Hall & Oates | Doing What They Want, Being Who They Are

halloates_-_small.jpgAfter more than 40 years playing together and apart, the duo just released their first boxed set.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo: Mark Maglio

I saw my first big concert – Hall and Oates – in the fall of 1984, on the eve of my fourteenth birthday. At the time, the pop duo was enjoying the height of their career, with their multi-platinum twelfth album, Big Bam Boom, at the top of the charts.

Fast forward 25 years and Daryl Hall and John Oates have gone on to become the most successful duo in pop music history with more than 60 million albums sold (surpassing even Simon and Garfunkel), in addition to enjoying successful solo careers. This month, after more than 40 years playing together and apart, the duo released their first boxed set, Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music Of Daryl Hall And John Oates (RCA/Legacy).

Named for one of their earlier songs, the much-anticipated, four-CD boxed set spans the entire career of Hall and Oates, both together and separately. The songs are arranged in chronological order beginning all the way back in 1967, when they joined together as teenagers in Philadelphia, through their dozens of hits (including eight number one singles), fully exploring the development of their signature "rock and soul" sound that is so engrained in pop culture.

So why has it taken so long for a Hall and Oates boxed set?  "I think you have to earn it," Oates says in a phone interview just prior to the set’s release. "I guess we’ve finally earned it."

Daryl Hall took the lead on the project, along with archivists at Sony records, pouring over album after album of material (they recorded 18 studio and 11 live albums together) and analyzing them to select the songs, with John Oates’ input.

"I said if we’re going to do this, I want to be in charge of it," says Hall by phone. "I want it to reflect what I think is important about my career and the music that made it. The pivotal songs that I think show the evolution and the musicality of what we’ve done over the years."

The experience, he tells me, was a bit surreal. "Most artists, if they’re not playing their songs live, they just kind of forget about them. So to sit down and listen to all these songs in a grouping – it gave me a new perspective on what it is I do and on my life – because the music and my real life are so intertwined."

"It’s a reflection of a lifetime of music," concurs Oates. "To me, the concept of a boxed set is to give the die-hard fans something new and the casual fans an overview of what it is that we have done in our career, above and beyond only the hits."

Fans needn’t fear though – the hits are all here (including classics like "Rich Girl," "Kiss On My List," "Maneater," "Private Eyes,"  "Sara Smile," and "She’s Gone.") But Hall and Oates rediscovered other, lesser-known gems when scouring the archives that they really felt belonged in the set.

"There were songs I had forgotten about completely that I thought, ‘Why have I forgotten this? Why don’t we play this live?’" says Hall. "For example, one of John’s songs I really like is a song called ‘Alone Too Long.’ It’s a really cool, inventive song. I completely forgot about it, like it never existed." Fans can hear the track on Disc 2 of the set.

Some of the included tracks are previously unreleased. "There’s a song I did called ‘Don’t Go Out,’ which is a very adventurous and kind of art-rock song that didn’t fit on the Private Eyes album," Oates says.

Also previously unreleased are seven songs recorded at a live concert at the New Victoria Theater in London in 1975. "The band was on fire. It was one of those special nights," says Oates. "We remixed and re-mastered it, and it sounds amazing. Back in the day, we didn’t have a lot of material to work with so we did a lot of extended instrumentals and jams. It’s very trippy."

Two additional live tracks, "Possession Obsession" and a medley of The Temptations’ "The Way You Do The Things You Do/My Girl" are taken from Live At The Apollo With David Ruffin & Eddie Kendrick, Hall and Oates’ album celebrating their headlining show with the two late former Temptations at the re-opening night of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in May 1985, during their heyday.  

Later that same year, the duo sat in on what could possibly be the most historic session in music history – the recording of the Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie co-written "We Are the World" to raise money for famine in Africa.

"I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again and I don’t think it happened before where you get that many superstars in a room with nobody else but them – no tour managers, no hangers-on, no assistants – just the musicians. Everybody was just in the room together," remembers Hall.

Oates says, "I had the presence of mind to get the lead sheet that they handed to everyone who walked in the door with the words and melody and music and I had it signed by everyone. I have it hanging in my studio. Ray Charles was in front of me and Bob Dylan was a bit to my left. That’s a good place to be."

Hall and Oates, unlike some musical duos that have ended like a bad marriage, have had a successful working and personal relationship for more than four decades, which both of them attribute to their ability to stay out of each other’s way.

"We have very separate lives, creatively, musically and personally," Hall says. I think that’s what has sustained our music, because we really work separately much more than we ever worked together and we don’t step on each other’s toes."

"We spent basically from the time we were teenagers up through our adult life traveling the world together and sharing a lot of the same experiences, and it’s created a bond that’s very solid," Oates adds. "But at the same time, we live in different parts of the country, we have different goals and activities outside of music. So in that respect we retain our individuality."

Indeed each of them has had great success as solo artists and both are currently working on their own individual projects. Hall has a new solo album slated for 2010 and continues to produce his hit Internet series, Live From Daryl’s House, on which some of music’s hottest artists "drop by" Hall’s home for mini jam-sessions filmed for the Web. He recently completed a session with singer/songwriter Diane Birch as well as Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. Past shows have featured Motown legend Smokey Robinson, fellow Philly native Todd Rundgren, and Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of The Doors. All can be viewed online at www.livefromdarylshouse.com.

"I’m so proud of this and so happy people are responding the way they are," Hall says. "I’ve been touring for years and years and I thought, why not just bring the world to me for a change? The Internet allows you to do that. Instead of an artist going out on a stage and doing an act in front of an audience – I figured just let musicians be in their habitat and just play naturally, and let the audience be the fly on the wall."

Meanwhile, John Oates is receiving critical acclaim for his latest solo effort, a collaboration album called 1,000 Miles of Life featuring renown musicians including Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, John Popper and The Blind Boys of Alabama.
The album is nominated for a Nashville Music Award for a Non-Nashville band Recording in Music City.

"When I started writing these songs, the style was very lyrical, and I thought I needed to go somewhere to surround myself with people who are really used to working with singer-songwriters and giving a musical framework for lyrics," he explains. "Because if you listen to country music, that’s what it’s all about. So Nashville just made sense."

Oates will play a solo show featuring many of his new songs at St. Louis’ own ‘Stache Bash on October 30 at the Roberts Orpheum Theater. This annual celebration of mustaches benefits the Challenger Baseball league for children with disabilities.

The duo will also play another historic concert this weekend in their hometown of Philadelphia as one of the last acts performing at the soon-to-be-demolished Philly Spectrum. It seems that in 2009 Hall and Oates are still on a career high and their music remains as relevant as ever. This year’s hot romantic comedy, 500 Days of Summer, even featured a memorable dance sequence to "You Make My Dreams Come True."

After all they have accomplished together and apart, Hall and Oates have indeed earned the boxed set. In addition to the four CDs of hits, live cuts and previously unreleased material, the set includes a 60-page full color booklet with liner notes and track-by-track annotations written by native Philly journalist and author Ken Sharp. Die-hard fans will be delighted, and casual ones will come to have a greater appreciation for the duo’s long and impressive career outside of the 80s hits they are most known for. | Amy Burger

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