KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

HALL & OATES Part 5 – Doin’ It For Love / In Conclusion

Daryl Hall & John Oates took seven years off between 1990’s excellent Change Of Season and its lackluster 1997 follow-up, Marigold Sky. It would be another six years until the duo returned with an album of new material, but patient fans were rewarded with two archival live releases during that hiatus. The first of these was Ecstasy On The Edge (2001), recorded on October 30, 1979 at the Rainbow Music Hall in Denver, Colorado, during the tour in support of the X-Static album. It’s nice to hear their touring band of guitarist G.E. Hall & Oates - Ecstasy On The EdgeSmith, bassist John Siegler, drummer Jerry Marotta and saxophonist Charlie DeChant so early in their time together. They were already a well-oiled rock ‘n soul machine by this time, with Smith’s guitar work especially making its mark on their music and the other musicians injecting life into old & new material. This was no mere group of backing musicians, but instead a living, breathing, rocking band. The sound quality is very good, if a little bit flat, but everything is clear & there’s no distortion or muddy sound like you often hear on older live recordings, especially those which sat in a vault for more than 20 years. Of the 12 songs, 7 come from their two most recent albums (the aforementioned X-Static and the wonderful Along The Red Ledge), while three of their big early hits (“She’s Gone,” “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl”) also appear along with a version of Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music.” The latter was probably fun for concert-goers but on record it’s a bit drab. Otherwise, the song choice is outstanding (5 of them were “Essential” and 4 were “Notable” in my discussions of the original albums) and I’m very pleased to own this slice of Hall & Oates history, just a year before they became ‘80s superstars.

Fast-forwarding a few years, the generically-titled Greatest Hits Live (2001) captured the group at the peak of its powers in 1982 on the Private Eyes tour. There’s no denying the “greatest hits” part of the title, as every major hit from the two most recent albums Hall & Oates - Greatest Hits Live(Voices and Private Eyes), along with their early classics, show up in inspired versions. Of the 14 tracks, 11 were “Essential” and 2 were “Notable,” so clearly I’m thrilled with the song selection. The sound is brighter & livelier than Ecstasy On The Edge, and the band (now including bassist Tom “T-Bone” Wolk and drummer Mickey Curry) sounds more confident & muscular than before; they’re tight & polished but they still manage to kick ass on nearly every song. Hall’s voice has always been an expressive instrument, but during this period he inhabited the songs with a swagger that could only come with supreme confidence; he was clearly aware of how good he was. His vocal acrobatics on the show-stopper, “Wait For Me,” have to be heard to be believed. Some might argue that this album shouldn’t be called Greatest Hits Live because a number of huge songs from the next couple of albums hadn’t even been written yet, but it doesn’t matter what the record company decided to call it. Until we get an official release from the H2O or Big Bam Boom tours, this is the definitive Hall & Oates live album.

For their first album in six years, Do It For Love (2003), Hall & Oates recorded a collection of songs that are more instantly Hall & Oates - Do It For Lovememorable than just about anything that appeared on its predecessor. There’s still a reliance on programmed rhythm tracks that makes the record more sterile-sounding than anything they released during their peak years, but the melodies are catchier this time and there’s a brevity that was lacking on Marigold Sky (8 of the 14 songs here are under 4 minutes long). Although it’s not a return to their classic ‘70s & early-‘80s records, their voices are still strong, there’s more of a reliance on acoustic guitars (adding a folk element that’s been missing since their days with Atlantic Records) and three songs were Top 20 Adult Contemporary hits. There’s nothing truly outstanding here but nearly half the songs deserve special mention.

Hall & Oates Photo (from Do It For Love CD)Notable Tracks:

  • “Man On A Mission” – Carried along by a driving midtempo rhythm with strummed acoustic guitar and synth squiggles. The first song here is better than anything on Marigold Sky, with excellent soulful vocals and a really nice chorus: “I’m a man on a mission to love you, I’m gonna make you mine.”
  • “Do It For Love” – A #1 AC hit. It’s not groundbreaking but the melodies are pleasant, it has a nice loping rhythm and the chorus is instantly catchy: “I won’t do it for money, I won’t do it for pride…”
  • “Someday We’ll Know” – A cover of the New Radicals song, which was about 5 years old at the time, that sounds like it could have been written specifically for the duo. It’s a perfect combination of contemporary & classic, and Oates does a great job handling most of the lead vocals.
  • “Make You Stay” – The biting lead guitar by Jeff Catania adds some much-needed punch and rock ‘n roll swagger to another slightly funky programmed groove. The chorus is solid, with harmony vocals singing, “If a song could make you cry, if a song could make you say goodbye, could it change your mind if a song could make you stay?”
  • “Intuition” – A soft & soulful tune with a steady clicking rhythm. The verses are decent but the choruses are fantastic: “No matter what it takes, no matter what they say, I’m gonna use my intuition.” Many songs on this album sound like they could be Daryl Hall solo recordings, but this one is clearly the work of Hall & Oates.
  • “Heartbreak Time” – Features a slow, slinky, Al Green/Hi Records-indebted groove. Hall really captures Green’s vocal style: soft, falsetto and soulful. The string section, organ & funky lead guitar are additional highlights, and I only wish they had used real drums.

