“One On One” with Hall & Oates

Iconic Duo Returns to Madison Square Garden for First Show in 30 Years

Daryl Hall & John Oates playing their sold out show at the Olympia Theatre on Tuesday, 15 July 2014.

Once you get past the numerous bouncy music videos, image changes, hairstyles (and that mustache), with Hall & Oates everything really comes down to the songs. With fifteen Top 10 hits, ten of which catapulted them to superstardom during the MTV generation lift-off from 1981-1985, their musical influence peaked mid-80s, though their impact on American popular culture and the music world has grown amongst a whole new generation. In the 2009 romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, after an intimate evening with Zooey Deschanel’s character Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom goes on a most hyperbolic stroll through town complete with a choreographed flash-mob, a marching band and an animated cartoon bird emphasizing how smitten he is while Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” plays in the background. Or take for instance The Voice Battle Round in 2012 with Nicholas David and Todd Kessler singing for their lives to “She’s Gone.” With an infectious songbook and lots of time out of the spotlight to focus on reinvention, Hall & Oates remain infinitely inspiring and in demand.

The Philadelphia-rooted Daryl Hall & John Oates return to Madison Square Garden for the first time in over 30 years on February 19 for a historic sold-out night of stories, melodies and falsetto. Having crossed stylistic boundaries for their rock and new wave-infused soul, the multi-instrumentalists broke through in the 70s with “Sara Smile,” “Rich Girl” and others prior to their 80s domination with hits like “Did It In A Minute,” “Out Of Touch,” “Private Eyes” and “Kiss On My List.” Their signature sound can be heard anywhere from brief synth blips to a vocal harmony to their long-time multi-instrumentalist saxophone player Charles DeChant whose iconic breaks are standouts on “Maneater,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” and “One on One.” After years of solo careers and a break from the pop culture vortex, Webby Award-winning Live from Daryl’s House brought the Hall & Oates brand into homes on TVs and computer screens exposing their magic to a whole new audience, all while collaborating with established and rising stars that range from Aloe Blacc, Chromeo and Grace Potter to Aaron Neville and Dave Stewart. Set in Daryl’s actual home in upstate New York, the intimate platform has become so popular it now airs on MTV Live through 2017, nurturing new talent and creating some world-class collaborations simultaneously. With more than 150 million records sold worldwide, six platinum albums and six #1 singles, Hall & Oates are ranked as the #1 duo of all time by Billboard. Perhaps their initial manager Tommy Mottola (Mariah Carey, Celine Dion) was onto something when he once said “At that point in my life it was the greatest thing that I had ever heard.” Hall & Oates’ feel-good vibes could be felt in their honest discussion with New York City Monthly recently where John hinted at his upcoming memoir, Daryl opened up about his TV phenomenon and both shared their love for New York:

New York City Monthly: Daryl, you live in upstate New York but grew up in the Philadelphia area, where you met John in college. John, on the flipside, you are from New York City but moved to Pennsylvania as a kid. What are the ties to New York that mean the most to you?

Daryl Hall & John Oates playing their sold out show at the Olympia Theatre on Tuesday, 15 July 2014.

DH: I’m a Philadelphia native. I moved to New York in my early 20s, then I moved to London after New York City. We didn’t record anything in Philadelphia, it was really all recorded in New York or LA.

JO: Hall & Oates’ roots are from Philadelphia but the recordings are from New York. I was born in New York City, I lived right down the street from Bellevue Hospital ‘til I was four years old, then my parents raised us in Pennsylvania. I have a lot of memories, my grandmother lived on 25th Street, I remember spending a lot of time there. Interestingly enough, as much as Daryl and I are known as Philadelphia guys, I grew up in North Wales, PA, it’s really the country, now it’s the suburbs. I only spent three years in Philadelphia at Temple University, and immediately after from 1971 – 1988 in New York. Every recording except for three were done in New York City. The first album we ever made in 1972 was at Atlantic Studios at Columbus Circle. We never recorded in Philadelphia believe it or not. The Philadelphia scene, the R&B and the folk I experienced growing up in Philadelphia, really informed our music, however.

