Hall & Oates celebrate partnership with new box setWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Nearly 25 years after their era of prime chart dominance, Daryl Hall and John Oates are still making waves in pop culture. “You Make My Dreams” played a prominent role in the recent indie film hit “500 Days of Summer”; they are playing recurring roles on the “Family Guy” spinoff “The Cleveland Show”; they have filmed a cameo appearance for a major Disney film to be released in 2010; and each musician is promoting new work, while making a solo CD.
The new Sony Legacy box set “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” collects 74 hits, album tracks, live performances and rarities, including 16 previously unreleased songs.
Both Hall and Oates are now in their early 60s, and while a career-spanning box set might seem like an opportune time for nostalgia, neither man seems invested in the glory days.
“I will very rarely listen to the old music,” Oates said during a recent phone interview from his Colorado home. “I will hear songs by accident in a store or on the radio, but I don’t sit around and listen to the records. I’m not jaded, but I am used to it; it’s been happening for a very long time. But I am still very appreciative. To know the music is being played 20, 30, 40 years later is a testament to the songwriting. The songs stand up and still sound good.”
Hall struck a similar theme during a phone interview from his New York home.
“Working on the box set was the first time I tried to hear myself objectively, to listen to the body of work, which I never do,” he said. “It gave me a feeling of what we accomplished to this point. It was illuminating.”
Oates said he and Hall enjoyed just enough success throughout the 1970s to prepare them for their ’80s dominance of five No. 1 and 12 top 10 songs in five years.
“We were hyperaware of the run at the time, because our lives were in complete chaos,” he said. “We were in such demand, recording, writing, touring, making videos, the press responsibility, it never stopped. It was a five-year whirlwind, and we were traveling the world at a pretty heady time.”
Hall and Oates are in harmony on how their relationship has survived four decades.
“We are very different people, different from other people and from each other,” Oates said. “We have personal and professional space that doesn’t interfere with each other. I am easy going, I take a long-term outlook. Daryl is focused, very passionate. When we get together, our common
bonds allow us to collaborate.”
Hall echoed that sentiment: “We have very different personalities but we share a love for making music; it’s our reason to live. That has intensified over the years. We were friends before we were musical partners, and our long-term relationship has self-imposed rules that allow us to be individuals, as well as collaborators.
Oates said the relationship has a “very complex dynamic that is hard to explain.”
The two men have appeared together for a DVD concert and some special projects recently, but they did not get together to work on the box set.
“We were never in the same room for it,” Oates said. “We listened to the music, talked to each other, talked to the guys at Sony and made lists of songs. From 400-plus songs, the 74 we picked represent us at our best, as artists, singers, writers and producers. The hits of course are included, but there is a lot of good material. We did not put songs on our albums to fill space; with this box set, we want to let world know our focus was not as hit-makers. The hits were a byproduct of the quality of the songwriting.”
Oates said the box set reinforces the group’s musical growth.
“We started with Arif Mardin as our producer, who used consummate jazz musicians in the studio, then worked with Todd Rundgren, who was more rock and experimental. Combine those two approaches, and that’s what we ended up being. Our goal was always to record live with our band in our home of New York, and when we got that in the ’80s, that’s when we hit our stride. That’s when we got it right.”
One honor that has eluded the No. 1 charting duo in Billboard history is a nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I never expected it,” Hall said. “I know these things tend to be political, with secret committees within committees, and I’m on the outside of that.
If it happens, it will be a surprise to me. Rock journalists create their own history of reverence, and they’ve never embraced us. To validate us they have to invalidate themselves to some degree.”
Oates was a bit more feisty on the subject.
“It bothers me, but not a lot,” he said. “It’s politics and we don’t seem to fit in with their agenda; I am not sure why that is. It’s run by the older school of rock journalists, and they never gave us respect; they treat us as lightweight hit-makers. That’s just the way it is. But the new generation of musicians has more respect because they understand how hard it is to sustain this kind of commercial success.”
Asked about the perception of being a secondary player in his own band, Oates responds without rancor: “The casual fan does not understand my role; they have no clue; but the rabid fans, they understand what I bring to the group,” he said. “Look, Daryl has a great voice, and his voice became the sound of our hits; he is one of the great pop singers of all time, and I know that better than anyone because I have sat beside him for 35 years. But I am a good singer as well; it took a backseat on our records, but that’s the way it is. I have been able to do a lot of great things on my own.”
Among the solo projects Oates is working on is an album of 1960s folk music.
“I was asked to do a track on a compilation album, ‘The Village,’ of great folk music from Greenwich Village in the 1960s. That was my music as I was learning, so I did this track for the album, which also features Bruce Hornsby, Lucinda Williams and Amos Lee. It was folksy and raw. The record company asked if I’d like to do a whole album, so we are.”
Hall is working on a new solo album for Verve Records that he will begin recording in January. He is also working on “Live From Daryl’s House,” an Internet show in which he jams with musicians as disparate as Smokey Robinson and members of The Doors to such newer groups as Plain White Ts, Eric Hutchinson and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump — as well as John Oates.
“I was made for this kind of show; it’s just unbelievable,” Hall said. “It’s the most fulfilling of all the things I’ve done in my life. I love collaboration, and this is real on-your-toes improvisation and a lot of good feelings. It’s like walking into a party.”
Hall said once legal and rights issues are cleared, an album and DVD will collect the best of the shows.
Hall & Oates are also appearing as devil and angel consciences for the title character on “The Cleveland Show” on FOX.
“We met Seth McFarlane, and then Mike Henry, who voices Cleveland, asked us to be on the show,” Oates said. “It has been a lot of fun.”
The duo recorded their parts at Hall’s studio, while Henry coached them over the phone.
“We had a script and Mike directed us,” Hall said. “I don’t know if I have been miscast as the angel.”
With several projects on the horizon and a new box set, the duo seems prepared to reach a new generation of fans.
“We’re proud of the music and proud of the new set,’ Oates said. “It stands for a lot of work and a lot of our attitude. The title of the set is not an accident.”