It would be easy to imagine that Daryl Hall and John Oates are struggling with the precipitous dip in popularity the duo has experienced over the last decade. Once a top-selling pop act, Hall and Oates no longer dominate the charts, and touring takes the duo to theaters and clubs rather than huge arenas.
Hall, however, claims he wouldn't have it any other way.
"The worst times in my life were between 1980 and 1985," he says. "I didn't feel comfortable with the role I was cast in. I always felt I was sort of an outsider; I always felt a little ironic about the fact that I was popular, because I never listened to pop music and I never really cared about it, and the fact [is] -- especially in the early '80s when we were so popular -- it sort of confused me, because I never felt that comfortable with being accepted by the masses."
Flying as they do in the face of Hall's public image, such comments might seem suspect. At the height of the duo's success, when Voices, Private Eyes, H2O and Big Bam Boom were topping the charts and flooding the airwaves with hit singles such as "Maneater," "Out of Touch" and "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," Hall was often characterized as a highly ambitious man who wanted hit songs, sought recognition and had achieved his goals through stardom.
Hall doesn't dispute that he desired to be recognized for his songwriting and singing, but other aspects of his image, he says, couldn't have been more wrong.
"I think that's exactly the opposite of what I am," Hall says. "I'm an artist -- a lifer. I've done this my whole life. My family is musicians. Maybe one of the biggest problems in my career was that I really didn't know what I was doing. I was just going for it -- going for the feel. The word 'ambition' really scares me. I'm not an ambitious person at all."
Hall says that being a pop star carried a heavy price. "People will say things to you that they wouldn't say to their worst enemy, because they don't think you're real," he says. "I never liked being out of control. I'll work in a really small world as long as I'm in control of it, but I hate being a soldier in an army. I like to be in charge of my fate."
Hall and Oates did take control of their fate shortly after 1984's Big Bam Boom vaulted them again to platinum heights. After recording Daryl Hall and John Oates Live at the Apollo with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, the pair left RCA Records for Arista. Their next release, Ooh Yeah! leaned heavily on the duo's Philadelphia soul roots. Hall and Oates further showed their artistic independence with 1990's Change of Season, which found them and their band in a largely acoustic setting. Soon after, the two friends parted ways to pursue outside interests. Hall went on to record a solo CD (Soul Alone), while Oates maintained a relatively low profile.
"I live in Europe, and I wanted to do a lot of touring over there and work on my solo projects," Hall says. "John had a house he wanted to build; he had just gotten married and had a baby."
Seven years later, Hall and Oates are back with a solid new studio outing, Marigold Sky, released on the independent Push Records. This time around, the pair has opted for a more electric, full-band sound. While a few tracks return to the acoustic instrumentation of Change of Season, they're countered by songs such as "Out of the Blue" and "Love out Loud" that recall the soulful-slick sound of the '80s. But even if the duo has plugged in again on its latest CD, Hall -- who co-produced Marigold Sky -- sees an important distinction between the new material and the production the band employed on the likes of Big Bam Boom.
"The song is the key to everything," Hall says, "and the production is very stripped down, streamlined, to the point, succinct."
Whether Marigold Sky will return Hall and Oates to prominence remains to be seen, but there are a few promising signs. The lead single, "Promise Ain't Enough," has already found its way onto the adult contemporary charts. The pair are also effectively milking the nostalgia angle, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut CD, Whole Oates. After a quarter-century in the business, Hall and Oates are now eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The induction of the duo may strike some as unlikely, given that they haven't enjoyed the critical acclaim of most current inductees. Still, Hall feels that he and Oates deserve the honor.
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"I'm hoping the powers that be will realize that we belong in there," he says. "I mean, we were the biggest-selling group of the '80s, so that's got to be worth something."
"I'd say that we created a sound," Hall adds. "You can't hear my voice without knowing it's me."
We hear you, Daryl, loud and clear.
Hall and Oates perform at 8 p.m. Friday, December 5, at Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. Tickets are $10 to $45. For info, call 629-3700.