Sweet Soul Music: Daryl Hall & John Oates Do It For Love

Daryl Hall and John Oates - Do It For LoveThe 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.

You can stream the songs Do It For Love and Forever For You via their official site. You can buy the album from Amazon.

28 thoughts on “Sweet Soul Music: Daryl Hall & John Oates Do It For Love”

  1. great article! i love hall and oates, but get blank stares or worse when i suggest putting on one of their albums. glad to know others appreciate their music.

  2. Oh my god “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” is simply brilliant! The Roland Drum Machine MAKES the song not detracts from it (how many crappy indie groups worship that shite Casiotone drumsound? C’mon!). H and O have been intermittently fantastic- it’s called Pop and when done well is why we all listen to music. Thanks for a brave article. Cheers!

  3. I am listening to the title track streaming through my computer right now. Sorry, but I am not convinced of Hall & Oates’ brilliance any more than I was during the “Maneater” era. That it is twenty years later only makes me more sure that I never want to hear these two again, nor Lionel Ritchie, nor solo Phil Collins…

  4. Finally, an intelligent review of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ music. Thank you! I’ve been a fan ever since “Along the Red Ledge” (1978). I worked my way back through their earlier albums, and have been buying them ever since. Because they hit their commercial stride in the ’80s, most people associate them with the MTV/synth-pop excesses of that period. But they were making great albums before that time, and have been making great albums since then, too. “Do It for Love” is just another entry in a fine body of work.

  5. Hall and Oates were my first fave band at the age of 11. i am 33 now and i still love their work. I have very eclestic taste in music..everything from tori amos to weezer. A new Hall and Oates record always makes me happy, and i am very happy they were able to get this to us. Thanks for the great review.

  6. Jeff: C’mon. Lionel Ritchie and Phil Collins? Either (1) that is a cheap shot or (2) you really need to pick up some Q-Tips…

  7. Thanks for the great review! This new album is one of their best yet. I too have been listening to them for over 20 years and love them just as much now as I did then. Their sound has evolved and just gotten better over time. :-)

  8. I think Do it for love is their best. I love them guys and have been a fan for 30 years. This CD is so awesome. I just can’t stop listening to it. I highly recomend buying it and listening to it. They still have what it takes and their music is even better now than before. Thank you Daryl and John for being you and for your wonderful music.

  9. While I believe that this is the best review of Hall & Oates’ music I have ever read, I have to take issue with the supposed “crappiness” of three songs. While I agree that they are far being Daryl & John’s best work, I think they are rather decent pop songs — still good for an occasional listen. The review, though, articulates very well how the music of Daryl Hall & John Oates is often perceived, and how — when their entire musical library is taken into account — it should be perceived. They are two talented musicians — one having an extraordinary voice, the other having a voice of perfect complement — who really know how to craft some great pop, rock, soul, and folk songs.

  10. It’s pop music folks, pure and simple. Great pop music. It doesn’t go too deep but that’s not the idea. Hall and Oates are not great thinkers but man, the songs, the arrangements, and what a voice Hall has. One of the best.

  11. Purchased this morning and have been listening ever since, Needed new music to work to, and it fit the bill.

    I’d give it 10 of 10. JgA

  12. ARGHHH!!!! Groin…hurts…just…listened to “Do It For Love”…

    C’mon, guy! You got down most of the essentials of what makes a great soul song (sweet and heart-felt, sassy and smooth, a strong bass line, layered voices, gradated harmonies, and a funky back beat and horns) but you missed the biggest ingredient – SOUL. Hall and Oates simply don’t have it. At the very best H&O can stake claim to being…oh, I don’t know, an easy listening fan favorite. To even suggest that these guys are at the top of the list (as in they’ve made great soul records) is incomprehensible. What in their catalog approaches “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember”, “The Tracks Of My Tears”, “Try Me” or “In The Midnight Hour”? Nothing, that’s what.

