Graded on a Curve:
Hall & Oates,
H2O

I love Hall & Oates. They’re such a great team. Daryl Hall does all of the writing, singing, and playing. John Oates has a mustache.

But don’t think for a moment that all of that heavy lifting has gone to Daryl’s head. He’s still the humble at heart guy who once told an interviewer, “I’m 90% and John’s 10%, and that’s the way it is.”

Me, I think Daryl is being unfair to poor John, and you know what’s even more unfair? Hall is never afforded the opportunity to defend himself. Well we live in America, goddamn it, and if there’s one thing I hate even more than live eels showing up in my mailbox it’s injustice. So I decided to sit Oates down and interview him. So without further ado:

Hi John. Ready to answer some very insightful and hard-hitting questions?

I just want to say from the outset that this isn’t really an interview and we’re not really speaking. This is all happening in your head.

Point taken. Your mustache is looking good.

Thanks. It was just added to the National Register of Historic Mustaches. If you look very closely you’ll see the plaque.

Wow. I thought it was a mole.

I get that a lot.

Do you resent people who think you don’t do much in Hall & Oates? That you’re just along for the proverbial mustache ride?

I do. I’ve helped shape many of our songs over the years. And if you look you’ll see I got solo songwriting credits and sang lead on a couple of songs on each of our classic albums, even if those songs weren’t hits because our record label is stupid and refused to release them as singles because Daryl told them he’d kill them if they did. And of course I played all of the electric mustache solos.

Take 1981’s H2O. I wrote “Italian Girls” and I sing lead on it. Same with “At Tension.” 10 percent my ass. Do the math and you’ll see that’s 18 percent. And I got a co-songwriting credit on two other songs. Throw in the backing vocals and guitars and all of the other instruments I played, and I’m all over that damn album.

“Italian Girls” is perky pop fun. The line “I see, I see, I see all the monumental ruinization” is positively inspired. You made up a whole new word!

Thanks. I’m a genius when it comes to making up words. I’m the guy who coined the word “googlerize.” It’s like “google” only fancier.

Has googlerize actually caught on?

Sure has. Googlerize it. As for “Italian Girls,” it’s a deep philosophical meditation about going to Italy and being bored with the architecture and the good wine and the pasta. You know, all that ho-hum culture stuff. What I wanted to know is, where are the Italian girls?

It’s really upbeat and one of the better songs on the album. I much prefer it to such moribund Hall numbers as “Art of Heartbreak,” “Crime Pays,” and “Open All Night,” which place mood over movement.

People. They’re like, “Oh, Hall’s a genius, just listen to ‘Family Man.’” Well guess what? That old fart Mike Oldfield wrote it! Mr. Tubular Bells himself! Or they’ll point to “Maneater,” which is a great song. But I helped write the damn thing!

“At Tension” is pretty good too. I like its taut, lockstep groove.

It’s my “Under Pressure.” “At Tension” is a pun on the word “attention,” as in “standing at attention.” I’m clever that way. But in some respects my cleverosity has been my ruinization.

You guys are considered a blue-eyed soul group. But by 1981 soul wasn’t really what you were about.

Is that a question or a statement? But you’re partially right. “Italian Girls” and “Guessing Games” are as Caucasian as Vanilla Ice. And “Go Solo” isn’t soul, it’s bad Todd Rundgren.

Did you perceive “Go Solo” as a personal threat? A sign hat Hall was considering garfunkeling you?

I live in mortal fear of being garfunkeled. What happened to Art could happen to me. Daryl swears the song is about a girl who broke up with him. But I’m not stupid. Daryl may say he’s a family man, but he’s the kind of family man who goes out one day for cigarettes and never comes back.

By the way, Art’s a dear personal friend. We both belong to a 12-step support group for abused duo members. Jim Messina’s my sponsor. If you think Hall’s a dick, you should hear some of Jim’s stories about Kenny Loggins. Kenny beat him with his belt!

That’s horrible.

Andrew Ridgeley used to come around too. Boy was he depressing. All he wanted to talk about was Son of Albert, his solo album that flopped.

I’ve never heard of it.

That makes you and everybody else in the civilized world. Anyway, Andrew’s an indefatigable bummer. Imagine Eeyore with a double legectomy.

Is legectomy a word?

It is now.

Back to the soul issue…

I agree we downplayed the soul come our era of spectacular popular success, but it’s still there. “Maneater” is a great soul song. And “One on One” is a fuck tune for the ages. I’ve got to hand it to Daryl; when it comes to plastic soul he makes David Bowie sound like that guy in Train. Oh, and “Open All Night” is pretty good too, aside from the lyrics. Accusing your girl of being “open all night” while you were away is… pop pornography. But before you start saying H2O isn’t a soul album, bear in mind that it went to No. 8 on the U.S. R&B charts.

About that title…

Well, the H is for Hall and the O is for Oates. Or if you want to get metaphorical, Hall is hydrogen and I’m oxygen. Together we make water. Tasteless, potable water.

I see. My favorite songs on the LP are the fast-paced ones. “Guessing Games” is Pure Pop for Now People, “Italian Girls” is as great as a plate of linguini, and “Maneater” is the best New Wave song this side of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” And I would have loved to hear Patti Smythe cover “Delayed Reaction.”

Thanks. That said, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m perfect and Daryl fucked up on a couple of songs. Take “Crime Pays.” Daryl sounds like Rockwell on that one. And “Art of Heartbreak” is heartbreakingly arty. That’s the problem with Daryl. He’s pretentious. When he keeps things simple like on “One on One,” he’s magic. But he likes to complicate things.

I take it you don’t share Daryl Hall’s avant garde… leanings.

Daryl doesn’t want to be a pop singer. He wants to be Brian Eno and the Blue Notes. Don’t get me wrong; I like some of the stuff he did with Robert Fripp. “You Burn Me Up I’m a Cigarette” is the best thing to come along since those Indian cigarettes that look like joints. But it didn’t exactly sell like Nicki Minaj’s rear end, did it?

I don’t want to piss you off, but when I try to think of a perfect Hall & Oates album I can’t. It’s like I wish all of your early 80s greats were on one LP.

You know how a lot of artists are labeled as singles artists when they’re not really singles artists? Well, we really are singles artists. But it would have been kinda stupid to put all of those great singles on one album, wouldn’t it? Those albums made me a very rich man. Last week I bought a herd of Kobe beef. And you know what I bought yesterday? Liechtenstein. I’m going to gut the place and flip it.

About the album cover. The two of you look like a couple of sweaty coke fiends at the end of a 3-day binge having a stare down to decide who’s going to get to snort that last line.

We don’t do cocaine. We pulverize up our gold albums and snort ‘em. Wanna do a line?

I’m fine thanks. What’s the high like?

Nasty, actually. Like being trapped in a broom closet with Harvey Weinstein.

Any final thoughts?

I’m about more than just music. I just finished a children’s book. It’s called A Child’s First Book of Mixology. You’d be surprised how many kids can’t make an Irish Car Bomb. And I’m about to go into the studio to record my sixth solo album.

You’ve put out solo albums?

(Sigh.)

What grade would you give H2O?

An A+ You?

Uh, an A+ Of course.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B-

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