The Top 40 pop charts of the early '80s pretty much reserved a weekly spot or two for Hall & Oates, and an examination of the duo's finest tunes of the era quickly reveals why. A savvy and somewhat calculated but ultimately convincing blend of rock, pop, soul and dance music fueled the Hall & Oates engine with an impressive consistency, and '80s music listeners were the beneficiaries. Though some tunes struck some contemporary critics with a sense of novelty, the quality of the duo's songwriting has stood the test of time remarkably well. Check out this chronological look at 10 Hall & Oates gems.
Aside from this song's status as the duo's first No. 1 pop hit, this tune must be mentioned in any serious discussion of the greatest moments enjoyed by Hall & Oates during the '80s. It's the first time, after all, that the duo took its prime elements of blue-eyed soul, folk, pop and rock and unified them for a singular hitmaking purpose. The versatility of the solid backing band working behind the scenes also played a major role in making this song palatable for everyone from new wave to disco music fans. It was simply pop music too infectious to ignore, aided by great timing.
Although it didn't become a hit until 1985, when British singer Paul Young took it to No. 1 on the pop charts, this rousing ballad written by Daryl Hall actually appeared initially on Hall & Oates' 1980 album Voices. I'm not sure what transpired in the five years between those releases or what kind of freshness Young may have brought to the composition, but no matter who sings it, this tune is a catchy, haunting nugget of heartbreak that cuts across genres uncannily, to an extent only Hall & Oates seem to be capable of.
This track from the duo's 1981 album of the same name ushered Hall & Oates into the video age with a goofy flourish. Complete with trenchcoats, magnifying glass and those so-atmospheric hand claps, the clip for this song did everything possible to detract from the music's quality. But luckily, this effort from Hall and frequent songwriting partners Sara and Janna Allen is more than strong enough to melt through the cheese. As is common with great songs, the verses and bridge actually trump the well-known chorus.
This criminally overlooked pop/rock gem from Private Eyes displays some of the duo's utterly intriguing versatility in full bloom. There's almost a slightly paranoid feel to the song's loopy pre-chorus, but then the patented Hall & Oates melodic kick takes over for another transcendent pop moment. Unfortunately, this track is not included on the duo's most well-known compilation, the aptly titled if incomplete Rock 'n Soul, Pt. 1: Greatest Hits, but it damn well should have been.
This unforgettable and very worthy No. 1 pop hit stands as one of the duo's grooviest and funkiest, propelled by a wonderfully spare but tasty guitar lick and an infectious rhythm, drum machines or not. It's also one of Hall & Oates' tunes that sounds the most dated (read: saxophone), but that doesn't blur the majesty of the tune from a songcraft standpoint. And even though John Oates' mustache had begun to need its own zip code at this point of the duo's career, it's still all about the music.
For some reason I always think of that lost '80s TV classic Manimal when this song surfaces in my brain, but there's no doubt it's a remnant of the decade that still brings consistent pleasure. Along with U2's "With or Without You," this tune admirably vies for the title of rock's most signature bass line, and that groove has the power to sustain an entire song of overwrought romantic metaphor. There's nothing all that permanent going on here, but for a certain guilty pleasure jackpot, just say, "Oh-oh, here she comes" anytime, anywhere.
8. "One on One"Despite this song's incessant and somewhat puzzling sports metaphor, or perhaps because of the tenacity Daryl Hall employs in conveying it, this haunting, moody ballad has a tendency to stick in your gut. It successfully revisits the brooding, moody sense of paranoia the duo has hinted at previously, but in this case the entire song reeks of a compelling self-absorption that makes for pretty compelling musical drama. As usual, the pair's melodies come out fresh and maintain their intensity throughout the first half, displaying a consistent effort that outlasts the competition. OK, that's enough sports metaphor.
10. "Out of Touch"
Eerily fortune-telling title and all, this latter-day Hall & Oates hit certainly has its moments, but it also conveys a subtle sense of resignation that time was indeed running out on the pop duo's years in the spotlight. Of course, overly layered production helped bring this transition forward perhaps more quickly than necessary, as the R&B and soul flavor of the pair's early-'80s hits had evaporated into a loping, generalized and somewhat bland pop style. The songwriting remains fairly strong here, but I guess the magical window Hall & Oates had occupied so gracefully before had by now slammed shut.