Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
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 Platinum 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 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.
♪ “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:
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 Temptations 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.
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 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.
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 strummed 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 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.
♪ “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:
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 stockpiled 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.
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.