Say it isn’t so. If further proof were needed that the world is hurtling towards hell in a handbasket, it comes in the form of news that one of pop music’s most enduring and beloved duos are locked in legal disputation. When news broke that Hall had sought and been granted a restraining order against Oates, I struggled to believe that it wasn’t some kind of cosmic hoax. No matter the circumstances, I felt in my bones that this kind of action wasn’t something that I, in good conscience, could support. In fact, my exact words at the time were ‘No, I can’t go for that.’
If you don’t know who ‘Hall and Oates’ are, I can only say that you’re out of touch. Put simply, Hall and Oates are the greatest duo since sausage and sliced bread. Other musical duos can’t hold a candle to their catalogue of superior pop and soul. The Captain and Tenille? Not even close. Chas and Dave? Don’t make me laugh. Hall and Oates are responsible for some of the most amazing music of the 1970s and 1980s. Their songs were part of the soundtrack to my childhood.
It’d make more sense if the restraining order was specific to John Oates’s moustache. Large and with a reputation for unprovoked violence, it was often feared that the moustache of John Oates might one day break free from captivity and seriously injure an unsuspecting Madonna fan. That’s why his ‘tache was often sedated and under armed guard. It was a safety thing. But as far as I can tell, the restraining order is against John Oates in his entirety rather than confined to an errant piece of facial hair.
Details are scant and it’s difficult not to speculate. How did it come to this? I’ve been in lots of bands where my musical contributions might best be described as ‘negligible’ and my personality not so much an irritant as it was a source of ongoing and severe mental anguish, and yet none of my band mates ever saw the need to get a restraining order. Frankly, I deserved one. It might even have taught me a lesson about the importance of harmonising vaguely in key and not blaming every atonal squawk that had the misfortune to escape my mouth as advanced jazz improvisation and something that real music lovers would ‘get’. John Oates was always in tune.
Some are born to pop stardom. Others have stardom thrust upon them. The road to fame for Hall and Oates was littered with great music that was broadly ignored by the record-buying public. Their first album landed in 1973 – entitled ‘Whole Oats’, it was produced by Atlantic Records’ legendary producer, Arif Mardin and didn’t trouble the charts. That’s despite being some to some spectacular songs like ‘Fall in Philadelphia’, ‘Waterwheel’ and ‘Goodnight and Good morning’.
Their second album, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ fared little better, although was home to the song ‘She’s Gone’ which would go on to become a hit three years later after it was covered by someone else. Still, they stuck at it for one more record before parting ways with their label. It wasn’t until their fifth album that they started to get some serious traction with the song ‘Rich Girl’. But their moment truly arrived in the as one decade fell into the other. The eighties – or the first part of the eighties – was theirs. They had an ability to blend a disparate array of influences from soul, folk and rock into perfect slices of pop music. They stood astride the first half of the decade like a musical colossus, notching up hit after hit until, eventually, fashions changed and they fell out of style.
Hall and Oates were from Philadelphia. And Philadelphia is a very important city for our family as it’s my sister in law’s hometown. Suffice to say, ‘Go Eagles’. Before she married my brother, a group of us spent time in Philadelphia. More than just the city that witnessed the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art that were once pounded into submission so memorably by Sylvester Stallone in ‘Rocky’, Philadelphia has a rich musical history. I was keen to experience it, first hand.
When I arrived, I was certain there would be a Hall and Oates museum. I longed to go there. I imagined myself being thrilled by the big drum kit from the ‘Out of Touch’ video, or learning how to do the ‘shoulder shimmy’ dance so beautifully executed by Darryl in the video to ‘Maneater’. Perhaps they still had John Oates’ moustache in captivity. But, sadly, there was no such place. Bands aren’t commemorated with statues or museums. They just tour the nostalgia circuit.
That they’ve fallen out is bad enough. That the reason for their falling out is unknown is intolerable. Luckily, I have family members in Philadelphia as we speak and I am assured they’re looking into it. Hopefully we get some answers soon.
When I first learned that Hall and Oates were in some kind of unspecified dispute, it felt like part of my childhood had died. It also made me go back to some of those glorious songs. Perhaps it’s just a misunderstanding. Maybe they’ll find a way to put their differences aside. I hope so. If they do manage to get over it, it’d surely make my dreams come true.