There are only a handful of artists whose music I associate strongly with the happiest moments of childhood. One of those artists was consistently Hall & Oats. I have distinct memories of the ignorant contentment that comes with being a child with few responsibilities. Going to Carowinds, the buffet or finishing up a tough lawn on a hot day were all made more enjoyable by hearing “You Make My Dreams” or “I Can’t Go for That”. Even the harsh reality of spending all day in church on Sunday could be softened with Hall & Oats playing on my cassette Walkman.
I think my first real exposure to the music of Daryl Hall & John Oates was via the 1980 album Voices. By the time of its release, Hall & Oats had gone from a Phili pop/soul outfit to something between that and new wave pop. Voices was where all of these styles coleasesed into a radio friendly sound that would launch a string of ‘80s hits.
Being from Philadelphia meant that Hall & Oats would never stray too far from its soul roots. A remake of the classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was popular with urban radio stations and was often one of the highlights of a Hall & Oates live performance during the ’80s. There were about four singles from the album, each slowly building on the success of the other. It would be the infectious rock pop of hits like “You Make My Dreams” and “Kiss on My List” that would make Hall & Oats the drug for a pop obsessed America. I mean who could listen to any of these songs and not have them stick in your head. Those two songs (#5 and #1 respectively) established the band as a kind of alternative to other pop acts, yet they dominated the mainstream.
Hall & Oats was now a evolved pop/new wave/soul hybrid. By combination gave their sound a slight edge, but never isolated them from fans of either of the genres they mixed. Much of that edge came courtsey of guitarist G.E. Smith, who like Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, would infuse his band with progressive rhythms. Despite Daryl Hall’s soulful voice, he too experimented with alternative music with a solo album produced by Robert Fripp called Sacred Songs, released just months before Voices. For Hall, his experimental impulses would always take a back seat to pop, but Hall & Oates used that duality to stay fresh.
Voices, however never really set out to be an experimental powerhouse, just a collection of positive, danceable pop songs. That’s how I remember Hall & Oats from about the time of middle school through my high school years. As a band that turned melody, rhythm and harmony into irresistible pop, nothing quite matched Hall & Oates at their best.
Hall & Oates was one of the few “white” bands that united blacks and whites when I was in high school. Very few of their contemporaries could match that cross racial appeal at such a high level chart wise. Voices was certainly where that streak started and no doubt continues to introduce new generations to a unique style of pop that could only come from Philadelphia.