-the-top synths. I like the switch from moody verses to more propulsive & upbeat choruses. My only complaint is the running time; at nearly 5-1/2 minutes it overstays its welcome.
  • “Going Through The Motions” – Another over-produced track with staggered “G-go-go-go…motion” vocals as a nice hook. Smith’s searing lead guitar makes this worth hearing in spite of the fact that, at 5:40, it’s another song that goes on way too long.
  • “Possession Obsession” – The last minor hit from the album. It’s still synthetic but more subdued & moody, and Oates’ smooth lead vocals are a perfect match for the music. I like the harmonies at “It’s a case of possession obsession.”

They may be best known for their string of Top 10 and #1 pop hits but Hall & Oates are soul men at heart, so it was no surprise when they collaborated with two former singers of Motown legends The Temptations for Live At The Apollo With David Ruffin & Eddie Kendrick (1985). Recorded a few months before their combined appearance at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, this edited version of their performance at Harlem’s Apollo Theater only includes one collaboration with the Hall & Oates - Live At The ApolloTemptations duo. The 12-minute “Apollo Medley” brings together four Temptations classics: “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and “My Girl.” All of these are performed professionally, and both Ruffin & Kendrick sound like their younger selves, but overall it falls a little flat & left me wanting to hear the originals. The same is true for their rendition of “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” which is too slick and lacks the loose vocal interplay of Sam & Dave. They also performed the Voices track “Everytime You Go Away,” which had recently become a big hit for UK singer Paul Young. Hall sounds great but the arrangement is a little one-dimensional. Side 2 of the LP features four of their ‘80s hits, all of which include some kind of extended crowd participation or unnecessary vamping, eventually diluting the strength of the songs. There’s no denying the musicianship and vocal prowess, but something that might have been exciting to hear in person gets tiresome without the thrill of being in the audience. This is a well-performed live album, but I don’t think it showcases just how good they were at that time.

Hall & Oates Photo (with Eddie Kendrick & David Ruffin)

When their contract with RCA Records expired in 1985, the duo went their separate ways for a few years, with Hall releasing his second solo album (which included one Top 10 hit) and Oates collaborating on hits with Icehouse and The Parachute Club. When they reunited after this break, they signed with Arista Records and released Ooh Yeah! (1988). Other than co-producer/bassist Tom “T-Bone” Wolk, their Hall & Oates - Ooh Yeah!longtime touring band was nowhere to be found here, replaced by studio musicians and an array of synthesizers and programmed percussion. Whereas its studio predecessor had a number of excellent songs that were mired by the production, Ooh Yeah! is mostly bereft of memorable melodies and noteworthy performances. They still had enough of a fan base to make it a Top 25 album and reach Platinum status, but even with a couple of hit singles the lack of inspiration is palpable. I had already lost interest in them by the time this record was released so I didn’t get a copy until sometime in the ‘90s. I wasn’t impressed then and I’m still not a fan, as indicated by the lack of any essential tracks and only a handful of others worth noting. There are some good melodies interspersed throughout but very few truly cohesive songs, and with the shortest track being just under 4-1/2 minutes it lacks the tightness of their best work.

Hall & Oates Photo (from Ooh Yeah!)Notable Tracks:

  • “Everything Your Heart Desires” – The biggest hit on the album, reaching #3 Pop and #13 R&B. It features a light & airy melody that’s overshadowed by the slick & booming production, which is a shame because this could have been a classic if it was recorded a few years earlier. I really like the sentiment in the lyrics: “If you had everything your heart desires, would you still want more?”
  • “I’m In Pieces” – I like the pulsating 6/8 rhythm with steady 8th notes, making it sound like a modern-day doo-wop or early rock ‘n’ roll song. Hall’s voice is typically strong, especially in the verses, and the simple chorus (“I’m in pieces, I’m in pieces over you”) is solid. It reminds me of Huey Lewis & The News’ “If This Is It.”
    [Hall & Oates – “I’m In Pieces”] [audio http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/vgagwi5ksb/I_m_In_Pieces_HallOates_.mp3]

