Monday, July 16, 2012

Hall & Oates: Big Bam Boom & Daryl Hall: Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine

The seemingly flawless days of radioactive MTV when artists put the music video in music television.

I's funny how inspiration works and how things come together rather nicely at times. Director Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man [2012] opened to reasonably positive reviews. I've been unfairly dismissive of the film, not because of Webb, but primarily because I was such a fan of director Sam Raimi's take on it and his inspired casting choice of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. I was particularly dismayed over the choice of Andrew Garfield as Parker. Some actors just don't invite me in. I just really enjoyed those first two films by Raimi and Maguire and the idea of a reboot with Garfield left me unenthused. Thus, I've been quick to sort of discount Webb's take on the classic character. I know that's not cool.

Cut to a recent visit of the local library and the fact that director Marc Webb's (500) Days Of Summer [2009] was finally sitting on the shelves after about 500 tries to pick it up. Taking it home I was duly impressed with Webb's approach to this atypical love story or as the film submits "not a love story" even though it's a great story about love with all of the required pain that goes along with it. Webb's visual approach and style was invigorating too and fresh and suited the strong script in which it complemented visually.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt [Treasure Planet, The Lookout, Inception, Looper, The Dark Knight Rises] has been an up and coming talent since his days with TV series 3rd Rock From The Sun. It's funny he should feature with Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises [2012] as they've both had generally strong and gradual career trajectories. Levitt really shines in the Webb film here. It's the kind of film opportunity, minus all those excessive special effects, most actors dream of living and shining in. Speaking of shine, Zoey Deschanel [Tin Man, The Happening] is superb. She is one of the few actresses who can play quirky, peculiar, sexy and seductive all at once. It's a bizarre and beautiful gift and I've adored her since Elf [2003]. Take that talent and couple it with the fact this girl can really sing and she's like a little ball of talent fire. Deschanel continues to pursue a music career parallel to her work in cinema with M. Ward as part of the lovely indie folk pop duo She & Him.

And of course, as you know, I love music. She & Him is worth investigating if you have a predilection toward gentle indie pop music. She & Him have even recorded their own version of The Smiths' Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want for the soundtrack to (500) Days of Summer.

As a love of music goes, director Webb too had a significant career as a music video director before making his film debut with the aforementioned splash of a film. He's worked with Maroon 5, Green Day, Fergie, Miley Cyrus and even She & Him.

So, what about Daryl Hall & John Oates? What does all of this have to do with Hall & Oates? Well, I was so inspired to write a little something about the Philadelphia, PA born duo after experiencing the wonderful Webb-directed film, (500) Days Of Summer, because whether a fan of the duo or not, he utilized one of their songs, You Make My Dreams from Voices, in a terrific fantasy sequence. After all, Webb knows how to direct a music video. In fact, I had originally thought of calling this post Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Han Solo And Hall & Oates with just a brief blurb about the sequence and my affection for the pop duo, one of the most successful and celebrated in pop music history as essentially unknown as they might be to the same crowds piling into theatres for Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. But that fleeting moment all changed and thus turned into one of my traditional 80s Classics posts here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic a.k.a. Musings Of An 80s Maniac.

Yes, Daryl Hall & John Oates have been making beautiful music together since 1972 when they formed in Philadelphia during a hail of gang gunfire following a band competition. Taking refuge behind a parked vehicle the two sowed the seeds to music history. The brilliant act was skilled at mixing their blue-eyed Philly soul with new wave and pop rock combined with some of the most insanely catchy melodies to grace the human ear.

After a slow start in the 1970s hitting the charts, and mind you I understand there are fans out there who feel the act betrayed themselves for Top 40 success, Hall & Oates finally arrived in the 1980s in a very big way.

Things began gradually though with eight albums in the 1970s and a handful of classic singles like She's Gone [Abandoned Luncheonette] [1973], Sara Smile [the self-titled Daryl Hall & John Oates] [1975], Rich Girl [Bigger Than Both Of Us] [1976], It's A Laugh [Along The Red Ledge] [1978] and Wait For Me [X-Static] [1979]. Over the course of that decade, the duo worked twice with famed producer Arif Mardin, twice with David Foster and once with Todd Rundgren just to name a few. Hall & Oates were the real deal making it the hard way with hard work, blood, sweat and tears in an era free of iTunes and at the mercy of the major labels.

It wasn't until 1980, the band released Voices [1980] and self-produced the project that the duo began making a major impression in the pop world. A remake of The Righteous Brothers' You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' combined with the big Hall hits Kiss Is On My List [reaching number one] and You Make My Dreams, put the duo on the map. Don't believe me? Voices' track Everytime You Go Away became a number one hit for English vocalist Paul Young. Top 40 radio was in its hey day for me and it seemed the airwaves of the 1980s was packed wall to wall with great pop songs.

A year later and the flood gates were opened as Hall & Oates issued Private Eyes [1981], one of their strongest records to date and easily one of their classics. Your Imagination, Did It In A Minute and the two number ones, the title track and the unforgettable genius of the silky smooth I Can't Go For That [No Can Do], took the world by storm.

