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Hall & Oates' New CD Set Heralds Pop Duo Genius

Daryl Hall and John Oates; Photo by Mark Maglio

Daryl Hall and John Oates; Photo by Mark Maglio

Daryl Hall and John Oates’ four-CD set, “Do What You Want; Be What You Are,” is nothing short of staggeringly magnificent. The short read is that it reminds you once again what a compelling team of writers and performers Hall & Oates were and still are.

Their run of Top Ten singles in the early ’80s remains unparalleled. That said, their music, while displaying an amazing talent, clearly illustrates what depth, what compassion and what talent lies with these two gentlemen. I had the rare pleasure of seeing them early on.

Hell, I was even born in Philly, too, so, I felt I shared some home-town affinity. Their talent, even back in the ’70s, was nothing short of awesome.

Daryl has perfect pitch, meaning that when he sings something, he usually nails it on the first take. He was and is so good, that he can fully concentrate on making his voice do other things, like sudden ad-libs and modulating his voice. That voice, for me, is right up there with Ray Charles and Willie Nelson. It is, spot-on!

I, along with probably many of you, first became aware of H&O when their Abandoned Luncheonette (1973) album came and feature the luscious song “Sara Smile.” I’d never heard anything like it before and still to this day that recording retains such innocence, such beauty.

It’s a truly classic track, as well as “Las Vegas Turnaround” and “Had I Known You Better”, which were each classics on their own.

The story was that their record label at the time, Atlantic, had wanted them to rock out a bit more and so began their infamous hook up with star producer/artist Todd Rundgren, resulting in the amazing War Babies album (1974).

Truth be told, I had almost totally forgotten about that album and listening to the tracks on the set immediately brought back the memories and the reasons I loved it so: Tremendously daring, brilliantly written; and performed like nothing else I’d had ever heard.

Rundgren, on a conceptual high at the time, was simply flawless. And, using H&O’s vocals was a nice little trick, too.

Daryl Hall and John Oates in 1978

Daryl Hall and John Oates in 1978

I read a bunch of reviews on that album recently and the contributors either said, “It sounded more like a Todd Rundgren album” or, “it was the best album ever from H&O.” I think, in retrospect, both opinions are/were true.

“You’re Much Too Soon” and “Is It A Star” from that album are here and stopped me dead in my tracks. Five unreleased LIVE tracks from 1975 are included and are just dazzling.

It was most interesting in hearing the various configurations of bands they had in those days. “Lady Rain,” a great album track, was simply dazzling here, as was “Beanie G. And The Rose Tattoo.” My great friend back then, was Ruth Gonzalez, who worked for H&O and I always felt it should have been titled “Ruthie G And The Rose Tattoo.”

Then came “Camellia,” “Sara Smile,” “ Back Together Again,” “Rich Girl,” “Kiss On My List,” “Private Eyes, “ “I Can’t Go For That,” “Maneater,” “Method Of Modern Love” and one record that I was actually saw recorded, “Adult Education,” with Nile Rogers.

Daryl and John were working with Rogers, Arthur Baker, and Bob Clearmountain in those heady, heady days. I even think there were a few of the Kid Creole & The Coconuts band on that one, too.

Then they worked with The Temptations and everything kind of came to a halt. Management changes, Tommy Mottola came and went; Randy Hoffman too. Record labels changed. It was a transitional time for all.

I think it just had to come to a stop. Once you hit the top (and, H&O kept hitting it), there’s only one place to go.

Oates’ song “Possession Obsession” sort of summed up that whole period. Even he said, “It was really about the excess of the 80s; bigger toys, more sex, more drugs, more money. So it was me kind of giving myself a little warning and make a statement about what I was observing.”

Some serious stuff definitely transpired during this time. It hasn’t been written about and may never be, but pieces come out. Whatever happened, things were re evaluated and re assessed.

Then came the album Change of Season and very clearly, a change was in the works. Daryl and John had been handling the production chores and then, T Bone Wolk took the reins and a new sound developed… much more akin to the Abandoned Luncheonette days. it was subtle yet as rich as ever.

This tremendous set represents the years from 1966-2009 and the one thing you notice straight away is how H&O’s vocal work is as clear and distinctive as ever.

They’ve long since surpassed Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers in the annals of pop pairings. They’ve scored no less than 22 Top 20 singles, including six number ones, six platinum albums plus another six gold LPs.

Their sound is a reassuring one; terrific talent to match, with a terrific body of work.

This set is as important a re-issue as last year’s Pacific Ocean Blue. Terrific notes by L.A.-scribe Roy Trakin and a meticulously arranged and written book, with notes and photos and thoughts. It’s a worthy addition to any serious music collection. For me, I love these guys!

Short Takes:

Abigail Spencer, the fantastic Miss Farrell on this season’s “Mad Men” has been inked for a new NBC pilot called “Rex Is Not Your Lawyer,” which enters on one Rex Alexander, a top Chicago litigator who begins suffering panic attacks and takes up coaching clients to represent themselves in court. Spencer will essay an ambitious lawyer at Rex’s law firm who is also his fiancée. Sounds complicated, right? Spencer’s run as the teacher of the Draper’s two children, who had a lurid affair with father Don was terrifically inspired, and at least for this viewer, made her run a real highpoint of the season

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Lorraine Bracco from “The Sopranos” is attached to a new show called “Rizzoli.” Based on Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli mystery novels, the show will revolve around the crime-solving team of Boston police detective Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and one Maura Isles, to be essayed by Sasha Alexander. Bracco will play Rizzoli’s mother, who despite her tough exterior is a loyal wife and mother of three. Sounds like a crime-solving new TV season is in store!

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My Name Is Earl” star Jason Lee is jumping back into TV as the lead in “Delta Blues,” which will be exec produce by George Clooney. The hour-long show centers on Dwight Hendricks (Lee), a Memphis police officer who lives with his mother and moonlights as an Elvis-impersonator. For my money, this sounds like a total scream!

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The voices of Shirley Bassey and Sean Connery have been drawn together on a feature for the first time since both were involved in “Goldfinger” back in 1964. Bassey’s been signed to sing “Guardian of the Highlands,” the title song for the forthcoming CGI animated feature “Sir Bill.” Connery leads the voice cast. “Goldfinger” was Connery’s third Bond film and her biting vocal helped the song become an international pop hit, reaching the top 10 in the U.S. The movie centers on a skate-boarding retired veterinarian who lives in a remote Scottish village and spearheads the rescue of a fugitive – who happens to be a beaver!

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Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, Sugarland, Rob Thomas and Usher will perform for TNT’s “Christmas In Washington” special, set for December 20.

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“I’m still working on it. I got a lot to do in a short period of time; I shouldn’t even be here.” That’s how director Tim Burton described the status of his “Alice In Wonderland” at this week’s MOMA retrospective of his work. The film is due early in 2010.

Names in the News

Phil Lobel; Stormy; John Christie; Amanda Cisco; Claudio, Mia Vasquez; Ivan; Race Taylor; Mary Grant @ The PBA; Steve Walter; Monica Avery; Joanie Berney; David Salidor; Rob Santos; Jonathan Wolfson; Ivan; Chloe; MeBrown; and Chip!