Adventures of a University Finalist

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oh! Philly Cheddah Is Rich

Philly Cheese Steak

Hall & Oates - Alone Too Long
Hall & Oates - Had I Known You Better Then
Hall & Oates - Johnny Gore and the C Eaters

The Todd Rundgren Competition is now closed with two clear winners who are Maxwell Murdoc with his answer of Todd Rundgren -> Prana (collaborated together) -> Philip Glass (Prana opened for Glass recently) & Kevin Holm Hudson who said TR -> David Bowie (TR produced Shawn Cassidy's cover of 'Rebel Rebel') -> Philip Glass (made two symphonies based on Bowie's Berlin period; 'Heroes' and 'Low'). Two holes in one! Lots of you went for the Bowie connection but didn't manage quite as succinctly. Guys if you could just send me your addresses to the same e-mail address as before stating which of the two prizes on offer you'd prefer and I'll see about getting them sent out to you.
Personally, thought Philip Glass was too leftfield for this to be an easy task but was proved really rather wrong. It just goes to show how easy it is to link Todd is music’s answer to Kevin Bacon. Yet another string to the bow of the Zen Archer.
For what’s it’s worth, my personal attempt was Todd Rundgren -> Joe Jackson (co-headlined on a recent UK tour) -> Suzanne Vega (collaborated on Jackson’s ‘Heaven & Hell’) -> Philip Glass (Glass arranged the strings on Vega's '50/50 Chance').
Recently, Adventures… has been filled with moratoriums for various sacred cows: the mix tape theorist, the list maker, and the independent musician. Today, I will be continuing this little series by examining a classic case of public favoritism for certain musicians over others: 70s legends Hall & Oates. The question to be asked is why Daryl Hall was seen as the driving force behind the band whilst John Oates existed merely as an embarrassment.
This was recently dealt with Jefito in his definitive study of the duo’s work in his regular Idiot’s Guide series when he admitted to harbouring the above prejudice until ‘Marigold Sky’, their 199… album proved to be a bit of a stinker without him. That’s not to say that Oates hadn’t been creatively marginalised before that point. As early as 1973s ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’, Hall was performing solo piano ballads in ‘Laughing Boy’ and Oates did none of the lead guitar work on the album preferring to leave it to producer Chris Bond. ‘War Babies’ is so dominated by the guitar work of Todd Rundgren (if you hear the solos then it’s unmistakably the producer’s work – compare it Something/Anything’s ‘Black Maria’) that you have to wonder what Oates actually did on the album other than sing the bland opener.
Yet, Oates wrote some fantastic songs during their early pre-Voices period. ‘Camellia’ and ‘Alone Too Long’ are definite highlights on the Silver Album with the former a firm contender for my personal favourite by them. ‘If I Had Known You Better Then’ also holds its own on the incredibly strong first side of ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ alongside the classics ‘When the Morning Comes’ and ‘She’s Gone’. Also, having seen their live concert for the Old Grey Whistle Test I can safely say that he was a consummate live performer acting with his blue collar energy working as the perfect foil to Hall’s effete Pan.
So why the hatred? Firstly, there is the omnipresent handlebar moustache which makes him look like your stereotypical 70s porn star accompanied by his studied ability to (a) not wear a shirt at all (b) wear a shirt that wasn’t patently ludicrous and showing his rogue animal chest hair or (c) match electric pink in most of his colour schemes. There’s also the basic assumption that Hall was the main creative force in the group who wrote the songs whilst Oates made saucy movies with drugged out groupies and injected cocaine into his nethers. Now, I have no idea whether either were drug users but the rock n’ roll culture of the Seventies, their acquaintance with known addicts such as Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin, and some of their output (the psychedelic rock of ‘Johnny Gore & the C Eaters’ to the bloated excesses of their late 80s records) points toward some form of abuse. Nevertheless, that speculation deserves neither to be taken as evidence of John Oates being some form of talentless deviant compared to Hall’s Aryan Soft Rock Messiah.
There is no doubt that Hall has one of the best white voices in pop. Anyone, who has sessioned for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles deserves some credit. It’s well known that he was a classically trained musician too and there’s no real doubt in my mind that he had a far greater individual talent than Oates. What my objection to is that this gap is often over exaggerated in order to attack them both individually and as a group. This had led to slow erosion of their status in the music world where trend setters have now become guilty pleasures. As a result, loving the music of Hall & Oates has become a phyrric victory with the love of the music being overpowered by this newly cultivated stigma against "soft rock". They have become synonymous with mainstream pop confections completely lacking in guile or ingenuity. Maybe it’s a tag that they deserve post ‘Big Bam Boom’ but one can’t help feeling that it’s more due to the critical of them as possessing such a one sided dynamic that they don’t deserve the acclaim.
Bands all have a tendency to suffer from this phenomenon in one way or the other. The most famous example is a certain Richard Starkey better known as Ringo Starr who is often better known for his simplistic technique and penchant for the comic rather than his solid early solo career and that apocalyptic break on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. Lennon’s solo career was largely risible but that doesn’t stop saccharine atrocities such as ‘Imagine’ and half baked albums such as ‘Somewhere in New York City’ flourishing in the public psyche. When Brian Eno, the oddball, cross dresser went off to perform his art pop riot, the critics followed with some staying behind to bang on Roxy Music's door and call Brian Ferry silly names such as Brain Fart (although from what I hear the miner’s son rather deserved it). T-Rex was seen as just a vehicle for Marc Bolan’s space imp boogie until it reached the stage where it became a self-fulfilling parody in which Steve Took could no longer play Bottom. Little Feat – everyone remembers Lowell George but what about Bill Payne, Paul Barrette and the walkin’ talkin’ impregnatin' metronome that was Richie Hayward. George has become a martyr for artistic integrity whilst the others are now perceived as journeymen; shadows without his presence. Personal prejudices beget by popular misconceptions.
By the way, Adventures… celebrated its status as a music blog on March 7. Thanks to everyone who’s visited for all your support especially DVD, Jefito, SVC, Jack, Hype, FastHosts, Caz, Sully, and all my Latin American compadres.

Buy - Hall & Oates - Hall & Oates
Buy - Hall & Oates - Abandoned Luncheonette
Buy - Hall & Oates - War Babies