Why Hall and Oates deserve the hell out of Rock Hall of Fame

How urban audiences beat the rock cognoscenti in giving Philly soul-pop princes Hall and Oates their long-overdue props.

By Michael Gonzales
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted May. 21, 2014

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For Daryl Hall and John Oates, it was a long road from Broad Street to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where another native Philly stalwart, The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, inducted the soul/pop twosome into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame six weeks ago. Sporting a dark suit and t-shirt bearing the Hall and Oates name, the bespectacled drummer stood in front of a vintage black-and-white photo of the celebrated artists, playfully recounting his Philly-boy memories of them: hearing their songs on the radio in the 1980s, how the opening of “She’s Gone” frightened him when he was four, ridiculing the duo’s oft-mocked cover picture on its eponymous “silver album.” (“Those two guys made good looking women.”) Quest reminded the 19,000-plus crowd that in becoming a best-selling musical duo, “Hall and Oates stayed true to their soul roots.”

Minutes later, the rock-star dapper duo sauntered onstage together to heavy applause and a standing ovation, happily, proudly accepting their honor from what Quest referred to in jest as “the Hall and Oates of Fame”—an especially wry quip, given their decades-long snub by Rock Hall hierarchy. Although they’ve been eligible for entry since 1997, it’s no secret that, despite their global success, gaining the acceptance of its voting committee was a struggle for Hall and Oates.

Indeed, since the beginning of their long careers, critics have bashed these Philly fellas for being too soft, too pop and not serious enough to be considered contenders in the exclusive club of rock/pop gods. Back in the day, while mining the same soul influences that would garner their Brit contemporaries David Bowie, ABC, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet and George Michael respectful critical recognition, Hall and Oates didn’t get the same kind of positive reception from the pop press corps. Citing their wacky-slick 1980s videos and supposed lack of edge and irony, critic Rob Horning spoke for a legion of rock purists when he wrote on PopMatters.com that Hall and Oates “are tainted with too close an association with the decade’s zeitgeist, making it nearly impossible to hear anything but nostalgia or camp humor in them.” While Rolling Stone, the main sponsors behind the RRHOF, admired some of Hall and Oates’ earlier works, their more groove-beat based sound, which began with the 1980 LP Voices, got them labeled pop-rock posers. A 1985 piece in the magazine was jokingly titled Hall and Oates: The Self-Righteous Brothers.

Yet, while the critical canon gatekeepers kept their noses in the air and them at a distance, Hall and Oates was being embraced by a black audience that didn’t see them as pop posers or culture vultures. Urban music aficionados admired the pair’s obvious reverence for traditional soul, expressed so skillfully in their distinctly infectious songs, and that sentiment stuck. From the group Tavares covering “She’s Gone” when it was still just an undiscovered LP cut to the R&B station instrumental in breaking their first big hit, Hall and Oates found discerning black listeners early, then consistently proved themselves to be the quintessential blue-eyed soulsters who, as Questlove noted, “stayed true to their roots,” even if it meant being dissed by rockhead detractors who didn’t care to understand the significance of their varied musical styles.

Haters—then and now—be damned: Their special hybrid of Hall’s gospel and soul background with Oates’ bluegrass and mountain music has made them world renowned ambassadors of the Philly sound.

The very mission of Detroit’s storied Motown Records
upon its founding in 1959 was to destroy the idea of race music by creating a new sound that captured the perfect hybrid of pop and soul. As a force that brought blacks and whites together in ways that were unthinkable a few years before integration, Motown became the soundtrack for a new generation of soul kids, young Philly fans among them. In the City of Brotherly Love, the sound of Philadelphia was in its infancy back then, as songwriters, producers and talent streamed through the Schubert Building working on various sessions.

“That was our Brill Building,” Hall, 67, tells PW from his New York City apartment a week before the RRHOF induction ceremony. “Gamble, Huff and Tommy Bell were working on one floor, and I was two floors up. I wasn’t involved in Philly International, but I was involved with those guys, and we did a lot of sessions with the Philly International people.”

Back then, Oates spent hours in his room practicing his guitar and writing songs. “The people I grew up listening to were Chuck Berry, Curtis Mayfield, Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt,” says the 65-year-old Oates from his home in Nashville, fresh off the release of his fourth solo album, Good Road to Follow. “If you put them all together, that’s how I played. I wasn’t as good as any of them, but that is the blend I’ve always used on our records.”

