One of the great soul singers of his generation, Daryl Hall also was an inventive pop/rock songwriter, both on his own and in conjunction with his lifelong creative partner, John Oates. Hall & Oates took a long road to success, starting as a folk-rock duo at the dawn of the 1970s, then winding through soft AM pop and prog rock before striking pay dirt with the smooth soul of “Sara Smile.” “Rich Girl” gave the duo their first number one in 1977, then they entered their wilderness years as they figured out how to thread modern rock into the soul. During this time, Hall recorded an arty solo album called Sacred Songs with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp; it was cut in 1977 but not released until 1980, by which point Hall & Oates had incorporated its innovations into their own music. The new wave R&B of “Maneater,” “Kiss on My List,” “You Make My Dreams,” and “Private Eyes” made Daryl Hall & John Oates superstars in the early ’80s, and once their imperial phase wound down in 1986, Hall stepped out on his own with Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, an adventurous record co-produced with David A. Stewart and T-Bone Wolk. From this point on, Hall alternated his solo projects with collaborations and tours with John Oates, discovering a second career as a talk show host via his online series Live from Daryl’s House, which debuted in 2007. Highlights from the show were collected alongside selections from his solo career on the 2022 compilation Before After.
Hall attended Philadelphia’s Temple University, where he met future partner John Oates. They played together for a short time in the late ’60s, until Oates decided to transfer schools. Hall did not let this discourage his musical career, though, and he began playing with the rock group Gulliver. The band produced one album on the Elektra label before disbanding. Hall then became a backup musician. Upon Oates’ return to Philadelphia in 1972, the two got back together and formed the duo that would achieve fame later in the decade.
Hall & Oates initially performed folk-rock tunes, most of which placed on the musical charts. Tommy Mottola became their manager and got them a contract on the Atlantic record label. (Mottola was also responsible for signing Mariah Carey to Atlantic in the ’80s.) The group’s first album, Whole Oates, was released in 1972. The duo changed styles on the 1974 War Babies album to a harder rock sound, but they ultimately disregarded that sound and returned to pop/rock.
Hall & Oates left Philadelphia for New York in 1976. They signed with RCA and produced their first Top Ten hit, “Sara Smile,” in 1976. They achieved their first hit single, “Rich Girl,” with the 1976 album Bigger Than the Both of Us. It was this recording that led Hall & Oates to achieve the success and fame they would continue to enjoy. Before recording further albums and hits, however, the two decided to refine their sound in the late ’70s. Their songs began to sound more like rock, with more guitar solos.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Hall & Oates produced another successful album — Voices rendered such hits as “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “Kiss on My List,” and “You Make My Dreams.” That same year saw the release of Sacred Songs, a Daryl Hall solo album pairing the singer with unlikely collaborator Robert Fripp, who produced and played guitar (as well as Frippertronics) on the record; Hall also appeared on Fripp’s solo album Exposure, released in 1979.
The ’80s saw Hall & Oates issuing many albums, including Private Eyes and H2O, the latter of which became a double-platinum success for the duo. Because of all their hits, by 1984 Hall & Oates became the most chart-topping duo in history, topping the ’60s popular folk-pop duo the Everly Brothers. Their 1984 album, Big Bam Boom, sold more than two million copies and produced four hit singles. Hall & Oates received the American Music Award for favorite pop group, also in 1984. Despite the outrageous success of the band, Hall & Oates disbanded. Both Daryl Hall and John Oates pursued solo careers — with Hall issuing solo albums 3 Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine (1986), Soul Alone (1993), and Can't Stop Dreaming (a 1999 Japan-only release ultimately issued in altered form in the U.S. during 2003).
Hall & Oates did reunite in 1988 for the album Ooh Yeah!, but subsequently maintained a low profile, with intermittent touring and recording including 1997′s Marigold Sky, an album that proved to be as successful as their first album. The 2000s saw renewed activity from the pair, with the release of Hall & Oates albums Do It for Love (2003), Our Kind of Soul (2004), Home for Christmas (2006), and Live at the Troubadour (2008).
Hall began a monthly Web television series called Live from Daryl’s House in late 2007. The program, recorded in an out building on Hall’s estate in the Catskills, features the performer jamming and collaborating with musicians from legendary (Smokey Robinson, Nick Lowe, Todd Rundgren) to relative newcomers (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Plain White T's, Chromeo, and Matt Nathanson). Feeling rejuvenated, Hall recorded Laughing Down Crying, his first solo album in 14 years, releasing it in the summer of 2011. He co-produced the album with Greg Bieck (Jennifer Lopez, Destiny’s Child, Ricky Martin) and Paul Pesco. The record’s release was bittersweet, however, as it marked the end of a 30-year friendship and collaboration with the late producer T-Bone Wolk, who lent help on three tracks but passed away before the album was completed.
Regular tours with John Oates and Live from Daryl’s House kept Hall busy through the 2010s. Hall took a look back on his solo career on the 2022 compilation Before After, which contained selections from his five solo albums along with a few highlights from Live from Daryl’s House. ~ Kim Summers