Hi, my name’s Mary, and I like Hall & Oates. It’s a little bit like admitting you’re an alcoholic (which I’m not) or an English major (which I was). Although at least with alcoholism you get the understanding that anyone with a chronic disease gets, and English majors (sorta) have marketable skills. Hall & Oates fans have little hope for any social redemption whatsoever. “You like who? Seriously? Those guys who sang ‘Maneater’? Eww.”
Okay, “Maneater” was a terrible song; I don’t know a single person who likes it. But they have a lot of other really catchy songs. No, really. Hall & Oates are responsible for some of the hookiest hooks that ever lured a music fan. These guys could probably catch marlin with some of these hooks. The musicianship is good, but nothing to write home about. The songwriting, aside from the great hooks, is all right but not stellar. And I’m still not entirely sure what John Oates actually contributes besides some back-up vocals and contrast to Darryl Hall’s tall blondness. Okay, I’ll grant that Hall has a pretty terrific voice. And there’s those magnificent hooks. But they’re so middle of the road, they probably have double yellow lines running down their backs. They ought to be completely bland and forgettable.
But they’re not. Somehow, Hall & Oates are greater than the sum of their parts. Some weird trick of chemistry, or some kind of witchcraft maybe, makes these two pretty ordinary guys funny, charming, and really fun to listen to. They had a string of hits in 70s and 80s, which are still radio staples today. Songs like “Rich Girl,” “Private Eyes,” Sara Smile” (written for Hall’s then-girlfriend), and “She’s Gone” exemplified a sub-genre of pop music called “blue-eyed soul” (see The Righteous Brothers for further examples of this). Hall & Oates songs are also blessed with a kind of agelessness, musical portraits hanging in everyone’s attic, never seeming to get old.
One of my favorites by Hall & Oates comes from the mostly forgettable album Ooh Yeah! (jeez, I cringe just typing that). Released in 1988, it was just after the duo’s commercial peak but just before the inevitable downhill slide. Might even be that this is the album that started that snowball rolling, but you wouldn’t know it from this song. “I’m in Pieces” has all the hallmarks of a great Hall & Oates song: great hook, well-produced with a horn section and awesome keyboards, and Hall’s voice. It’s not one of their better known tunes, and that’s a shame. Because it’s one of those fun, flirty, Top Forty-style songs that Darryl Hall and John Oates do better than just about anyone. Really.
Are Hall & Oates a guilty pleasure? No, not really. It’s hard to feel guilty about liking anything that makes me smile and sing along.