Daryl Hall and John Oates were two of the biggest pop stars in the world during the early days of MTV, thanks in part to a string of R&B-flavored hits including "Your Kiss Is On My List," "Private Eyes," and "Maneater." But while many of their peers remain trapped in the amber of their once-in-a-lifetime success, the soul-minded Philly duo have — thanks to the internet and their own adventurous natures — been able to transcend that one rare moment of ubiquity.
Between downloading and streaming services, Hall and Oates' deep catalog is ripe for the exploring. As a result, their fans have become nearly as familiar with the pair's eclectic, folk-oriented early releases, their understated 2003 return to form Do It For Love, or even Hall's 1980 collaboration with King Crimson's Robert Fripp on the surprising Sacred Songs as the pop duo's big hits.
"In our commercial period, which lasted really from the mid-'70s well into the '80s, we went through a lot of stylistic changes," Hall says. "So unlike a band like Chicago, people identify us with things like 'Private Eyes,' but they also identify with our earlier stuff."
Daryl Hall and John Oates first met while fleeing gunfire during a Philadelphia band competition. They both ducked into the same elevator, and a friendship was formed. In fact, they roomed together before they even began making music as a duo, which may help explain the enduring partnership. After all, most bands don't last four decades like Hall and Oates. Part of it is due to the fact that each musician has taken time to do his own projects. Another is the pair's willingness to subsume their egos for the good of the group.
"You can credit John Oates with that. He's the subsumer, and he's the first to admit it," Hall says with a chuckle.
Like many acts, it took the duo time to find their voice. Their manager Tommy Mottola helped get them signed to Atlantic, whose great history appealed to them. They recorded two albums with producer Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Queen, Bee Gees), whose wide tastes really impacted them.
"I have never worked with any producer before or since or knew a producer who could be so fluent in a lot of different things," Hall says. "He was very fluent in all these styles and could bring the best out of all the people he's working with. I learned so much from him in that respect because I realized you could actually do that and you didn't have to restrict yourself to one thing."
They took that experience to heart, though it really didn't come through until they decided to self-produce themselves for 1980's Voices, featuring the aforementioned "Kiss" and a cover of the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." That release set off a string of five platinum albums that concluded with 1988's Ooh Yeah!
"After having learned all this from Arif, I was thrown together with a bunch of extremely talented but also very strong-willed producers [Todd Rundgren, Christopher Bond]. The records we did between the Arif days and Voices were very colored by other people's musical opinions, and there was a lot of conflict," he says. "John and I got tired of that. We said, we can do this, we know how."
He adds, "We became 100 percent ourselves, and ever since then, everything I've done has been like that."
A similar impulse drove Hall to start his monthly internet show Live From Daryl's House, featuring the singer talking and jamming with a wide variety of artists at his upstate New York home. Since the first episode aired in 2007, he's featured Sharon Jones, Travis McCoy, Patrick Stump, Nick Lowe, Mayer Hawthorne, Nick Waterhouse, and the night before we spoke, Minus the Bear. Indeed, the series has turned into something of a sensation, exposing Hall to a whole new audience.
"It frees me as an artist to be all of myself as opposed to half of Hall and Oates, and to do exactly what it is I want to do and find that audience, however big it is," he says. "Ironically, I find that Live From Daryl's House is becoming pretty much as big as Hall and Oates."
As you might imagine, Hall's gratified to witness soul's return to the pop music scene. "I'm amazed and happy about it, because they're basically mining the same influences that I did when I was their age and younger," he says. "They're creating these new versions of that old sound that I find really fascinating, exciting, and stimulating. I try to have as many of those bands on that I can."
These days, Hall remains busy. Besides the current tour and his internet show, he's also listening to unreleased solo material for inclusion in a Sony package of previously released music, and he's working on putting together a Live From Daryl's House DVD, which may come in a box set with CDs and perhaps even a cookbook.
In even bigger news — at least for Hall and Oates fans in the Holy City — word is that the singer is renting a place in Charleston for at least the first half of the new year. As revealed in a recent interview in the Charleston Scene by Stratton Lawrence, a City Paper contributor, he may even be filming episodes of Daryl's House somewhere here in town. "I'm a big fan of antique architecture, and you've got a town full of it," he told Lawrence. "I love coming down there, so I rented a house downtown. I'll be out walking around. I'm going to be a resident."
Well, you know, we can go for that.