For many coming of age during that turbulent ’60s era—one that included the brutal killings of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, budding women’s liberation, war in the jungles of Vietnam and the boiling-over streets of America—music became a salve, always there to sooth their battered psyches. Hall found solace in soul music, co-founding the Temptones with fellow Temple University students Paul Fogel, Brian Utain, Ken Halpern and Barry Glazer. Playing talent shows throughout the city, they were often heckled by black audiences.

“The black kids would boo at the very beginning, because they didn’t believe that a white group could be that good,” journalist Dave Brown wrote in 1995. “But, the Temptones were. The crowd would scream and shout by the time they finished.” The Temptones made their debut single, “Girl I Love You,” for Arctic Records in 1966. Produced by then-local broadcaster Jimmy Bishop, they recorded it at Virtue Studios on North Broad Street.

Meanwhile, Oates often came down from North Wales to see folk music acts at the Second Fret or to dance the night away at one of Jerry Blavat’s hops over at the Wagner Ballroom. He couldn’t get enough of that sweet soul music, and it was seemingly everywhere—from the radio to the popular TV dance show American Bandstand (taped at the now-defunct WFIL-TV at 46th and Market streets until 1964) to many acts that performed at local “chitlin’ circuit” theaters.

“I went to all the teen dances to listen to doo-wop and whatever oldies music Blavat was spinning,” says Oates. “I used to go to the Uptown Theater to see all the R&B legends. I saw a 12-year-old Stevie Wonder doing ‘Fingertips.’ I also saw James Brown, Otis Redding and the Miracles. But, the next week I might go listen to bluegrass music or go see Joni Mitchell.”

Although Hall and Oates’ career was shaky in the beginning, by the late ‘80s, the duo had grown to become as much a part of the branded “sound of Philadelphia”—in their own unique way—as their old friends Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell. “They were a little bit older than us, but we were friends with them and had worked together,” says Oates. “When we were getting started, we had to make an important decision: whether we were going to stay in Philly, and be part of the Gamble and Huff team, or were we going to do something different. We felt like we wanted to make our own mark, so that was why we moved to New York City.”

They signed a management contract with future Sony Records mogul Tommy Mottola, the same person who later lived on the road with Dr. Buzzard, married Mariah Carey and became the president of Sony Music in the ‘90s. He inked a deal for Hall and Oates to join the Atlantic Records roster, one that included Led Zeppelin, Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

While the late Philly disc jockey Georgie Woods coined the “blue-eyed soul” moniker in 1964 to describe the Righteous Brothers’ popular tune “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” which Hall and Oates covered in 1980, the term fit this particular pair perfectly. Creating signature songs ranging from the melodic brilliance of “She’s Gone,” the heartfelt ballad from their 1973 sophomore disc Abandoned Luncheonette, to the synth heavy “Out of Touch,” their last number-one single from the double-platinum 1984 aural celebration Big Bam Boom, they rarely strayed far from their wide-ranging rhythmic roots.

Although both gents moved away from Philly years ago, the city remains on their minds and in their music. “I grew up in Pottstown, but when I was 17, I came into Philly and just hooked into the whole street-corner-singing stuff,” says Hall, whose correct last-name spelling was Hohl until he officially changed it in 1972. “Groups like the Delfonics and the Intruders were who I was listening to.” Like Oates, he says, “I went to all the shows at the Uptown Theater.”

In an oft-told tale about the guys’ introduction, they met in 1967 when a WDAS-sponsored “Battle of the Bands” at the now-demolished Adelphi Ballroom went array after a gang fight broke out. The talent scattered, dodging bullets as they ducked into the same service elevator. Caught up in the chaos, it didn’t matter that they were in rival crews, with Hall from the Temptones and Oates down with another harmonizing vocal group calling itself the Masters.

That night, over the escalating screams and tension, the two scrambled away and soon became friends, roommates, writing partners and, eventually, one of the biggest selling duos in the history of pop. Hall and Oates would go on to chart six number-one singles, including “Kiss On My List” and “Out of Touch,” while selling more than 60 million records worldwide. Their black vinyl portfolios contain more than a few iconic cuts, including “Rich Girl,” “One on One” and “Maneater.” With seven platinum albums, six gold discs and an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Billboard voted them number-15 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time and, in 2003, officially sanctioned them the most successful duo of the rock era—surpassing the Everly Brothers, Sam & Dave, Simon & Garfunkel, et al. They were top-of-the-class students of Bob Dylan’s acoustic-guitar strumming, the British-invasion vim of the Beatles, the white doo-wop of the Four Seasons and the three-minute symphonies of the Motown sound—especially, the Temptations.