There was a magic between these two men and as a result of that synergy, for a time, I wondered if there wasn't some kind of homoerotic connection, but that was clearly an overactive imagination. Still, that mustache made me wonder. A year later, the prolific, seemingly tireless duo continued to make waves stateside and overseas with H2O [1982]. H20 was a steamroller for the band and continued the act's run of apparently effortless pop classics. It was their third self-produced title. The number one Maneater was backed by such classics as One On One, the underrated Family Man, Crime Pays, Open All Night and Go Solo.

And going solo was precisely what Daryl Hall would do after just one more mammoth mark on the charts. Self-producing along with mix master Arthur Baker [New Order; Hall co-wrote and produced Swept Away by Diana Ross with Baker in 1984] and Bob Clearmountain the act was going BIG. In fact, the duo went Big Bam Boom [1984] with Daryl Hall at the top of his vocal game. Soul pop never sounded better than this mid-80s standard. Some considered the production a misstep, but others like myself loved this bold piece of explosive pop. The entirety of the classic recording was a smash including Out Of Touch, Method Of Modern Love, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid and wonderful album cuts like Bank Of Your Love. The classic American masterpiece was preceded by two equally potent singles for the collection Rock N' Soul Part 1 [1983] including the fantastic Say It Isn't So and Adult Education, a video that left an indelible mark during the height of the MTV era when acts like Hall & Oates, Duran Duran and Van Halen were putting the video in music television [the Adult Education video always freaked me out].

Hall & Oates were so big and so well known at one point, The Human League's Phil Oakey was once compared to vocalist Daryl Hall in a UK promotional interview based on his vocal for Octopus [1995] especially for the track Filling Up With Heaven. Oakey's response, "Oh brilliant, I love Hall & Oates! I think they're very underrated in Britain. You know, they knew how good they were in America. But I thought what a talent they had." Daryl Hall was quite simply one of the finest singer/ songwriter/ producers going in the day along with John Oates and they made some of the most memorable melodies and pop songs ever recorded. In my humble opinion, Hall is still one of the best.

Following Big Bam Boom and the height of success for Hall & Oates, Daryl Hall went solo. It wasn't a new idea. Hall released Sacred Songs [1980] six years earlier to little notice before Hall & Oates' Voices arrived a year later. But now things were different.

Hall collaborated with Eurythmics' producing and writing genius David A. Stewart [normally a fixture with Annie Lennox] as well as longtime friend and musical collaborator Tom 'T-Bone' Wolk [who passed away in 2010] for Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine [1986] creating one of the finest collection of songs that I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy year after year.

In fact, as much as I love Big Bam Boom as a pop effort, H20 and Private Eyes, Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine trumps them all. It's that damn good. Dreamtime, Only A Vision, I Wasn't Born Yesterday, Someone Like You, For You, Right As Rain, Foolish Pride, and What's Gonna Happen To Us all make for a sweeping beauty.

One of the more fascinating subplots that impacted Hall's music emotionally was his thirty year relationship with girlfriend Sara Allen. If there was ever such a thing as the artist's muse, Sara Allen was that to Daryl Hall. The two split after never having been married in 2001 and the work on Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine takes on a particularly strong emotional resonance when you hear it and understand the bigger picture. It was an album written mostly without Allen.

But the relationship between Hall and Allen was indeed fertile. Not only was Sara the inspiration behind Sara Smile, but she eventually co-wrote some of the finest ever recorded by Hall & Oates. He compositions and her sister's work, Janna Allen, began appearing as early as Bigger Than Both Of Us [1976]. Sara's work appeared sporadically each release. Janna co-penned Kiss On My List with Hall. Sara partnered with Hall for You Make My Dreams. Sara and Janna were also involved with Daryl Hall [and Oates] as writing partners in some form or another for Private Eyes, Did It In A Minute, I Can't Go For That (No Can Do), Head Above Water, Maneater, Crime Pays, Art Of Heartbreak, Method Of Modern Love, Bank On Your Love, Going Thru The Motions, All American Girl, Possession Obsession, Downtown Life, Missed Opportunity, The Sky Is Falling and many more. But look at the list of singles. Hall and the Allens were a veritable hit machine. Sara's influence with the exception of Change Of Season [1990] can be felt all the way until Marigold Sky [1997] with one sweet holdover in Something About You from Do It For Love [2003]. When the relationship was all said and done it was clear Sara's impact on their partnership, and on the collaboration that was Hall & Oates, with Hall had spanned the course of over twenty remarkable years.

Following a VH-1 special, Behind The Music, Daryl Hall re-recorded an equally powerful, stripped down rendition of Someone Like You [2002] the next year. It's clear that the closing of that chapter in his life with Allen was both painful and certainly influential and it is reflected in that song, one of the most beautiful I've ever heard. The back story and the personal nature of Hall and Allen's working relationship is indeed fascinating and certainly shouldn't be discounted.