    To set these guys atop the soul music world is akin to placing Kenny G. in the company of Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

  13. Well, there you have it! CrookedRain declares that Hall & Oates don’t have soul and that none of their songs holds a candle to the music which he reveres. Well, I guess I’ll just throw out “Abandoned Luncheonette,” “Along the Red Ledge,” and all the other Daryl Hall John Oates albums I’ve enjoyed immensely over the years. You know, CR, I aver that many H&O songs — some well known, some not — are even better than the songs you say aren’t approachable by the Philly duo. But it really doesn’t mean much. It only means I like ’em and you don’t. But I don’t spend my time in cyberspace bashing artists for whom I do not care.

  14. Hall and Oates suffer from being un-pigeon-holable in a world that is obsessed with pigeonholing artists rather than just letting them do what they do. In case some are unclear on the concept: check the title of their 1983 album ROCK AND SOUL. They have never professed to be the soul-i-est of soulsters, nor the rockin-est rockers. They are rock AND soul. And alchemists of pop, I might add. (Anyone who doesn’t think so has probably never tried to write a song.)

  15. And, I might add–“I Can’t Go For That” was a huge #1 smash on both the pop and R & B charts, and in fact was my introduction to Hall & Oates, who I assumed were black until I saw them on “Soul Train.” I don’t know how one can appreciate them for their soul yet not like their biggest R & B hit. Killer beat, great melody, monster hook, the sort of song I’ve not heard before or since … I think if you had heard the 12″ remix, which is rawer-sounding (without the echo on the drums or the gimmicky doubling on the vocals), you might appreciate the song more.

    “Maneater” is another one with plenty of soul flavor, an unforgettable hook, and a unique sound overall. “Mano a Mano”? When were they ever “known” for that song ? ? ? ?

  16. I love Hall & Oates’ newest cd! Daryl’s vocals are deeper and richer and it adds something more ‘soulful’ to the songs.

    Everybody has their own tastes and I think alot of folks hear things differently. There are good points on all of these opinions. Listening to the new Hall & Oates, Do It For Love made me go back and get some of their old stuff as I only know the hits of the eighties. And if these songs bring back good memories for us (highschool days etc..) and give us a break from all the conflict in our world it can only be a good thang!

    Take care,


    Singer-Songwriters Forum

  17. Daryl Hall’s voice just keeps getting better and better. Whether he’s singing at a concert, or on a CD, he takes my breath away every time. He puts his heart and soul into every note, and unlike most of the newer performers of today, you can UNDERSTAND EVERY WORD!! The new album, “Do It For Love” is the best H&O CD I have ever heard. Each song is unique. Each song is beautifully done, with rich sounds and wonderful music. The instruments do not overpower Daryl’s voice. I can listen to the entire album several times a day – in my car, while exercising/walking outside, and when I just want to be in a great mood! My favorites are “Man On A Mission”, “Getaway Car” and “Breath Of Your Life”. Actually, EVERY song is now a favorite! I purchased this CD at their Reading, PA concert in February, and I have not stopped listening to it since that evening. HALL & OATES – You rock! You are the best, and will always be! I grew up with your music, and I shall grow old with your music!

  18. I agree with you so much about their finer songs being overlooked. My favourite is currently “She’s Gone.” All the versions, the album, single, live and acoustic. It’s a stunningly beautiful song; I mean it’s at least as great as “You Are” by Lionel Richie, another masterpiece of songwriting.

    I took them for granted during their heyday in the 80s even though I loved so many of their hits. Only now I am collecting all the records I can find, it only took me 20 years. Their music runs through my life since the late 70s. To think they have a new (wonderful) album out, 30 years after their debut. I have to admire that. No longer do I take them for granted. I am also interested in Daryl Hall’s solo albums.

    Their talent is rare, but so often overlooked. In fact so many people think “Baby Come Back” by Player is by Hall & Oates simply because Player totally copied them. I have seen the parodies on SNL and so on but there is just something about that soulful Philadelphia sound that is real and sincere and LASTING. The music excites me as much now as it did when it was new; and what’s more, some of it is new. And even played on the top 40 radio!