Just when I thought I was over Hall & Oates, the wonderful Change Of Season (1990) appeared and I was right back on the bandwagon. As soon as I heard the Hall & Oates - Change Of Seasonstrummed guitar & organ intro of leadoff single “So Close” I knew I had to hear more, and the rest of the album didn’t disappoint. Over the next couple of years I played this album many times and never tired of its back-to-basics charms. They combined the natural sounds of their earliest records with the sharp songwriting skills of their early-‘80s heyday, and their expressive vocals were as strong as ever (especially Hall’s incredibly powerful & soulful voice). The bulk of the album was co-produced by the trio of Hall, Oates & Wolk, with four other songs featuring a different production team and unique collection of Hall & Oates Photo (on MTV Unplugged, 1990)musicians, yet somehow it remains cohesive throughout. In fact, I would rate this as their most consistently rewarding album. It may only feature one Top 40 single and a couple of Adult Contemporary hits, but the best elements of Hall & Oates are featured on every song, even the handful of tracks that aren’t included on the following lists. If you’ve ever been a fan and wondered why you’ve never even heard of Change Of Season, or perhaps you’ve seen it in the bargain bins, don’t let its low profile fool you. This is one of their finest releases.

The Essentials:
♪ “So Close” – After the sparse semi-acoustic intro, it becomes a super-catchy anthemic rocker that’s grounded by the Hammond B3 organ. Co-written with Jon Bon Jovi, it’s a nice story song about a missed romantic opportunity, with memorable verses, a sing-along chorus and a great bridge (“There’s a restless look in your eye tonight…”). It has a big sound but it’s more natural than anything on the previous few albums.

♪ “I Ain’t Gonna Take It This Time” – An intense & dramatic song written by Hall, highlighted by electric piano & his reverbed, defiant vocals (“Do you think I’m just some prize you can win & then discard after the thrill is gone?”). Even with the echo-y drums it’s powerful without sounding plastic. It includes another outstanding bridge, and I love the key change into the final chorus.
♪ “Give It Up (Old Habits)” – A new song by outside songwriters (likely at the suggestion of Arista’s Clive Davis) that’s peppy & bouncy, with blasting sax & Hall’s warm, expressive vocals. The chorus is one of their best (“Give it up, that’s the way it starts, you’ve got to know the old habits die hard”). It could pass for a lost ‘60s or ‘70s soul/pop song.

Other Notable Tracks:

  • “Starting All Over Again” – A faithful cover of the Mel & Tim Top 5 R&B hit from 1972. It’s smooth, soulful & perfectly arranged, with great vocals by both singers.
  • “Sometimes A Mind Changes” – Begins with a bouncy bass line, a la Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” or Billy Joel’s “An Innocent Man,” then morphs into a slow acoustic groove (like an “MTV Unplugged” performance). It’s smooth & mellow, and I especially like, “Sometimes a mind changes, then another heart’s got to fly away.”
  • “Change Of Season” – Written by Oates with keyboard player Bobby Mayo, it begins with a peppy piano intro before Oates sings passionately on top of a sparse acoustic arrangement. At 5:43 it’s a little too long but there are a number of excellent melodies, and I love the gospel feel at “Seasons change, people change.”
    Hall & Oates Photo (circa 1990)
  • “Everywhere I Look” – This propulsive midtempo track could have fit on their early-‘80s albums with its sparse arrangement & instantly catchy melodies, most notably at the chorus: “Everywhere I look I see people waking up, so why…are we still sleeping?”
  • “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” – Co-written by several people, including Mr. Mister’s Richard Page, it was a Top 5 Adult Contemporary hit and just missed the Top 40 Pop chart. Features nice verses (with great lead vocals by Hall) and a big epic chorus (“Don’t hold back your love, I know it’s here, I wanna see it come to life before my eyes”). The pace picks up about halfway through, building to a bigger & brighter ending.
  • “Heavy Rain” – Written by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, the first half is moody & atmospheric with female vocals singing the title over a sparse backdrop. There’s a bigger & more powerful section in the middle with an excellent guitar solo, but everything here is based around Hall’s magnificent vocals. I’m not sure I heard Oates at all, making it sound more like a Daryl Hall solo track.

