Hall & Oates

December 29, 2012

(originally appeared in December, 2009)
I haven’t really been all that enamored with The Cleveland Show, the latest spin-off from Family Guy. I am still holding out on a final decision, though, as it did take me awhile to warm up to American Dad.

(though I dug Roger, the incorrigible alien, from the start)

The other night they made a reference to Peabo Bryson which was amusing because, musical considerations aside, Peabo is a fun word to say and it is a fun word to hear said.

(unfortunately, aside from that one infommercial for some soft rock collection which Bryson hosted and possibly Casey Kasem, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard someone say “Peabo”)

Hall & Oates was also referenced as a good angel/bad angel on Cleveland’s shoulders, trying to influence a decision.

I lived through the years of the early ’80s – they were my musical formative years – so, at the time I began listening to radio, Hall & Oates was a pop music juggernaut.

Pull up a list of their hits and run through their singles during that period; it’s staggering.

I don’t recall if Hall & Oates had any credibility in the early ’80s. The only rock criticism I had access to at the time was a still somewhat relevent (but beginning to decline) Rolling Stone. I think that the magazine mostly ignored Hall & Oates.

But, I don’t remember animosity toward the duo, either. Everyone knew the songs and most were big radio hits. However, this ubiquitousness didn’t seem to generate the rancor usually accompanying such familiarity.

You’d hear the songs, enjoy some more than others, but I don’t remember knowing anyone, personally, that was passionate about Hall & Oates – no one mocked them, no one wore their concert shirts.

Most of those songs still sound fantastic thirty years later, though. And Hall & Oates do seem to be experiencing a rediscovery during the past few years (and getting some long-overdue acclaim).

It made me consider what Hall & Oates songs that I’d most want to hear at this moment.

I don’t want to hear You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling. To be honest – and I know this statement will make some shake their heads in dismay – I don’t want to hear that song by anyone.

I’m so tired of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, I can’t remember if I ever liked it.

(Thanks Top Gun)

I dug Adult Education at the time, but time has not been kind to the song. Now, I think I find it overwrought and even a bit creepy.

Method Of Modern Love was too goofy for me in 1985 and it’s still goofy but not in a way that appeals to me.

But most of the hits of Hall & Oates are songs that are more than welcome to pop up on shuffle.

Some of the lesser hits – How Does It Feel To Be Back, Wait For Me, Possession Obsession – are appealing (maybe because they didn’t wear out their welcome as monstrous hits like You Make My Dreams, I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do), or Maneater did).

So, if I wanted to hear some Hall & Oates right now, I think here are a quartet of songs I’d be inclined to pull up…

Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List
from Voices (1980)

So, after touting Hall & Oates lesser hits, the first one I opted for was one of their biggest, but, from the stutter-step opening, Kiss On My List hooks me when I hear it. It’s lighthearted, playful, and has a fantastic chorus.

It’s also the first song by the duo which I remember being all over the radio. It also makes me think of rainy Friday afternoons in seventh grade when our homeroom teacher would allow us to play albums. She usually went with Christopher Cross, but I recall Kiss On My List being a favorite, too.

Hall & Oates – Your Imagination
from Private Eyes (1981)

In the summer of ’82, we took a family vacation to Western Pennsylvania. For two weeks, I heard Your Imagination, which I hadn’t heard on the stations back home. Those stations still weren’t playing the song when we returned and it was though it had never existed.

Maybe it was because Hall & Oates had already had the massive hits Private Eyes and I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) as well as the underappreciated gem Did It In A Minute from their Private Eyes album, but the quirky, understated Your Imagination seemed to get lost in the wake.

Hall & Oates- Family Man
from H2O (1982)

Dark and paranoid, Family Man stood out from Hall & Oates hits of the early ’80s with its agressive guitars and New Wave vibe.

The track is actually a cover of a song by Mike Oldfield, of Tubular Bells fame. I used to have a copy of Oldfield’s version and, aside from the female vocalist on the original, Hall & Oates take is, as I recall, pretty faithful.

Hall & Oates – Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
from Big Bam Boom (1984)

By the time Big Bam Boom came out in late 1984, pop music and Top 40 stations had begun to hold far less interest for me than it had merely a year earlier. So, I was unimpressed with Out Of Touch and Method Of Modern Love, the first two hits from the album. I’ve already declared the latter to be goofy, but the former just seems soulless and stilted.

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid was the album’s third hit the following spring and is neither soulless nor stilted. It bobs along on a gentle melody and was one of the last songs by Hall & Oates to get a lot of airplay even if it didn’t reach the heights that they had earlier in the decade.

Thirty Years Out From The Future

October 1, 2012

It was during 1982 that I first began purchasing music on an ongoing basis. I was hindered by the nearest actual record stores being fifty miles away and me and my buddies being thirteen-, fourteen-year old kids with little money and no driver’s licenses.

Those circumstances had conspired to keep my music collection to two-dozen or so cassettes as the first chilly mornings of autumn arrived that year.

(a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club)

I doubt that I was aware of the arrival of the first CD player hitting stores in Japan.

It’s quite likely that I first heard of compact disc technology from my buddy Beej who, even then, had a subscription to Stereo Review and was citing Julian Hirsch “of Hirsch-Houck Laboratories.”

I was listening to music through the most basic of means.

I couldn’t get to Cincinnati to buy Hall & Oates H2O and probably didn’t have the eight dollars and change to do so. The price tag of Sony’s CDP-101 – around $750 – and the item being available in Japan made it something for the jet set.

By the time I reached college, the price of the players had finally reached levels affordable to mere mortals, but I was still hesitant to take the digital plunge with a collection of hundreds of albums on cassette.