  19. I saw H + O at A & E’s Live By Request a weekend or two ago. Being a casual music fan, I did not know they were responsible for so many hits I enjoyed as a kid. Two songs absolutely caught me: She’s Gone, and Do It for Love. I heard them briefly on the radio, and they absolutely got to me. The hook? The lyrics. At first it was simply the refrain. But on the A & E show, and later at music stores, I experienced what I consider one of the greatest pleasures: enjoying the full measure of the song, after hearing snippets of it earlier on the radio. The verses of Do It for Love just express what you’ll do for girl if she’s totally captivated you. That’s why, soul or pop, it doesn’t matter to me. They convey what it means to be in love, or out of it.

  20. I can’t really add anything to what’s been said here but this article was stellar because it didn’t gush with praise or sting with venom, just analyzed the music. I’ve loved them since I was a little girl, from Whole Oates to Do It For Love. I don’t agree that those 3 songs are crap but the point is well taken.It is a shame that the most commercial gets to be the lable for a whole career.To Crooked Rain and Sab, maybe listening to Every Time You Go Away(Voices), Daryl’s Temptones and/or Throw The Roses Away(Marigold Sky)will show you another side. Also, soul stations embraced them from the first, before they were even a duo. If they can “fool” us, maybe there’s something to it. Noone says Eminem can’t rap because he’s white or compares him to Kenny G. I’m not saying they would unseat Marvin but they don’t deserve to be compared to Kenny G’s muzak. His music is nice to listen to but muzak it is. As for soul, they have it-they’re doing what current Black artists are too busy sampling and gangsta-posing to do. I used to like Phil Collins back in the day, when he could swing and Lionel Ritchie when he was funky, but now they’re both so lame I can’t stand it. D and J are not afraid to keep it moving, even when the industry wants them to be ac kings like James Taylor, etc. The downside to deciding not to like an artist is that you never get to hear much of what they do and therefore can’t really have an informed opinion. I can see why someone may not hear their greatness, especially from 1 hit track, but that’s no reason to mislable them. Out of all the boy bands, ‘N SYNC AND BSB are the most successful for a reason. I’m making an analogy. They may all seem alike if it’s not your taste but that doesn’t mean they are all alike. Celine Dion is not Aretha but she has soul,too. One other thing; if you look at their whole body of work, there are so many styles and influences covered. They didn’t start their career in 1980.Thanks to all who wrote for I enjoyed the comments.

  21. Daryl, John and their band rule. Soul has nothing to do with race. It has more to do with style. I am black and I am not ashamed to say I absolutely love their new album and play it constantly, along with their other albums. I grew up loving Philly soul and Motown but cannot stand today’s music. Daryl and John just keep getting better and better. They are even sexier now that they are older and they have the sexiest voices ever! I like their style!

  22. As far as I’m concerned this is one of their best and most versatile albums to date. They didn’t get to be the biggest pop duo in history for nothing.

  23. Though I loved their pop hits, my impression of this duo was transformed after watching them live on their world tour ten years ago. I was enthralled. The partially acoustic set showcased their musicianship, vocals, harmonies and repertoire. More than that, the passion and soul came across so genuinely. Their cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was an indelible perhaps never-to-be-repeated joy. I just have the utmost respect and appreciation for this team of consumate professional craftsmen. I think this genre is simply to be enjoyed – and for that Hall and Oates just can’t be beat.

  24. This article is very through in evaluating precisely their musical style, but when you listen to their harmonic voices it transends you to another level that can Never be described in words…listen to their music and JUST LISTEN ! Art is in E-motion, not just words.

  25. Stephen, (1) You are describing music that you like and hate. It is analogous to a restaurant critic, who doesn’t like fish, saying fish restaurants suck. (2) You don’t know Hall & Oates music when you say they make “Love Songs” H&O’s primarily write “Anti-Love” songs.

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