As they get ready to play the Marquee in Cork, Hall and Oates tell Ed Power about the mad times of their 1980s heyday, and having Bowie support them for his first US gig.
ANY countdown of the greatest music duos of all time has to give pride of place to Daryl Hall and John Oates. In their Eighties pomp, they achieved chart nirvana with smashes such as ‘Maneater’, ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ and ‘Out of Touch’.
These songs were playful and knowing, catchy yet with a glimmer of darkness. Even in the heyday of Madonna and Michael Jackson, the big-haired partnership was one of the biggest forces in pop
“When I think about our big singles — not one sounds like the other,’ says Oates, as the pair look forward to a summer tour that includes dates in Cork and Dublin.
“We never succumbed to that thing where the record company says, ‘Oh you had a hit — now you have to have a follow-up that sounds like it’.”
One thing that set Hall and Oates apart from their peers was that, even as they ripped up the charts, off stage they seemed utterly ambivalent about fame.
They regarded their music videos as a lark — something they would later regret — and found the stresses and obligations of A-lister life to be an endurance test.
A notorious Rolling Stone profile from the mid-Eighties, for instance, caught them grinning and baring their way through an MTV event. Life under the spotlight, they acknowledge, was the price paid for having their music so widely beloved.
“We never wanted to be pop stars,” says Oates. “The pop star thing was a result of the good music. It came from the songs we were writing.”
The way they tell it they were the original of the awkward artist species — musicians first, stars second.
“We never allowed the labels dictate to us what to do. We made the records we wanted to make.
As well as being chart contenders in their own right, they had a ringside seat to some of the most seismic events in recent music. Hall and Oates opened for David Bowie at his first ever US show, in Cleveland in 1972, and headlined Live Aid’s American leg.
“It was a crazy part of our high speed Eighties life,” says Oates of Live Aid. “It was just another gig at one level. At the same time, we realised it was a huge one. Even then I knew it was something out of the ordinary. It was the first rock concert simulcast around the world on television. Due to that fact, it was a historic moment.”
Always generous in the spotlight, the duo turned their slot into a celebration. They invited Mick Jagger and Tina Turner to guest and had Eddie Kendricks from The Temptations up to perform his hits.
Where others made Live Aid all about themselves, Hall and Oates used the platform to celebrate their favourite artists — an extraordinary gesture of largesse.
“Mick and Tina came out and blew the roof off,” says Oates. “The whole thing was crazy, if you look at the line-up. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Duran Duran — the list just went on and on.”
He also cherishes their part in the Bowie story. “It was his first show in America, when he did Ziggy Stardust. I was a fan from Hunky Dory, when he was more of a songwriter. When he came out as Ziggy it was a completely 180. It showed how you can reinvent yourself and be anything you want to be. There was a lesson in that. He was a great artist and a great personality.”
Daryl Holl — his original name — and John William Oates both grew up in suburban Pennsylvania and crossed paths the Philadelphia music scene in the late Sixties.
Their meet-cute was memorable. Each was fronting their own group at a battle of the bands competition.
When rival gangs turned up at the concert and started shooting, Hall and Oates found themselves running for cover to the same elevator, where they struck up a conversation and found they had shared musical interests.
As Oates says, they took stardom on the chin. But as they look back, it’s clear the favourite chapter of their career was in the Seventies when they toured in the back of a van and were budding songwriters trying to catch a break.
“We were so popular in the Eighties, when we had all these hits, that we couldn’t go out in public, The demands on our time were just ridiculous. I never had any personal life because it was just so crazy.
As with any long-running musical enterprise they’d had their ups and downs and in the 2000s went on hiatus. Yet they never had a big falling out and even when the demands were punishing they were always on good terms.
“Considering how long we have been together it is astonishing how little friction we have had,” says Oates. “We know each other so well — we know when to push and when not to push.
“We understand inherently what is important to the other person. I know how Daryl likes to handle his professional life and his personal life. I stay out of the way when it comes to certain things.”
For a time Hall and Oates were mistaken for nostalgia act. A guilty pleasure, almost. But tastes have changed and the public has come around to appreciating them for the classic songwriters they are.
“Our career is not synonymous with any one time,” says Oates. “We spanned eras. What has happened is that a new audience, which is not restricted to being spoon fed, has discovered us and made their own decision about us.”
Daryl Hall and John Oates play Iveagh Gardens Dublin July 5, Live at the Marquee Cork July 8.
8th Aslan and Damien Dempsey
14th Nathan Carter
22nd One Day (Gorgon City, Sonny Fodera and Duke Dumont)
23rd Kris Kristofferson & the Strangers
27th The Academic
28th RTÉ Concert Orchestra & Jenny Greene
29th RTÉ ConcertOrchestra & Country Roads (Philomena Begley, Ray Lynam, Roly Daniels, etc)
3rd Tash Sultana
4th & 5th Tommy Tiernan
6th Christy Moore
7th David Gray
8th Daryl Hall & John Oate