Tuesday, May 11, 2010
DARYL HALL AND JOHN OATES
Long before their ascent to fame, Daryl Hall and John Oates were fixtures on the Philadelphia scene, toiling away in separate groups. Even after cementing their creative partnership, they wrote and performed in relative anonymity for quite some time before they took the first steps toward wider recognition and eventual superstardom. Their first release as a duo (Whole Oats) in 1972 was roundly ignored.
Undeterred, the pair went about the process of writing songs for their next full length disc, Abandoned Luncheonette.
It would be nice to report that this record was a monster hit, though, sadly, it met with the same fate as their first LP. Critical raves across the board did not translate to commercial success. Truly a shame that the record buying public let this one slip by on first appearance, as it is melodically strong, cleverly arranged and extremely engaging.
To their credit, they pressed on.
First off, for those who have a nodding acquaintance with Hall and Oates, the work found here does not bear any resemblance to the material that struck gold for them in the eighties. That's not a criticism by any stretch, just a friendly setting of expectation for those who may be snickering derisively at the mere thought of checking out this fine set.
Laughing time is over.
Their estimable talents as writers/performers coalesce on a number of very inventive selections, though it is the pairing of voices that really puts the material across. Blue eyed soul had two new ambassadors, The Righteous Brothers with a slightly different slant. Abandoned Luncheonette proved to be the proverbial Trojan Horse that concealed a weapon that would go unnoticed on the first pass: "She's Gone"
Ultimately, fellow R & B soulsters (The Tavares) would record this gem and hit number 1 in 1974. The original version didn't score for Hall and Oates until 1976. This still holds up as one of their finest creations.
Elsewhere, the compositionally adventurous. multi-part title track would spin a tale that Billy Joel would take more than a few cues from when constructing "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" four years later.
Every one of these selections has merit, with additional standouts being "Had I Known You Better Then", "Las Vegas Turnaround" and the very fine "I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)". Production is slick, handled by one of the acknowledged masters: the late Arif Mardin. Despite the instrumental layering that is present, he does not forget to accentuate the harmonies that the pair hit so effortlessly throughout. Intimacy is maintained, despite the long list of musicians that contribute to the mix.
Hall and Oates were (and still are) strongest in live performance, as you may have gathered from the clips posted here. They would arrange things in a grittier manner for the stage and had the chops to pull it all off successfully.
With so much going for it, there is really no reason why this shouldn't have been a hit. The bizarre cover choice was certainly an artsy decision, though it probably didn't help to market the LP in any tangible way. With "glitter rock" all the rage during the early 70s, a photo of a crumbling cafe really couldn't be expected to compete with androgynous, space alien singers. The truly awful promo video that was shot for "She's Gone" didn't help
Pass the bong, Johnny!
Easily the best representation of their early work.