The lack of commercial success for Change Of Season was likely a major reason for the duo’s extended split through most of the ‘90s, when Hall released two more solo albums and Oates…well, I don’t know what he was doing during that time. Assuming we had heard the last of Hall & Oates, I was extremely pleased when Marigold Sky (1997) appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Surely they had Hall & Oates - Marigold Skystockpiled plenty of great material during their absence, or at least that’s what I hoped for. In reality, Marigold Sky is the sound of two guys approaching, or just past, 50 years old, settling into a comfortable middle-of-the-road sound that’s missing any spark of excitement. In addition to the lack of musical diversity, they also drag out most of the songs beyond reasonable running times, with 8 of the 12 songs clocking in at more than 4-1/2 minutes. Where are the guys who wrote some of the most concise & catchy pop songs of all time? It took several listens but eventually a handful of songs stood apart from the rest, but there’s nothing here that I would include on a career-spanning anthology. Probably the most noteworthy item is Oates’ lack of a mustache in the packaging, which should tell you how unimpressed I was with this album.

Notable Tracks:

  • “Romeo Is Bleeding” – A steady rocker with tasty lead guitar by Dave Stewart. I like the tight harmonies when they sing the title. Otherwise, it’s straightforward, programmed VH1-friendly pop.
  • “Marigold Sky” – The only song co-written by the duo without anyone else. There’s a nice acoustic drum & percussion sound, and I like how the swirling acoustic guitars drive the verses. It’s solidly crafted but Hall’s voice is slightly buried in the mix, which is a shame because he sounds great as he sings about an old relationship (“Oh my, marigold sky, gold sea reflections on the ocean…”).
  • “Want To” – Has a funkier groove than anything else on the album, and nice acoustic guitars. The verses are forgettable but I like the brighter choruses with harmony vocals (“Gotta be high when you’re walking on fire, if you want to “).
  • “Time Won’t Pass Me By” – Another midtempo, slightly bouncy tune with a programmed rhythm, funky guitar and an MOR feel. They share lead vocal duties and the chorus (“Lucky on the second try, this time the time won’t pass me by”) is very nice, when their vocal exchange really takes off.
    [Hall & Oates – “Time Won’t Pass Me By”] [audio http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/kzzwsd3u7o/Time_Wont_Pass_Me_By_HallOates_.mp3]Hall & Oates Photo (from Marigold Sky CD)

It was nice revisiting the fantastic Change Of Season again after not playing it for a number of years but, as you read above, this batch of albums was a major disappointment otherwise. Sure there are a handful of highlights, yet nothing that comes close to the consistently timeless songs they recorded prior to this era. I’m always happy to hear Daryl Hall singing, and Oates’ contributions on guitar & vocals should never be underestimated, so there’s always something worthwhile in any of their collaborations. I hope the next batch of albums I’ll revisit this coming week for my final post in this series will have some pleasant surprises for me. Until then, please let me know if any of the albums I covered in this post had an impact on you.

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14 comments on “HALL & OATES Part 4 – So Close, Yet So Far Away

  1. Daddydinorawk
    October 12, 2014

    Yeah Big Bam Boom is where I jumped off, but it was a pretty popular tape amongst my social circle (6th grade) at the time. 😉 (Yeah tape, I said that). I agree that G-g-g-go motions is a pretty good hook, but I always liked M-E-T-H-O-D etc as a hook. Shades of a much simpler time all over that one. So BBB is pretty glossy in retrospect. I never even got into the the others, I guess by the time Oooh yeah came out I was pretty much a longhaired rocker guy. Things do change but I still love well produced well performed pop music as much as ever these days. I’ve had fun going back and revisiting their classic works until Boom and likewise have found some pretty decent and dare I say excellent music from their early albums.

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    • I’m guessing we’re among many people who jumped off the H&O train after Big Bam Boom. It’s amazing to think how cutting edge it sounded in 1984. I usually don’t care about an album sounding “dated” as long as the songs are there, but in this case the bulk of that record doesn’t hold up well for me. I want to reiterate my praise of “Change Of Season” since I’m hoping others will check it out and realize that they did another great album after their commercial peak. I think it’s up there with the best albums they ever released.

