Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: DARYL HALL
Album: SACRED SONGS
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
I’m cheating a bit with this selection because it wasn’t actually released in 1977, but since it was recorded and initially scheduled to be released that year I decided it was a worthwhile inclusion in this series. Plus it’s my blog and I make the rules here so no one can stop me (insert evil laugh here). By 1977 the duo of Daryl Hall & John Oates (whose discography I revisited in a 5-part series in 2014) had released a half-dozen albums and scored three Top 10 singles (“She’s Gone,” “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl”). Even though they weren’t yet the prolific hitmakers they would become in the following decade, they were an established group and their record label (RCA) expected them to crank out pop hits. Hall, their main vocalist & keyboard player, was itching to explore other musical terrain, so he connected with an unlikely collaborator: Robert Fripp, the mastermind behind progressive rock legends King Crimson (who were on an extended break at the time). The music they created wasn’t a million miles away from the direction Hall & Oates was heading in, but RCA felt it wasn’t commercial enough & could alienate the group’s fans, so they put the album (Sacred Songs) on the shelf for three years until it was finally given a proper release. Had they waited a little longer it might have been more successful, but it hit shelves a few months prior to the release of H&O’s ‘80s-defining album Voices, and by then it was all but forgotten. I was fortunate to find a used LP of Sacred Songs in the late-‘80s and have loved it ever since.
It’s a completely different beast than his 1986 sophomore solo album, Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine, which was included in the final post of last year’s Thirty Year Thursday series. With Fripp on board as producer, as well as contributing his inimitable guitar sound and his one-of-a-kind “Frippertronics” sound effects, and a band consisting of Elton John cohorts Caleb Quaye (guitar), Kenny Passarelli (bass) & Roger Pope (drums), Hall delivered a set of songs that’s edgier and less “blue-eyed soul” than anything he had previously released…yet much of it is as catchy as anything he was doing with Oates. “NYCNY” is one of the album’s defining songs; a great driving angular new wave tune with a pulsing 4/4 groove, Fripp’s fierce guitar work, call-and-response vocals in the chorus (“NY love me, NYC I see, NY why me, am I NY?”) and a moody half-time bridge. Fripp re-recorded this song (with a new title & different lyrics) on his first solo album…which prominently featured Hall on vocals…two years later. “Something In 4/4 Time” is another driving rocker with a new wave vibe and a memorable chorus (“Ya gotta have something in 4/4 time, ya gotta have something, gotta have something that rhymes”). I especially love Hall’s falsetto vocals and the cool Frippertronic breakdown. Album opener “Sacred Songs” is a bluesy rocker with barroom piano that reminds me of David Bowie a la “Suffragette City.” This might be the closest he comes to sounding like Hall & Oates but his vocals have a harder edge.
Several songs have extended running times, which is unsurprising when you have a founding father of prog rock at the helm. “Babs And Babs” falls just shy of 8 minutes, and is notable for its arrangement, which shifts from a bouncy midtempo rhythm to an icy cool atmosphere through the outro, and includes some killer guitar work (likely by Quaye) followed by more Frippertronics. There’s some impressive playing by everyone on “Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her,” while Hall alternates lyrics about “choosing my priorities” and “the art of changing our perception” with group vocals (“levels” and “stages”). “Survive” is the brightest song on the album, moving effortlessly from Fleetwood Mac-esque acoustic guitar to a piano-led glam-rock groove. I love the vibe but it didn’t need to be 6-1/2 minutes long. Hall sounds like his one-time producer Todd Rundgren on the soulful “Why Was It So Easy,” a slow ballad with a repeated ebow melody and a loping rhythm that briefly changes to a sparse guitar-and-organ section. Three shorter and softer songs round out the track listing. “Urban Landscape” is a Frippertronic instrumental and “The Farther Away I Am” is soft & serene with just keyboards & voice above a King Crimson-like synth bed. The album closes on an incredible high note with “Without Tears,” a gorgeous slightly jazzy piano ballad with a pretty melody and Hall’s magnificent vocals. I could imagine Stevie Wonder performing this song, especially the “earth magic” part. I was thrilled when Sacred Songs was re-released on CD about 2 decades ago with a couple of bonus tracks, making this music readily available again. Musically it fits in nicely with other 1977 releases, yet in many ways points the way forward to the next decade. Fripp fans who might have dismissed Daryl Hall as simply a pop singer are in for a pleasant surprise, and Hall & Oates fans with open minds should find a lot to love here as well.
This is good stuff. I’d never heard of it, but back in the day I would have likely bought it since I acquired several of the Hall and Oates albums. I can definitely hear the influence of Rundgren in these cuts.
Tossing It Out
Hi Lee. Great to hear from you. It’s a shame this album doesn’t have a higher profile as it captures Hall at the peak of his powers. Apologies for not commenting at your wonderful Tossing It Out site, but I do read the majority of your posts. Life has been quite hectic as my wife & I have been living through a whole-house renovation this year. Just know that I’m out there lurking & enjoying.
