The accepted history goes that the Blues gave birth to Rock and Roll. But what isn’t as often noted is that there is another sibling of the Blues, which is Soul. For those who (1) aren’t from Detroit or Philadelphia or (2) think that the term may have something to do with Christian music, Soul is a type of music that emerged from the Black community, primarily in the late ’50s and early ’60s and gave rise to such performers as Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye. The music these people produced is generally sweet and heart-felt, sassy and smooth. With the rise of Motown Records, the individual performers, for the most part, gave way to groups. The Temptations. The Four Tops. The Miracles. The music that these groups performed included layered voices, gradated harmonies, and a funky back beat. Horns. A strong bass line. This early music—”(I Know) I’m Losing You,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “The Tracks of My Tears”—was often about girlfriends gained and lost. It was about love. One part of the “loving” of this music was expressed in dancing. Not only would, say, the Tempts do the “Temptation Walk,” but listeners managed to master the moves, as well, and they danced at clubs and gymnasiums, basements and bedrooms. And there was slow dancing. It was music that was heard coming out of rolled-down windows as vehicles rolled down Woodward and Telegraph. It is an unforgettable sound. But with few exceptions, it is echoes.
When Daryl Hall and John Oates met in Philadelphia in 1967, Hall was in a band: The Temptones. The influence was clear: Soul. The two got together in 1969 in a short-lived band, Gulliver. At that time, Hall was doing studio work, doing backing vocals for the Stylistics and the Delfonics, and other groups that came to represent Philly’s TSOP, the analog to Detroit’s Motown.
Fast forward to 1985: the Apollo Theater in Harlem. A benefit for the United Negro College Fund. “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “My Girl.” On stage: David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks…and Hall and Oates. And I would submit that Hall and Oates are among the only white performers who could work with those former Temptations straight up.
Hall and Oates have been putting out records together since 1972. And throughout that time, they have consistently produced music that fits within the category of Soul music. The sobriquet that is sometimes applied to them is “blue-eyed soul,” to somehow make it seem as though it is “soul-lite.” Hardly. They’ve got it all down. And have for more than 30 years. You can dance to it. And dance like you mean it.
There are essentially two problems vis-à-vis the reception and consideration of Hall and Oates:
1. The duo can sing with a flat out, unapologetic richness such that some people find them to be suspect, as though a flawed sound is in some ways more authentic. But in the genre in which the duo works, there is no compromise for the required smoothness, even when the performer is singing in what can be described as a “raw manner.”
2. Most of the hits, the slick singles, that the duo is best known for—including “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “Mano a Mano,” “Maneater”—are crap. The overuse of synths and drum machines is incredibly annoying and lead to easy parody of this music. Consequently brilliant pieces of work including “She’s Gone,” “Sara Smile,” and “Wait for Me,” songs that could have been recorded in the Motown studio on West Grand Boulevard, are overlooked.
What is undoubtedly annoying or otherwise off-putting to some people about the music of Hall and Oates is that they write and sing love songs. Yes, sometimes these are simplistic. But then “You’ve got a smile so bright, you know you could have been a candle” isn’t exactly Shakespeare, either [“The Way You Do the Things You Do,” written by Smokey Robinson, performed by the Tempatations – ed.]. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy loses girl. Boy won’t forget girl. “Romeo is bleeding.” There tends to be an innocence and a purity. A dedication and a longing. And I dare say that for anyone who has loved and lost, for anyone who has loved and been requited, the situation, no matter how complex, comes down to that simple equation. From the chorus of the title song of the duo’s new disc, Do It For Love—”I won’t do it for money / I won’t do it for pride / …But I’ll do it for you / And at least I’ll try”—to the closing lines of “Man on a Mission”—”Can’t you see what you mean to me? / How much I need you”—this is an album full of soulful love. Which makes it unique. And worth listening to by anyone who is truly interested in the development of music during the last 50 years. And if it doesn’t make you dance, if nowhere else than in your seat, then you really need to see a doctor about a potential neurological condition.
There is some notion that this is a “comeback” record for the two. Which isn’t precisely true. In 1990, the two put out Change of Season. In 1997, Marigold Sky. That’s arguably a long time between records. But they undoubtedly fell victim to an industry that was churning, looking for hits: Change of Season is on Arista. Marigold Sky is on Push. The two weren’t creating singles as they had been in the ’80s. The two were grown-ups, not fresh-faced kids. Last year, VH1 Behind the Music: The Daryl Hall & John Oates Collection was released on BMG Hertiage Records, which sounds like something that ought to be associated with filmmaker Ken Burns or the Smithsonian. Do It For Love is on U-Watch Records, their own label. Presumably, that’s necessary given the type of reception their type of music generally gets.
Yes, yes, there is much to say about Do It For Love, like the fact that their early producer, collaborator, and fellow Philadelphian Todd Rundgren is on the disc, providing back up, or that David Sancious, who ought to be known for his keyboard work with Jack Bruce, but isn’t, plays on most of the tracks. But it should come down to the listening. And Do It For Love is something that ought to be listened to.