They didn’t take much time to produce a follow-up, and after one listen you can hear that Our Kind Of Soul (2004) was a labor of love. Recorded in about 5 weeks on a small island in Hall & Oates - Our Kind Of SoulThe Bahamas, this album features cover versions of 14 soul/R&B songs by The Spinners, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Teddy Pendergrass, The Five Stairsteps and many others, as well as three newly written songs that they felt would complement those classics. Fans got their money’s worth with these 17 tracks over nearly 70 minutes, and the relaxed vibe brings you into their Caribbean mindset. Once again they relied heavily on sequencing & programmed percussion, but their love for these songs shines through even when their versions don’t come close to capturing the soulful brilliance of the originals. Hall also provides a brief paragraph discussing each song, which I found helpful in understanding their reasons for choosing them. I doubt I’ll be revisiting this record very often in the future, but there are six tracks which stood above the others that are worth shining a spotlight on.

Hall & Oates Photo (from Our Kind Of Soul CD)Notable Tracks:

  • “Let Love Take Control” – The only newly written song that made any impact on me, it continues the laid-back acoustic-based vibe of Do It For Love, embellished with strings & organ. Hall described it as “a real gospel soul song,” and I love the way his voice climbs during certain words: “Let looove take control, sweet sooouul got a hold on me.”
  • “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” – Hall described this take on The Four Tops’ Motown classic as “a sort of ‘Blonde On Blonde’ version,” alluding to Bob Dylan’s influence on them. His voice sounds incredible, and the strummed acoustic at the forefront nicely offsets the programmed rhythm track.
  • “Used To Be My Girl” – Hall believes that the Gamble & Huff song, which was a huge hit for The O’Jays, “wasn’t one of Philly Soul’s greatest arrangements…I liked the song more than the record.” Even though the groove is synthetic, it’s super-funky and modern with classic soul accents. Hall sounds great, naturally, and the excellent harmony vocals help to make this my favorite song on the album.
    [Hall & Oates – “Used To Be My Girl”] [audio http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/d5ncn1p0uj/Used_To_Be_My_Girl_HallOates_.mp3]
  • “I Can Dream About You” – According to Hall, “Dan Hartman said he wrote this song for us.” I was never a fan of Hartman’s glossy 1984 hit single, so I much prefer Hall & Oates’ rootsier acoustic approach.
  • “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” – Of this Gladys Knight & The Pips smash, Hall wrote: “Their arrangement was just a little bit jive on that particular record” and “I always thought that I could sing & bring a different sort of poignancy to it…break (it) down to its most raw emotion.” It’s hard to argue with him (although I love the original), as his passionate & soulful vocals are perfectly suited for the sparse arrangement.
  • “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” – I’ve loved this Barry White song for more than 2 decades, and even enjoyed an earlier cover by Taylor Dayne. You can’t go wrong with that inimitable groove and Hall delivers the lyrics with the necessary passion. Bobby Eli, who played on several of the original ‘70s recordings of these songs, provides some tasty guitar work. Hall explained that “by making it a smaller production, it gave our version a different poignant feeling that was nothing like Barry’s brilliant, silky bombast.” Those last three words really sum up the greatness of Barry White.

