Daryl Hall and John Oates created an original mix of soul and rock that made them the most successful pop duo in history. As songwriters, singers and producers, they embraced the pop mainstream, bringing passion and creativity back to the 3-minute single. Over the course of their career, they have recorded six Number One hits and put 34 songs in the Billboard Top 100.
Deeply rooted in lush Philly soul, Hall and Oates mixed smooth vocal harmonies and the romantic vulnerability of soul with edgy hard rock and new wave riffs to create some of the finest pop music of the 1980s. They teamed up in the early 1970s in Philadelphia, and landed a deal with Atlantic. On their first three albums, they searched for the right style for their talents as they experimented with soul, folk and hard rock.
After their subsequent string of hits in the 1970s, including "She's Gone"and "Rich Girl", they were energized by new wave and dance music. The result was an incredible run of original songs that topped the pop and R&B charts throughout the 1980s. Combining the best of both rock and R&B, Hall and Oates set the stage for the important crossover work of Madonna and Prince, and go on to influence the work of contemporary artists like Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake.
Here are 5 essential Hall & Oates songs.
"She's Gone" (1974)
The single, which is about Hall's 1972 divorce, was featured on the duo's second album, Abandoned Luncheonette. A moderate national hit in 1974 (#60 on the Billboard Hot 100), it wasn't until after a covers by Lou Rawls and Tavares (who took it to Number One on the Hot Soul chart), the popularity of "Sara Smile" and the recognition that came with it, and a re-release via RCA Records in 1976 that the single really took off, eventually peaking at Number Seven.
In a 2009 interview with American Songwriter, John Oates described the writing process for the song. "I’ve literally sat down and written a song from beginning to end, almost complete lyrics and everything without ever stopping… in two minutes. The chorus of “She’s Gone” was like that. I sat down with the guitar and sang the chorus of “She’s Gone” basically the way that it is. Then I played it for Daryl because I didn’t have anything else. It just happened. I said, “Hey, I’ve got this really great chorus.” And we wrote the verses together. “She’s Gone” is a song that endures."
"Rich Girl" (1977)
Daryl Hall's self-described "life partner" Sara Allen was the inspiration for many of Hall and Oates songs (including "Sara Smile"), and even a co-writer. This song, however, was about one of her ex-boyfriends, Victor Walker, whose wealthy father owned a chain of fast food restaurants.
Hall penned the song after a strange visit by Walker. Originally, the chorus went “He can rely on the old man’s money/he can rely on the old man’s money/he’s a rich guy,” but Hall thought that didn’t sound right, so it was changed to “Rich Girl.”
"Kiss on My List" (1981)
This song, which went to Number One in April of 1981, was co-penned by Sara Allen's sister, Janna. The third single from the Voices album would be Hall and Oates' second chart-topper, behind 1977's "Rich Girl."
Hit after hit would follow for the duo, leading Hall to tell Rolling Stone "We were vindicated. We were accepted on our own terms. To all those people who said, 'Those guys are on their way out,' we said, 'You guys is wrong.'"
A collaboration between the duo and their songwriting partner Sara Allen, "Maneater" was first outlined by Oates and Edgar Winter with a reggae groove. A little more than a month after the release of H2O, "Maneater" would reach Number One on December 18, 1982 and remain there for four weeks – the longest amount of any Hall and Oates single.
"I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" (1981)
While its run at the top of the Hot 100 and R&B charts in the U.S. may have been brief, the song's impact was immediatley felt across formats throughout the world.
The fourth Number One single by Hall and Oates, "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)," featured shimmering keys, an infectious hook and a pulsing bass line (to which Michael Jackson admitted to lifting for "Billie Jean"). The saxello solo by Charles DeChant further added to the soulful and danceable vibe of the song.
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