Called it!! Lol. Yeah its really not a million miles away from H&O despite the Fripproduction. I just coined a term. I don’t think this would have aligned Hall with the New Wave as Fripp has protested but it does present him as something more than a blue eyed soul crooner. It does push a direction H&O would subsequently proceed and which would coalesce with Big Bam Boom.
I was a Hall and Oates fan long before I was into Crimso, and its cool to see how the two directions would merge, even if for only a brief period.
You did a fine job prognosticating this post. 😛 Nice job with “Frippoduction.” Can’t believe he never used that term himself. I agree with your assessments, although I’m not sure I see much of a connection between this album and Big Bam Boom. I do see a direct link from this album to the H&O version of Mike Oldfield’s “Family Man.” I’m sure G.E. Smith was influenced by Fripp with the guitar sound on that track.
Enjoyed this post very much Rich. Although I’ve known about this album since its release, I’ve never owned nor even heard it. Listening as I type, and it lives up to your lively descriptions effortlessly. I’ll be looking out for that CD re-issue. Thanks a lot.
Thanks, Bruce. I know your tastes tend to veer toward less commercial sounds, but this album has enough quirkiness to be right up your alley. Hall & Fripp was never an obvious match on paper but the results say otherwise.
LikeLiked by 1 person
A 1977 album not from 1977 – Now we get it and I’m surprised at how much younger Daryl looks in these pictures you’ve shared compared to the Daryl I’m more familiar with from the early ’80s. As for this album, based on the clips you’ve included, I don’t think it would have been for me even I’ve known about it back then (but based on my track record you would probably expect that). I was more of a Voices and Private Eyes girl.
A strange set of coincidences though – This week a blogger I follow has just shared part of a new comic book he’s written and the band the boys are into is none other that King Crimson (Robert Fripp’s guitar playing even gets a mention:
Also, I have just written a post about yacht rock which was a new genre for me – Having looked into a bit more H&O are kind of included amongst the other yacht rockers like the Doobie Brothers, Christopher Cross etc. so had been listening to them this morning just before I read your post!
I’m guessing the renovations have gone well? Hope so anyway.
Hi Alyson. See, it all makes sense now. It’s from ’77…but it’s not. Haha. I figured this one wouldn’t have appeared on your turntable or tape deck at the time, but since you indicated that you enjoyed H&O in the ’80s I’m sure you would find much to like here. Thanks for sharing the link to Rick’s site. As time permits I will check it out. Always happy to find other passionate & creative prog fans.
I like (to varying degrees) just about every artist that has gotten lumped into the “yacht rock” categorization. I loved the video series that sparked the “genre,” which was silly & hilarious, but it bugs me a bit that people are listening to those artists ironically. There’s nothing wrong with soft & smooth music, especially when it’s performed by incredibly talented musicians. I will certainly check out your post soon.
Renovations are nearly complete. We had to vacate the house for two weeks as the floors were finished and other odds-and-ends were handled, but because the final inspection won’t happen until this coming week we’ve been relegated to one room and most of our stuff is in the garage. We hope to start moving things back in later this week and within a couple of weeks we should be settled in. My music room will likely be the last piece of the puzzle to be completed, but I’ve waited nearly 2-1/2 years so another week or so won’t kill me. Thanks for asking. Hope all is well by you.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh dear, no-one should ever listen to H&O “ironically” – Who are these fools?!
Good to hear the music room is within a cat’s whisker of being complete – Once installed it will feel as if all your Christmases have come at once.
Actually, it’s people who listen to anything ironically that I don’t understand. When it comes to Yacht Rock, after the video series several hipsters I know started listening to a lot of those artists even though they would have previously scoffed at them, and their comments about those artists were always a bit tongue-in-cheek.
My cat (Cori) appreciates your “cat’s whisker” comment. 😀 I’m happy to say that all CD shelves and LP drawers are in place. They still have some touching up to do on the walls in that room, and we can’t move anything in until the final inspection is done later this week, but it is finally very close. In a couple of weeks I should be locked in that room, and I don’t plan on coming out (other than for food & bathroom breaks, of course) for an entire year. Possibly an exaggeration…but I won’t know for sure until I’m in there.
LikeLiked by 1 person
“Actually, it’s people who listen to anything ironically that I don’t understand.”
So you take your Spinal Tap absolutely seriously? 🙂
I love the first Spinal Tap album even though I know they’re a fictional band. The songs are good and that’s all that matters to me. No irony whatsoever.
Not even a smiley. 🙂
Spot the pun in these Tap lyrics:
The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’
That’s what I said
The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand
Or, so I’ve read.
My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo
I love to sink her with my pink torpedo.
Talk about bum cakes
My gal’s got ’em.
Drive me out of my mind.
How can I leave this behind?
