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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2005

Still mellow after all these years


Long before they were the famous hit-making duo of Hall and Oates, who will be in concert Tuesday at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, Daryl Hall and John Oates were singers who lived and breathed soul music.

As teenagers attending Temple University in Philadelphia, the two future stars led their own vocal groups - Hall's was the Temptones and Oates' was the Masters - enjoying enough local success to get opening slots at the Adelphi Ballroom for a 1967 concert by the Five Stairsteps.

Things did not go exactly as planned that fateful night.

"It was what was called a 'record hop' in the olden says," Oates said in a phone interview last week from San Diego. "In those days, DJs would have a teenage dance, and they'd spin records, and various singers or groups would come out and lip-sync their songs. We were part of that scene. Daryl had his own group, and I had my own group, and we were going to lip-sync to our records that were getting played on local Philadelphia radio."

Right after the Five Stairsteps performed their silky hit song, "O-o-h Child," however, the Adelphi erupted in gunfire. As members of rival gangs began shooting at one another, Hall and Oates made quick exits, fleeing the riot and ending up in the same freight elevator, where they talked about their mutual musical interests.

The two singers crossed paths several times over the next few years as each pursued separate music careers.

It wasn't until 1972 that they joined forces, signing with Atlantic Records and having their careers managed by Tommy Mottola, who later became head of Sony Records.

The singers' love for R&B got lost in Atlantic's effort to market them as rockers, and after modest success with "She's Gone," which reached No. 60 on the charts, the label dropped Hall and Oates in 1974.

The next year, however, the two singers switched to RCA and broke into the national spotlight with "Sara Smile," a sweet and soulful ballad that Hall had written for his girlfriend, Sara Allen. The song sold more than a million copies, reached No. 4 on the singles chart, and sparked the duo's self-titled album to Gold Record status.

Hall and Oates continued with a string of Top 20 songs and albums, including a reissue of "She's Gone" by Atlantic in 1976, capitalizing on the success of "Sara Smile," this time hitting No. 7 on the singles chart.

The first No. 1 hit for Hall and Oates was "Rich Girl," released in 1977.

Oates said that despite the radio hits and steady album sales, it took a long time before he felt like Hall and Oates had made it big.

"Never, honestly, until the 1980s, when we were well established and had been doing it for 10 years," said Oates, 56. "Then we started having a string of hits and it was just one of those things that happens, when you're perfectly in sync with your times and your songs become the sound of radio and other people start emulating it. You can't control it, you can't plan it, you can't orchestrate it. It either happens or it doesn't."

The duo's 1980s hits included "Every Time You Go Away," "Kiss on my List," "You Make My Dreams," "Private Eyes," "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)," "Did It in a Minute," "Maneater," "Adult Education," and "Say It Isn't So."

Oates said he and Hall set their standards high for their recordings and did not let sales figures cloud their artistic judgment.

"Commercial success was never the criteria by which we judged everything," he said.

The pace slowed down for the duo in the 1990s, but they never split up or went on hiatus, Oates said.

"We were always together under the radar screen. In the early '90s, we did a lot of solo projects and took time off for personal reasons," he said. "But we didn't stop. We always played and continued to tour. It's just that we did things that weren't on the same awareness level, like private parties and tours in foreign countries."

He and Hall continue to write new songs and not just coast on their past hits, he added.

"Anybody who's a writer or a creative person will look ahead in some ways. Not many people are nostalgic and just want to revel in their past," he said.

The latest recording project for Hall and Oates is "Our Kind of Soul," a warm and cozy collection of 14 cover songs and three originals.

The covers include an array of Motown and Philly soul such as the Four Tops' "Standing in the Shadows of Love," the Spinners' "I'll Be Around," Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady," and the Stylistics' "You Are Everything."

"It's just one of those things that every artist makes at some point in their career, but we'd never done that," Oates said. "As opposed to making a record of just songs that inspired us in our youth, the way a lot of artists approach these kinds of records, we picked songs that were connected to us. In many cases, they were contemporary with our career, as opposed to before our career. They were part of a movement that we helped form, in a way."

The album, released on the U-Watch label, was recorded in five weeks in an impromptu studio in Hall's garage in the Bahamas, with the songs performed with acoustic instruments and vocals that give the music a simple, honest, live-in-the-studio feel.

"We wanted to strip them down, take them out of context, and return to that acoustic-based R&B soul sound that we started in the 1970s," Oates said.

Fittingly, the CD ends with Hall and Oates' version of the Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child."

"This was the last track we cut for the album," Hall writes in the liner notes, "and I'll confess it was very emotional. That's why we put the song last on the album. I mean, talk about really going full circle."

Hall and Oates will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater with Connor O'Brien opening. Tickets are $29.50, $39.50, and $49.50 from Ticketmaster and the Toledo Sports Arena box office. Information: 419-698-4545.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.

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