In 1988, as a duo, Hall & Oates were back at what they do best, but the pop world was changing and so too had Daryl Hall and John Oates. The sound was changing and though their recordings continue to remain prized purchases for me personally, I stand by the fact these 1980s classics are the one to purchase. Nevertheless, the mostly interesting Ooh Yeah! [1988] was a stab at late 80s electronic soul while the aptly titled Change of Season [1990] captured Hall & Oates in a reflective mood guitar-based acoustic mood. A year later, the duo took it home and delivered a perfectly tweaked soulful rendition of Elton John's Philadelphia Freedom for Two Rooms: Celebrating The Songs Of Elton John & Bernie Taupin [1991].

Since Big Bam Boom, the duo has released six more recordings and since Daryl Hall's classic Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine he has released three more additional efforts. All of these projects are worth exploration if you're a fan of the classic American voice that is the soul of Daryl Hall's work.

So, I don't know if Marc Webb is a fan of Daryl Hall and John Oates, despite clearly being a fan of music, but his choice of You Make My Dreams in the film (500) Days Of Summer is indeed inspired and I thank him for recognizing a classic. It was perfectly appropriate and a pleasure to see this number on film. So thank you Webb for this amazing move. You make my dreams come true. You also made me revisit one of America's finest bands ever to grace the airwaves.

Hall & Oates Discography: Whole Oats [1972]/ Abandoned Luncheonette [1973]/ War Babies [1974]/ Daryl Hall & John Oates [1975]/ Bigger Than Both Of Us [1976]/ Beauty On A Back Street [1977]/ No Goodbyes [1977] [collection] / Along The Red Ledge [1978]/ X-Static [1978]/ Voices [1980]/ Private Eyes [1981] */ H2O [1982] */ Rock N' Soul Part 1 [1983]/ Big Bam Boom [1984] */ Ooh Yeah! [1988]/ Change Of Season [1990]/ Looking Back: The Best Of Daryl Hall & John Oates [1991] [UK collection]/ The Best Of Times: Greatest Hits [1995] [Japan collection]/ Marigold Sky [1997]/ The Very Best Of Daryl Hall & John Oates [2001] */ VH-1 Behind The Music: The Daryl Hall And John Oates Collection [2002]/ Do It For Love [2003]/ 12 Inch Collection Vol 1 & 2 [2003] [Japan] / Our Kind Of Soul [2004]/ The Essential Daryl Hall & John Oates [2005]/ Home For Christmas [2006]/ Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music Of Hall & Oates [2009]. The live recordings are not included here. Key collections are noted.

Daryl Hall Discography: Sacred Songs [1980]/ Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine [1986] */ Soul Alone [1993]/ Can't Stop Dreaming [1996]/ Laughing Down Crying [2011] * essential.

Here is that beautiful little clip featuring Joseph-Gordon Levitt clearly in love and how fitting Webb should channel the positively ebullient and bursting You Make My Dreams, a song penned by Daryl Hall, John Oates and Sara Allen.

She gives us love, love, love... crazy love!


le0pard13 said...

You know I love it when you go on a music (and movie) bent, SFF. Well done!

p.s., I gave the rebooted (though not entirely 'Amazing') 'Spider Man' 3.5 out of 5 stars -- see Daniel's review with my extended comments on the film.

Unknown said...

Awesome post! I know it's not too fashionable to like Hall & Oates but I remember getting into them in a big way in the '80s and a lot of their music still holds up today. They were really on an incredible for a while and it looked like they could do no wrong. Some of the very best of Blue Eyes Soul!

SFF said...

Cheers both.

JD well said ... Not fashionable at all. I always feel like I go out on a limb with these 80s posts. I know hall and Oates have been cast aside but these guys were the bomb once upon a time and have a massive catalogue of classic pop rock and soul.

And you're right for a time they were automatic. Everything they put out was perfect and as always the backlash came.

Regardless the duo is brilliant and an American gem.

Anonymous said...

Why is it unfashionable to like Hall & Oates? Who cares? Great music is great music compared to today's crap.

Anyways, does anyone know who the girl is in the Adult Education video?
She so smokin hot.

SFF said...

I don't know the answer.

Great video though.

And I agree. I think it's pretty obvious I'm a staunch supporter of Hall & Oates and great music simply by spotlighting them here. I'd say that's pretty unabashed. : )

Anonymous said...

Hi again,

I didn't mean to post basically the same comment twice.
I didn't understand the finer intricacies of leaving a comment.

Once I typed in the captcha, I thought I'd see some message saying something like "your comment is awaiting moderation."

But I didn't see anything like that, so I thought my first comment didn't go through.
Hence the almost identical second comment.

Feel free to erase my second comment (and this one too!)

And keep on lovin' that Hall & Oates, and any other great music, especially from the 70s and 80s, hee hee!

SFF said...

No trouble at all. We've all been there and done that!

Long live the 70s and 80s indeed!

Thanks for taking time to write.