Hall & Oates relives the good ol days with its new box set, All the Way from Philadelphia.
IN THE MINDS EYE, the tall blond with the honeyed croon and his diminutive, dark-haired partner with the earthy harmonies are inextricably linked. One of pops most identifiable and dynamic duos, Daryl Hall and John Oates made a career out of their contrasts and commonalities. Their wildly successful formula -- a mingling of classic soul and singer-songwriter touches -- yielded a string of top-10 hits throughout the 1970s and 80s as well as sales of some 50 million albums.
Now, 40 years after they first partnered, their music is being celebrated with the release of a box set called All the Way from Philadelphia. The four-disc collection gathers the bands best songs as well as a trove of rarities and unreleased material from throughout its long career.
For Hall, the process of dipping into his back pages has been an unusual and often eye-opening experience. I never go back and listen to any of our stuff, he says, laughing. I dont even listen to an album a week after Ive completed it. By doing that, I think I maintain a certain objectivity about my own stuff, as if it were someone elses work. When I think of our songs, I have them in my head a certain way. But when I hear the recordings, I find I was really subject to what was going on around me, and my arrangements reflect that. So listening back [to the box set] now, Im surprised in all different directions.
While arrangements and styles may have changed for Hall & Oates over the years, the duos sound is rooted in the Philadelphia upbringing the two share, as the title of the box set suggests. The unique twining of street-corner doo-wop and string-laden soul that defined the Philly sound remains an undeniable influence on them.
I really do see myself as a product of my background in Philadelphia, Hall says. I grew up with that sound; thats my baby food. My formative years had certain kinds of melodies, harmonies, arrangement ideas, and a point of view thats distinctly regional. Even though Ive expanded my musical scope outside the Philadelphia experience, I still retain that.
Although hes worked with a variety of talented musicians over the years (including Elvis Costello and Eric Clapton), Hall says his long union with Oates is something special, the pure product of a lifelong bond. My relationship with John goes back to our childhood. We were teenagers together, and we grew up in the same environment, he says. Weve grown a lot in two different directions as the years have gone on, but that musical point of view keeps us together.
Last year, Oates released his second solo album, 1000 Miles of Life. And while Hall has plans to begin making a new solo album of his own this year, hes mostly busy with the production of his web series, Live from Daryls House. Launched in 2007, the freewheeling performance-based program finds Hall and his guests -- which have included British roots rocker Nick Lowe, singer-songwriter KT Tunstall, and rap-rocker Kevin Rudolf -- exploring each others work amid a loose living-roomstyle setup.
I didnt really have an idea for the show other than I wanted to bring the whole performing experience into a different environment, Hall says. From there, its sort of expanded and evolved. Ideally, we want to show an audience things they might not see a performer do under normal circumstances, like [have audience members] interact with my songs or me interact with their songs. It becomes a unique thing in the end.
While the release of the box set offers a chance for a serious, critical reappraisal of Hall & Oatess work, a popular renaissance of the duos music has been going on for several years, with a legion of hip, young fans -- including bands like the Killers and Gym Class Heroes -- genuinely embracing the pairs legacy. The discovery of the bands music by a new audience has been a particularly gratifying development for Hall. I think any artist wants to transcend generations. I certainly always have, he says. Im happy that people, all kinds of people -- young, old, whatever -- somehow relate to the music. Thats the best thing, man. Thats probably the most satisfying thing about what weve done.