Hall & Oates’ most recent album to date is Home For Christmas (2006), their first foray into “holiday music” since their ‘8os version of “Jingle Bell Rock” (which shows up here in an inferior newly recorded version). There’s nothing here that comes close to the utter joy of that single, and even the return of real instruments doesn’t help to improve the mostly lackluster recording. Every year during the Christmas season I love listening to holiday music by artists in various genres. In the 6 or 7 years since I bought Home For Christmas I’ve Hall & Oates - Home For Christmasplayed it at least half a dozen times, and each time it left me disappointed. Where is their one-of-a-kind combination of rock, pop & soul with clever arrangements, smooth harmonies and Hall’s distinctive lead vocals? Whether it’s the forgettable MOR pop of the title track or the maudlin intro to Oates’ “No Child Should Ever Cry On Christmas,” the album has always seemed like too much of a downer. I understand that not every Christmas song is upbeat, but even a traditional tune like “Oh Holy Night” is a letdown here, with Hall holding back when he should be belting it out. The Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight” is such a good song that it’s hard to imagine a bad version, but their approach lacks the uplifting quality of the original. Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire”), which might be my all-time favorite Christmas song, appears here in a quiet jazz version with Oates taking the lead, but it’s too long and doesn’t distinguish itself from countless other recordings of this tune. I’m happy to say that two songs jumped out at me after revisiting it this past week, so an album I’ve been dismissing for several years finally has some redeeming qualities.

Notable Tracks:

  • “Children Go Where I Send Thee” – I can imagine a church congregation adding their vocals to this acoustic version of a traditional African American spiritual. It’s the most inspired performance on the album by a wide margin.
  • “Mary Had A Baby” – Another traditional spiritual, but this arrangement mixes gospel with a steady acoustic folk/soul approach. It may not have a “Christmas” vibe but I really like its upbeat feel.

Hall & Oates Photo (Live circa 2010)

That wraps up my series on the Hall & Oates discography. Other than a seemingly endless stream of compilations, the only noteworthy release I don’t own is the Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music Of Hall & Oates 4-CD box set that was released in 2009. After revisiting their discography this past month, I have an even greater appreciation for their music than I did when this series began, so the 16 previously unreleased tracks on that box set might be enough of an incentive for me to seek it out. I hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look at their studio & live albums. The average fan will likely be content with a “best of” or “greatest hits” collection, but hopefully I’ve convinced some of my readers that there’s a lot to love beyond the hit singles. I also think that the term “blue eyed soul,” which is often attributed to them, only represents one aspect of what they do, as they comfortably straddle the lines of pop, soul, folk, rock, new wave, R&B, etc. It’s now 8 years since their most recent studio album, and even though they’ll both be in their 70s by the end of this decade and their best & most inspiring work is probably in the rear view mirror, I hope there’s more Hall & Oates music to come.

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7 comments on “HALL & OATES Part 5 – Doin’ It For Love / In Conclusion

  1. 45spin
    October 19, 2014

    Damn, I gonna have to look up “Do It For Love” as the folky side of Hall & Oates was always my favorite side of them. Abandon Luncheonette was a pretty amazing album for them.

    Like

    • Keep in mind that it’s “folkier” but not quite “folky,” especially with the programmed rhythm tracks. It’s certainly not in the same league as Abandoned Luncheonette, but if you have a tolerance for the slicker modern production (as I do), you should find at least a handful of songs to enjoy on that album.

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  2. Daddydinorawk
    October 20, 2014

    Yeah, Kudos Rich on another excellent series. I didn’t know the Dan Hartman thing. Weird I just heard that tune on the radio the other day. I recall really liking it back then, but now the production is soooo dated. But like Hall said, liked the song better than the record. I have also gained a greater apreciation for what they do, they have made some fantastic records over the years. I’ll keep listening and digging for gems and look forward to your next series.

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    • It’s cool that you just heard that Dan Hartman song, and I agree that it’s the perfect example of “song better than the record.” I’m really glad this series helped to expose some of H&O’s lesser-known gems. As much as I don’t care about the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as an organization, I feel vindicated by their induction this year after years of touting their worthiness to friends & colleagues.

      Cheers!
      Rich

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  3. Pingback: ONE AND DONE – My Favorite One-Album Artists Part 5 | KamerTunesBlog

  4. loveisastateofmind
    May 7, 2017

    As a massive Hall & Oates fan, I really enjoyed reading this series so thank you for writing it! I constantly hope for new music from them but I guess we just have to make do with the occasional solo record ….

    Like

    • I really appreciate you stopping by and checking out my H&O series. It’s always a pleasure to meet another fan. When I wrote this series they still hadn’t been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, something I had been suggesting (to no one in particular) for years, so it makes me happy that people who had dismissed them as pop fluff are starting to come around to them, realizing how deep their catalog is. I agree that it would be nice to have more new music from them, but perhaps their songwriting well has run dry. Their solo albums are good, but neither has done anything separately that comes close to anything they’ve done together…at least to my ears.

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