I saw her on Monday, twas my lucky bun day
You know what I mean.
I love her each weekday, each velvety cheek day
You know what I mean.
My love gun’s loaded and she’s in my sights
Big game’s waiting there inside her tights.
Talk about mud flaps
My gal’s got ’em.
Drive me out of my mind.
How can I leave this behind?
I suppose the smiley face is always lurking, but I hope you understand my point that I never enjoy things ironically. At that point I don’t think you’re actually enjoying it, but maybe it’s just me. Like I talked about in my “No Guilt, Just Pleasure” post, I like what I like and I make no excuses for it. I may not be a Backstreet Boys fan but I love the song “I Want It That Way” as much as any great melodic pop song.
As for the Spinal Tap lyrics you posted, of course you must be referring to “How can I leave this behind?” as the obvious pun. So damn clever. I also love the fact that all three guys play bass on the song (at least in the movie), hence “big bottom,” so there’s another hidden pun.
Daryl Hall´s voice + Frippertronics = magic. Without Tears – what a beautiful song.
Great assessment, Alvaro. It is magic indeed.
Like one of your other readers, I knew when you said 1977 album not released in 1977 it pretty much had to be this one. Even so, I excitedly tuned in to see if there was another forgotten masterpiece I hadn’t been aware of (just to be sure, I did check to see if Paul Pena’s “New Train” was recorded in ’77 but it was much earlier in the decade. It didn’t see it’s release until 2000 despite Steve Miller’s success with “Jet Airliner” in ’77.)
The thing I really love about this Hall album is the pacing. It really takes you on a journey and the track order was superb. 3 mid tempo rock songs grab your attention which end with that space-y mid-section repeated again during the outro on “Babs & Babs” that you mentioned. This segues nicely into the ethereal “Urban Landscape” where your dream state is shattered by the frenetic riff of “NYCNY.” (I just want to scream “Disengage…..Disengage…” when I hear those really high on the neck guitar chords near the end.) As if exhausted from the effort and from the dissonance of that tune, it mellows right back down for the next 2-3 tracks. To me, the first 2 minutes of the track “Survive” would have been comfortable on Whole Oats next to “Fall in Philadelphia” or “Goodnight & Goodmorning.” Not that it is out of place but it just seems to be perhaps the one straight song in an otherwise not-straight album. That said, its extended jam shows Daryl screaming and the tune increasing in aggressiveness. I love the ending piano ballad “Without Tears” and could almost see Joe Jackson doing that song minus the high falsetto parts.
As a note, I am used to listening to the CD version which adds “You Burn Me Up…” and “North Star.” Again–mellow interrupted by hectic-returning to mellow. “North Star” is one of Daryl’s tenderest moments in his whole (Hohl) career. A great vocal performance. Many times, added extra tracks interrupt my listening experience with demos of inferior sound quality or live tracks that jar you out of the album’s mood. Here, I think the 2 added tracks flow seamlessly and in harmony with the original 10 tracks.
As far as connection to later Hall & Oates, if you listen to their X-Static (1979) album to some of the later cuts such as Intravino especially, you get that fast pace like NYCNY….maybe Bebop/Drop too. Number One might have some of the quirky phrasing and might have worked on this album too in a reworked form. Also Hallofon from that album has some synth dissonance that I could see replaced with Frippertronics.
Thanks for featuring this really under-appreciated and often unknown moment in Hall’s career!
Hi Billy. Thanks for your excellent feedback on Sacred Songs. I’m glad you love this album as much as I do. Nice job figuring out that this was the album I cryptically mentioned in my prior post. I’m unfamiliar with Paul Pena. Guess I should check him out since I always love filling in musical gaps.
You made some great points about the pacing of this album which I hadn’t previously considered. In addition to that, there’s also the balance of short & long tracks. Hall & Fripp knew what they were doing when they worked on the sequencing. I also like your suggestion that the beginning of “Survive” could fit on Whole Oats. As for those late-’70s H&O albums, there’s definitely a connection between the work Hall did here and those records, and I also see a direct line from this album to things like their version of Mike Oldfield’s “Family Man.” I love G.E. Smith’s guitar sound on that song.
I haven’t played the two CD bonus tracks you mentioned in a while because my CD collection has been in storage as I moved and then went through a whole-house renovation, so I was at the mercy of Spotify recently in playing Sacred Songs. They only have the original album tracks. I remember liking those songs a lot when that CD came out, and wishing there was even more bonus content. But how can I complain when they were able to expand an album I already love with even more greatness?
This is the only Hall/Oates album I have – because of the Fripp Trilogy, since I had the Gabriel and Fripp parts, I wanted to hear Hall’s as well.
Glad you like this album but I’m surprised you don’t have anything else by Hall &/or Oates. There are several great H&O albums, and most of the lesser ones have at least a handful of good songs. Don’t let the pop hits scare you away, especially since most of those pop hits are amazing.
LikeLiked by 1 person