“They had the best vocal style out of all the groups of that period,” Hall says. “They looked good, they sang well, and everything was working.” He even became cool with the real Temps when they played in town. “The Temptones never opened for them, but I used to hang out a lot with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. We never shared a bill, but we sang in their hotel rooms.”

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Red78 said... on May 21, 2014 at 02:26PM

“RE: “The black kids would boo at the very beginning, because they didn’t believe that a white group could be that good,” journalist Dave Brown wrote in 1995. “

Face it, you know why they booed and it was because of race.

Also, guess what? Hall & Oates rock with the best of them. I can hear a bird chirp; it doesn't make mean I can fly.”

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2. Paul Fogel aka Paul Jerome said... on May 21, 2014 at 07:05PM

“In the 49 years since we started the Temptones in Philly, I have always felt that Daryl Hall had the best voice in pop music. He could do anything vocally , anything....he had his style and his voice is instantly recognizable. His package of talent, incredible. We all knew his talent was very special but who could possibly have forecasted it would go to the top of the charts. We were excited when we heard Temptones records on the radio...imagine the thrill that it must be for Daryl and John to hear one's vocal and creative talents Internationally. Daryl and John are truly deserving . They pen and perform their music...they play several instruments each. Their vocals are exquisite technical achievements.If you don't believe that, just try and imitate Daryl Hall and you'll see how difficult it is to have that ability. A hearty congratulations to a job well done.
Temptones 1”

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3. smcchesney said... on May 21, 2014 at 07:54PM

“I've always loved Hall and Oates. Who would ever deny that they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Their music has transcended time. Their style was unique. I went to as many of their concerts that were local that I possibly could.”

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4. hey_doin said... on May 21, 2014 at 08:47PM

“A well deserved honor that took way too long to happen. I am a fairly new fan of H&O, 10 years. I have been to 11 of their shows and have never been disappointed. Once again, congrats guys!”

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5. Anonymous said... on May 22, 2014 at 09:45AM

“Long overdue. Yes, they certainly were part of Philly's "Blue-eyed Soul". I had an opportunity to catch Daryl Hall at the 4th of July celebration on the parkway two years ago, and it fullfilled a life-long dream to see the group in concert. I was not disappointed.”

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6. Anonymous said... on May 22, 2014 at 11:28AM

“Great article and I hear what you are saying! They deserve to be there but the RRHOF doesn't deserve to have them!lol Pop, yes, Soul, yes, Rock, yes, they have done it all. Daryl was right in his speech about there being no other Philly act in the RRHOF. When does Todd Rundgren get his due? A musical genius, it is hard to believe TR is still being dissed by the Hall. It's nice to get an award but the music speaks for itself.............”

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7. terry utain said... on May 23, 2014 at 11:18AM

“Brian Utain was my brother, one of the original Temptones. As a young kid I'd get to follow them around, which has led me to a career in music. The experience of being around people like the Intruders , Delphonics , the Vibrations , and of course the Temptations has to leave it's mark. Well hats off to Daryl and John, who absorbed those influenced sooooo very , and created the immense catalogue of amazing songs will last frever . I'm proud of you both, and I'm proud to say I've known you. Although it's been sometime since I seen you guys , I'll always value the friendship we've shared. Congratulations, it been way too long for RRHOF to have "gotten it right" but at least the finally did........best of everything to you guys”

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8. Johnny said... on May 23, 2014 at 10:03PM

“Good article that explains why H&O are deserving of the R&RHOF. Although they are perhaps most known for other oft-mentioned songs, their albums Bigger Than Both of Us (1976) Beauty on a Back Street (1977) Along the Red Ledge (1978) X-Static (1979) represent a creative musical period unmatched by few in the last 50 years of music. While we are talking about Philly Soul and deserved recognition, Todd Rundgren is more deserving than many already in the Rock Hall. Come on Rock Hall, its time for Todd Rundgren!”


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