With all the chaos and tribalism that surrounded pop music in the 1970s and 1980s, one can sometimes forget one of its most iconic American duos – the best-selling duo of all time, in fact. But Daryl Hall and John Oates were a fixture of pop music, keeping their heads down and producing hit after hit and achieving success on both sides of the Atlantic.
This was no mean feat for an American act in the 80s particularly; for much of the decade, the cultural exchange between Britain and the US was very much one way, with British groups such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Wham!, and Culture Club flooding the American market and taking teeny boppers by storm. This makes Daryl Hall and John Oates’ achievement all the more remarkable – and after all, what party playlist would be complete without a tune like ‘Maneater’?
Though the duo was well-known for taking their art seriously, at their show in Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena, Hall in particular seemed unable to contain his glee upon hearing their songs being so well-received – perhaps as this is their first UK tour in five years.
The setlist was as expertly crafted as the songs themselves, the pair moving seamlessly from synthpop to blue-eyed soul to R&B – and a brief dabble into their War Babies album, which even Hall conceded was from a more experimental phase. The crowd seemed to mind very little, and it is always a treat to see John Oates take the lead in a number.
Hall’s tongue-in-cheek rendition of the ‘rap’ that closes ‘Method of Modern Love’ was a particular highlight, full of all the fun and frivolity of 80s pop. Yet moments later, after some detours – for instance into their classic cover of ‘You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ – the heart-wrenching rendition of ‘Sara Smile’ left him – and the audience – choked up with emotion. A song so smooth it could melt concrete, “every night [the performance] is different, but it always comes from here”, Hall said, placing his hands over his heart.
The encore was a tour de force, as the audience were reminded of the sheer volume and diversity of their hits; after marching through ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Kiss On My List’, and ‘Private Eyes’, not a single derriere was left seated for the inevitable finale: ‘You Make My Dreams’.
As of 2019, Daryl Hall and John Oates have a mixed legacy. Most everyone knows and enjoys at least one of their hits, but they’re often regarded as a duo that are to be enjoyed ironically. Thus my only plea is that we start to take them as seriously as they take their craft; when thinking of legendary guitarists John Oates isn’t necessarily the first name to spring to mind, but he played with a deftness that made even the most complex patterns look effortless. Similarly, it is difficult to conjure up a finer soul voice with the same crystal-clear tone as Daryl Hall’s.
Thankfully for us, their talents and willingness to try new things show no sign of diminishing any time soon.
Written by Dominique Pope.