NYCM: Hall & Oates plays Madison Square Garden for the first time in 30 years. What is the anticipation for this moment like having thrived in individual solo careers for so long, having success with Live from Daryl’s House and being able to come back to play your best material?

DH: We play Hall & Oates songs. I try not to mix the Live at Daryl’s House – they are two different things. It’s not always hits from our catalog. We have a great band, it’s going to be a great show.

NYCM: You have Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and Mayer Hawthorne coming to join you on tour. How did you choose these talented acts and what does playing MSG mean to you this time around?

JO: In a way it’s coming back home – the last time we played the Garden was ’85. If you look back on Hall & Oates, 1985 was the height or our pop period. We weren’t driven to be pop stars the rest of our lives. Our motivation was how do we be musicians and have a life of music beyond the hits? We knew the hits don’t last forever. What we did is we broke it down and began to focus much more on the substance of what we do, we didn’t worry about radio and the hits, we developed our personal lives, solo careers. That enabled us to have long careers. As we developed our solo careers – Daryl developed his live TV show Live from Daryl’s House, he developed relationships with younger contemporary artists.

DH: Both were on the show. I wanted to bring that mood into it, even with the Hall & Oates experience. I wanted some Live at Daryl’s House alumni. I have played with Sharon in the past; we did a show in Irvine in LA, Mayer opened for us. Sharon has done a lot of shows with us. I try and mix it up, and have a lot of new artists on who I think are really interesting. I think Fitz and the Tantrums kind of broke out on there. They were the first to say that it was a significant watershed moment in their career.

JO: Daryl’s TV show helped build the Hall & Oates brand, we like to work with people we know – Production people and crew who have been with us for years. That’s how we treat our live show as well. We only want to work with people who we have some sort of musical rapport with. We thought that would be a really cool bill – the sum total of that night is going to be a great experience. We’re going to do more with those artists – for Madison Square Garden and the tour we’re unveiling a new production and light show. We haven’t been playing a lot of arenas and in doing so our production will reflect that. It’s both selfless and selfish – I mean that in the most positive way. It’s selfless in that where we are in our lives and career, it’s very important in our career, I do a lot of visiting professorships at Berklee College. The selfish part is it stimulates Daryl and I and it’s all positive.

NYCM: Some highlights that stand out from your career must be performing on “We Are The World” for Live Aid in Philadelphia, a 1985 restoration benefit concert for the Statue of Liberty, being 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. You are also very charitable people, what is the proudest moment in your career thus far?

DH: I’ve had a lot of moments, there’s a rare moment where you feel like you’re literally in the moment and something’s happening now and I’m right in it. I think those come to mind – the Live Aid, Statue of Liberty and we did Farm Aid and “We Are The World.” The other thing that happened was – this is probably more significant is when I did the Apollo Theater with The Temptations, that was the very beginning of Live from Daryl’s House. It was the precursor of how I wanted to deal with other artists.

JO: All the things you mentioned are certainly important and stepping stones in a long career. I personally think the most important was our 2004 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (in New York). I’m singling out this one because had we not written the songs we had written, we would not be in Hall of Fame, we would not be in Madison Square Garden. The songs are at the core and foundation of everything we have done. When we got inducted, we were put into an elite group of American songwriters who have really shaped the landscape of popular music: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Leiber & Stoller, the great American songwriters is a huge, huge thing, I cherish that more than almost anything.

NYCM: What has New York City meant to you over the years having spent so much time here?

JO: I think when living in the West Village and being there through the 70s and 80s during the punk and the new wave movement and the hip-hop movement and being part of it and seeing it evolve around me and actually participating in it was a real exciting time. It was a real golden age of music and to be in the epicenter was something I am so thankful I was born at the right time and I got to experience that. I remember when I was in my 20s and early 30s, every time I would go on tour I would always be thinking what was I missing from the city? I couldn’t wait to go out and run around in The Village, hear new bands – that was all part of my whole existence. That’s a part of what I’m writing about in the book.

DH: That’s a hard thing to say. To me the 70s in New York was a really interesting and magical time – every city has a golden time. There was so much artistic energy in the 70s and so much was influencing the world, I was in the middle of that. I don’t even know where to start.

(Photo Credit: Mick Rock)