Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Dark Side of Hall and Oates: A Manifesto


We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. In a sane, rational world, one where talent and mastery of craft counted for something, I wouldn’t feel the need to justify my love for Daryl Hall and John Oates. Their greatness would be evident to anyone with functioning ears.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the hallowed, mystery-shrouded dark tower of “music criticism” is populated by lemmings. How else to explain the monolithic fawning over, oh, let me just pick one example, Patti Smith? Never mind that she sounds like a dying cat; that guy from Trouser Press said she’s the next Dylan!

Maybe the scribblers never paid any attention to Hall and Oates because they weren’t the “next” anything. Sure, Daryl Hall idolized and emulated the Philly soul singers he’d listened to in his youth, and yes, John Oates—in the early days at least—was enamored of bluegrass and folk songwriters. And both were fans of good old rock and roll. But they combined those ingredients to create a hybrid they called “rock and soul”—and that’s a calibration they retained, whether they were singing of rich girls who had gone too far, winged bulls scraping the sky like Icarus, Beanie G with his rose tattoo, private eyes who were watching you, or that nameless maneater, from 1970 through 1986 (what I regard as the golden era). Now, I’ve heard all the arguments that the self-appointed arbiters of integrity and authenticity have leveled against the dynamic duo over the years: that the songs are silly, the albums are slick and overproduced, and that the mustache is ridiculous. Well, let’s take these one by one.

I won’t deny that some of the songs are silly, but I would counter with Paul McCartney’s question: “What’s wrong with that?” Let’s face it: rock and roll itself is silly. It’s a medium filled with grown-ass men jumping around onstage in makeup, sometimes smashing their instruments for no apparent reason and generally conducting themselves in a manner that frat boys doing keg stands would find obnoxious. To paraphrase Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, “Accusing these men of being silly in the medium of rock music is like passing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”

I’m also wondering why Bowie gets a pass. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Bowie, but stack “a she-cat tamed by the purr of a jag-u-ar” (From H&O’s “Maneater”) against “keeps all his dead hair for making up underwear” (from Bowie’s “Jean Genie”) and tell me which line is more ridiculous.

Are the albums overproduced? Well, sure, I suppose so. But what does that mean, anyway? Isn’t Pet Sounds overproduced? How about any of the records from the Lindsey Buckingham era of Fleetwood Mac? If, by overproduced, you mean polish and attention to detail, then I say guilty as charged. And if you want everything to sound like The Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat, there’s nothing I can do for you.

Lastly, the mustache. People fear it, as they did Samson’s hair. There is no doubt that it possesses occult powers. Oates himself had to eventually get rid of it, just as Spider Man broke free of the black suit. But make no mistake, that mustache defined an era and an ethos. All eyes went to it. And Oates was hardly alone. Need I remind readers of the unstoppable sexual magnetism of Tom Selleck?

Ultimately, this is all smokescreen. The pundits are trying to distract you from the fact that, when you get right down to it, the music of Daryl Hall and John Oates is simple, direct, true, and good. And that’s why it resonates. Koot Hoomi’s introduction of psychedelia, Tuvan throat chanting, backwards masking, and the occasional rap about robot invasions should in no way be construed as mocking the source material. You can’t improve upon perfection, so our only option was to do these songs in our own way. We sincerely hope that you enjoy the result.

The Dark Side of Hall and Oates is now available. Streaming audio from the album can be heard at http://darksideofhallandoates.com.