The Best and Worst of Hall & Oates, According to Daryl Hall

“There’s never been any kind of feeling of competition.” Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Rock and roll and soul music are brothers from another mother, and few performers have dedicated their careers to accentuating the closeness of the genres as much as Daryl Hall. He cut his teeth on the Philadelphia soul scene in the 1960s before meeting John Oates, a fellow Temple University student who sang and played guitar. The two became fast friends, roommates, and eventually bandmates who flourished in the ’70s after signing to Atlantic Records, releasing classic records like 1973’s Abandoned Luncheonette — a collection of slick rock, R&B, and easy-listening gems, including the slow-boiling breakup ballad “She’s Gone” — and 1975’s Daryl Hall and John Oates, best known for the soulful single “Sara Smile” but bolstered by brilliant rockers like “Gino (the Manager)” and “Grounds for Separation.” By the ’80s, Hall & Oates were accomplished hitmakers with a pliable sound, capable of balancing bubbly love songs and angular New Wave jams and making rock, punk, soul, and doo-wop collide in hits like “You Make My Dreams (Come True).”

This month, the duo embarks on a tour that was originally meant to start last year, alongside English rockers Squeeze and Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. (Though, alas, don’t expect new music from the two. Hall explains: “I’ve changed my mind. This year has altered a lot of people. And I’m no exception. I’m going to head toward the solo world right now. That’s what I’m thinking about.”) Hall recently spoke to Vulture about his memorable hits in a career full of them, his love of Philadelphia soul, the origins of the “Hall & Oates” nickname (which, because of a bit of Mandela effect magic, you’d be surprised to learn is not a name the guys use for themselves or even one that’s present on any of the covers of their classic albums), and more. His confidence in his craft and his reverence for a varied cast of heroes are refreshing.

No. 1 reason your band came to be called “Hall & Oates”

That’s the way it was on our mailbox. That’s the answer. That’s for real.

Best album you ever made

There are parts of many of them that I think are the best parts, but I don’t think there is one best Hall & Oates album. Truthfully, the most impactful albums to me are my solo albums. They’re the ones that matter the most to me because I liked the people I worked with. My favorite albums I’ve ever done are Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine with Dave Stewart and the Sacred Songs album with Robert Fripp. I find no fault with either of those albums. With Hall & Oates, there are a lot of songs I would redo.

Favorite memory of recording Sacred Songs

Sacred Songs came at a great time because I was part of production teams of people that I respected but I didn’t necessarily agree with musically or creatively. And Robert and I were friends. We said, “Let’s do something together. Let’s make some kind of music that is a hybrid of what I do and my sensibilities and your sensibilities.” That’s what Sacred Songs was, and to some degree [Fripp’s] Exposure as well. It was free. I felt free over those albums. It was spontaneous. Everything happened quickly. I did the Sacred Songs album in three weeks or something like that. It was sparse, but it sounded dense. It had an aural landscape that was unique and in your face. It was very emotional. I just have nothing but good things to say about that album.

Hall & Oates song you most want to rerecord

I would redo “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do).” I’d redo “You Make My Dreams.” I’d redo “Maneater.” The only one I wouldn’t redo maybe is “Sara Smile.” I’d leave that one alone because it’s close to perfection.

Best Hall & Oates single

“She’s Gone.” Because we wrote that song together. All the other songs, I wrote. Also, there was Arif Mardin, who was a genius producer and arranger. John and I, we were new to that world. We’d just started with the Atlantic Records group of people. “She’s Gone” represents a true Daryl and John collaboration.

Best use of a Hall & Oates song in a film

500 Days of Summer. They basically just did a video of “You Make My Dreams,” and they used almost the whole song. It’s very unusual for a movie to do that. The impact that it had … People told me — this was when people were still going to movie theaters — that they would get up and start dancing around when that scene came on.

’80s pop single you wish you had thought of

Anything by Prince. “Little Red Corvette,” I pick that one.

Inspirations behind 1985’s Live at the Apollo with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick

My life inspired it. In Philadelphia, my first records were R&B and soul songs. I met the Temptations back in the mid ’60s, when I was a kid, and became friends with them. The reason I brought them along when I was asked to reopen the Apollo in 1985 is that I felt they were the impetus and the engine that drove me in my early days. I thought it would be only appropriate to bring them back onstage with me and John and complete a circle. And that’s what I did. We did it again at Live Aid. I loved those guys. They were good friends of mine.

Favorite Philadelphia soul songs

Anything by the Spinners or the O’Jays. “Back Stabbers,” “Love Don’t Love Nobody,” and a song called “He Don’t Really Love You,” by the Delfonics. I’d pick those as my top three.

Best hip-hop song sampling Hall & Oates

I’m aware of all of them because I approve them. I did a song with B-Legit [in 1996]. That was really cool. It was called “Ghetto Smile.” He sampled me, and I actually sang on it. That’s a good one.

Most underrated album

Most of them.

Least favorite album review

Robert bloody fucking Christgau gave Abandoned Luncheonette a C. [Ed. note: It was a B-.] One of the great albums of the ’70s. So there you go. What an asshole.

Opinion on being categorized as “blue-eyed soul”

I don’t really like it. There’s a certain kind of racist tokenism that is an underlying connotation with that. I’ve said this before: Nobody ever talks about brown-eyed opera singers. It would be offensive. I find it offensive.

Singers who made you want to sing

I can’t really say one person. But, I mean, I started off singing street-corner music and things like that. Early, early rock and roll and R&B. Somebody who really influenced me, apart from the Temptations, was the lead singer of the Spinners, Philippé Wynne. I loved his singing style. I loved what he brought to the table in the world of soul. I mean, it was gospel music all the way. He moved me like just about nobody else ever has. That was definitely a mental influence on me.

Favorite younger artists

I like Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars. I like that thing they’re doing together, Silk Sonic. I put some feelers out [to work with them]. I dig those guys. I like the new soul singers. I relate to them.

Best advice for keeping a musical bond going for over 50 years

Well, everybody has a different dynamic. But in our case, I’ll say it’s giving people a lot of space. We’re both very individual people in every way. And we don’t step on each other’s toes. And we allow any kind of freedom that one would need. There’s never been any kind of feeling of competition. I think a lot of people get mired and weighed down in a competitive thing. That usually ends in … somebody’s going to lose. Somebody’s going to win. We never went that route. We have a pretty casual relationship. That’s what I got to say. It’s more like brothers. You know your brother. You don’t see your brother that often. You just have a casual relationship over a period of years.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Daryl Hall on the Best and Worst of Hall & Oates