      As for cassettes, the only time I bought any were from the budget bins to play in my car. Until CDs came along I couldn’t imagine owning an album in any format other than vinyl (although I did own a handful of 8-track tapes).

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  2. Gary
    October 12, 2014

    After reading this I had to go back to check out the video for “Method Of Modern Love”. Wow, so awful. And have to wonder if Oates even played on that track as I hear nothing from him. Although he does dance by the moon and fly through the clouds in the video.

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    • I made a conscious decision to not watch any promo videos during this series unless I was including it as part of a post, and I think that was the right decision. Most ’80s videos are bad and Hall & Oates were a big offender during that decade (although I’ve always enjoyed the video for “Private Eyes”). At least there’s been some great music throughout this series, which is what it’s all about…right?

      Like

  3. 45spin
    October 13, 2014

    Fantastic Post, as with a lot of bands I tended to like a lot of their earlier work best, and I still have Las Vegas Turnaround on my ipod in rotation way too much.

    Like

    • Thanks, Rob. Glad you enjoyed this post. I love “Las Vegas Turnaround,” and it’s amazing how drastically different the music covered here is compared to their earlier work. I still think Change Of Season should be more highly regarded. I think it holds it own against anything they’ve ever done.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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  4. ReThink ADHD
    October 30, 2014

    Personally, I find it all timeless. I just fell in love with the depth and sentimental reflection of Marigold Sky, for instance (the song), and so much of Daryl’s stuff from the 90’s is amazing.

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    • Hi Jeff. Thanks for stopping by & declaring your love for this era of H&O (and Hall’s solo work). For me there are only a handful of truly “amazing” songs in their catalog after Change Of Season, but it’s good to know that there are fans who feel passionately about the albums they’ve released in the last two decades.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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  5. Pingback: KamerTunesBlog Year In Review 2014 | KamerTunesBlog

  6. Nate
    February 26, 2015

    Great blog and review of Hall & Oates discography! I was born in 1971 and grew up with Voice and H20. Big Bam Boom had a huge impact since I was in high school at the time and it was my first concert! Maybe I was just waiting for the Big Bam Boom follow-up for so many years, but I really love Ooh Yeah! – Downtown Life, Everything Your Heart Desires, Missed Opportunities, I’m in Pieces, and Keep On Pushing Love are standouts to me. Change of Season was good – I like the So Close (rock/pop version) and Give It Up. While Marigold Sky may not be the strongest material of their career I really like that album a lot! In addition to your picks, I would include Sky is Falling, Out of the Blue, and Love out Loud as standout tracks.

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    • Thanks so much for the feedback, Nate. Although we’re only 5 years apart, our exposure to H&O’s music was very different. For me, Big Bam Boom was the end of their classic years, but I can imagine if that was out during your high school years (I’m guessing it was the beginning of high school for you, since it came out during my freshman year of college) it would’ve had a greater impact on you than it did on me. The songs you mentioned from Marigold Sky are solid but didn’t make a big impact on me. I try to reserve my highlighted tracks for the ones I might include on a career-spanning anthology. Perhaps those would be 4-CD box set material.

      It’s always great to chat with another Hall & Oates fan. I really appreciate you stopping by.

      Cheers.
      Rich

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      • Nate
        February 26, 2015

        Yes, very good points. Big Bam Boom was around 8th grade going into high school, so that had a huge impact on me. Ooh Yeah came out at the end of high school and I still remember many of the videos from that album on MTV/VH1 getting a decent amount of play.

        I had an album growing up called “High Voltage” which was a compilation of songs that included “kiss on my list”, so that song and a number of others on the album had an early impact on me (police, styx, alan parsons project)

        http://popdose.com/basement-songs-k-tels-high-voltage/

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      • I always enjoyed seeing those K-Tel type compilations but rarely owned any of them because I was always an album listener, at least from the time I was around 9 or 10. As you’ll see from this blog, I’m usually a completist when I like an artist, but occasional that collector’s mentality will start with a compilation. What I love about this “High Voltage” comp is how eclectic it is. I prefer that to genre-specific collections. Thanks for sharing that link.

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  7. Pingback: Thirty Year Thursday – …AND THE REST (PART 3) / IN CONCLUSION | KamerTunesBlog

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