As the school year was closing in on spring break in March of ’87, it was a paper for a business writing class that proved to be the tipping point. I opted to write about the burgeoning digital revolution and, after several weeks of research and writing, I had convinced myself.

As other classmates headed for tropical climes, I made the two-hour trip to my hometown for a week of reconnecting with several high school buddies.

During that week, we made a trip into Cincinnati – a trek we had made a year before as often as we could acquire transportation – and I joined the jet set, purchasing a floor model of a Technics CD player for, as I recall, $165.

I would have thought you to be addled had you told me that rainy March day that, over the next fifteen years, I would own upwards of 8000 CDs.

Here are songs from the first four discs that I ever played on that first CD player…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere (1986)

After purchasing the CD player, I summarily purchased two CDs with one being the solo debut by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and I’m not sure why. I’d bought the cassette of Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere when it was released toward the end of ’86 and was underwhelmed.

However I had just read Geldof’s autobiography, Is That It?, so that might have been the catalyst. With Eurythmic Dave Stewart co-producing I expected more, but the songs just weren’t there.

This Is The World Calling was one of the few exceptions. The anthemic plea featured the trio of Maria McKee, Annie Lennox, and Alison Moyet on backing vocals.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows (1985)

Power Windows was the other CD I snagged for my new player and, like the Geldof disc, is a bit puzzling in retrospect not least in the respect that it had been released eighteen months earlier.

However, I had gotten into Rush heavily during my last couple years of high school and I did quite like Power Windows (and had seen the band on that tour). Territories was one of several tracks from the album that got played heavily on the rock stations that I was listening to and I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

The Alan Parsons Project – Old And Wise
from The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project (1983)

In addition to the two CDs I initially bought, my buddy Streuss temporarily gifted me a pair of discs that he owned despite not having a CD player.

Several of us were fans of The Alan Parsons Project who had been a radio fixture during the first half of the ’80s with songs like Games People Play, Eye In The Sky, and Don’t Answer Me. At the time I bought my player, the duo of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had just released Gaudi which would prove to be their final release under The Alan Parsons Project banner.

Of those first discs from which I had to choose as I got to know the crisp sound of the medium, The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project sounded the most impressive, but, then again, Parsons, as an Abbey Road engineer, did earn credits for his work on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Old And Wise is a track from Eye In The Sky which I used to hear a lot on one of the soft rock stations and is most certainly a whisper of a song. With lead vocals provided by ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone, Old And Wise is reminiscent of the earlier Project hit Time.

The Moody Blues – The Voice
from Voices In The Sky: The Best Of The Moody Blues (1984)

The other disc Streuss passed to me was a Moody Blues compilation.

I knew Nights In White Satin and the band had hits while I was in high school like Gemini Dream, Sitting At The Wheel, and Your Wildest Dreams, but I was fairly ambivalent.

But, I had four CDs from which to choose and a new toy, so I gave the disc a lot of plays. I remained fairly ambivalent, but the breezy The Voice seemed less fussy than most of the other songs.

And, if I hear The Voice, I first think of seeing the Solid Gold dancers dance to the song during the summer of ’81.

Sorting Out September*

September 6, 2012

Though it’s still quite summer during the day, the morning commute through the backroads has been one with less light and a slight chill in the air.

The chill is unmistakeably September.

As a kid, September meant that – like it or not – you were entrenched in the school year. Summer wasn’t coming back for months and months and months…

But, we would still try to squeeze as much time outside as possible, playing some hoops or football in someone’s yard until the dark ended the festivities earlier and earlier each night.

Of course, there was something about sleeping with the windows open in September. Following the heat of summer, the cool air induced drowsiness so effortlessly and completely that Pfizer or Merck would drown kittens to be able to replicate it in pill form.

Some Septembers, the night would be accompanied by the hum of machinary harvesting the crop late into the evening in the cornfield across the road. If that wasn’t the case, there was always the whisper from the interstate a mile or so down that same road.

It was a pleasant way to be lulled to dream.

And, September was a month for spectacular visuals, especially in our rural, Midwestern town.

September now brings the annual re-examination of the events that kickstarted this whole Orwellian misadventure known as The War On Terror.

And, since I no longer live in the Midwest, I haven’t gotten the full-blown autumn experience in two decades. There’s still color, but the season is far less defined.

Yeah, September is a mixed bag, man.

Perusing the files, there wasn’t much in the way of September songs that moved me. When in doubt, head for the ’80s, so here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s chart for the first week of September, 1980 – some I remember from the time, others whose acquaintence I’d make later…

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again
from Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack (1980)

I keep threatening – much to Paloma’s dismay – to cast a write-in vote for The Red-Headed Stranger in this November’s presidential election.

(and wouldn’t On The Road Again make a fine campaign song? – run, Willie, run)

Genesis – Turn It On Again
from Duke (1980)

From …And Then There Were Three… – with the wonderful Follow You Follow Me – through 1983’s self-titled album, Genesis deftly balanced their progressive past with the band’s more pop future.

Listening to the driving Turn It On Again for the first time in some time, I realize how cool of a sound Genesis had during those years.

Split Enz – I Got You
from True Colours (1980)

When Paloma and I started buying vinyl a few years ago, there was an initial burst of excitement. Paloma, in a fit of her enthusiasm which I adore, purchased ten albums by Split Enz knowing no more than a handful of songs by the Kiwi act.

It was a decision she regretted – “The members of Split Enz don’t even have as many Split Enz albums as we do.” – but the playfully creepy I Got You is still a classic from the period.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black (1980)

Did people at the time realize what a perfect rock song that AC/DC had given the world with You Shook Me All Night Long?

It’s still an arresting three and a half minutes of bravado, lust, and adrenaline.