Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Long before their ascent to fame, Hall and 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.
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; merely a friendly setting of expectation for those who want to delve into this record. Your curiosity will be rewarded as their estimable talents as writers/performers coalesce on a number of very inventive selections. It is the pairing of voices that really puts the material across. Abandoned Luncheonette also proved to be a proverbial Trojan Horse, concealing a potent weapon that would go unnoticed on the first pass.
Ultimately, fellow R & B soulsters (The Tavares) would record "She's Gone" and hit number 1 in 1974. The original version found here on this disc didn't score for its composers until 1976. Still holds up as one of their finest creations. Elsewhere, the 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.
Highlights here are "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, quarterbacked by the late Arif Mardin. Despite the instrumental layering 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. These tunes stand, never overwhelmed by the augmentation, all boasting merit and melody. The duo has always excelled in live performance (as the clips posted here demonstrate). Arrangements of these songs for the stage were grittier and they had the chops (with a stellar supporting cast) to pull it all off with ease.
With so much going for it, there is really no reason why this set shouldn't have been a hit. The 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 record sleeve depicting a crumbling cafe really couldn't compete with androgynous, space alien singers.
Easily the best representation of their early work.