Damn you, cruel world! Why must you insist on relegating Oates to the position of Hall's sideman? Well, no more. It's time to reveal the truth about John Oates.
While Oates possesses categorical rock 'n' roll talents-the specifics of which we'll discuss shortly-he's been accused of riding coattails for decades. The ignorant think of Oates as a Dan Quayle, when they should think of him as a Dick Cheney. Hall & Oates are a true team-like Mick & Keith or Plant & Page. In fact, in the beginning, there were no coattails to ride. To be honest, they sucked equally.
"We both wanted to be songwriters, but we weren't," Oates says of their first days. "We just sat around trying to write songs. But it didn't click at all. The first songs we wrote were really, really bad. We just hadn't found how to work together. But little by little, with pieces from each of us, a sound began to form."
This sound began with hometown Philly soul, but quickly appropriated from every major '70s genre. They used bits of disco, reggae and new wave. They split the songwriting duties-often collaborating, but often writing alone-and with the early albums Abandoned Luncheonette and Daryl Hall & John Oates, the two pushed each other to their creative heights.
"The Abandoned Luncheonette album would have to be right at the top of the list of my favorite albums of ours," says Oates. "Not only are there a lot of very organic elements and a lot of singer-songwriter elements, but there's a lot of adventurous stuff on there. We were using synthesizers back in 1972, and were synthesizing all these natural instruments and doing all these things other people weren't even thinking about during the time."
Eventually, amid their string of platinum records in the '80s, the two began writing with other people and fell into a top-40 format that concentrated on Hall's voice. But in the mid-'70s, Oates' contributions were top-notch.
His song "Camellia," off Daryl Hall & John Oates, embodies the Philly sound, with its blue-eyed harmonies, syrupy strings and Stax horns-and it's 100 percent whole Oates. So is the mini-epic "Back Together Again," a roller-rink-ready slice of disco-funk, and the Steely Dan-ish "Las Vegas Turnaround." During this period, Oates also co-wrote the hits "She's Gone" and "Sara Smile."
Just as Oates' songwriting never took center stage, his live skills were also overshadowed by Hall's charisma. Rock 'n' roll, after all, only allows one flamboyant frontman per band. But even if Hall's sex appeal brings the audience to the show, the duo's combo punch keeps them coming back. Oates can harmonize like a Righteous Brother and play guitar like a Stone (OK, not Keith, but he's at least a Brian Jones).
The Live at the Apollo video proves he's a great performer, too. Even in front of a wary audience and onstage with the legendary Temptations, Oates' voice is spot-on. If that's not enough, take a look at any of the band's live videos and watch for the tasty guitar licks Oates doles out. Hall's got nothing on the mustachioed master.
So next time you're at the bar and you hear some meathead tearing down Oates, ask him why Hall's solo albums never set the charts ablaze. Just like Mick and Plant, Hall's nothing without his partner to lean on.
Hall & Oates play at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, 7:30 p.m. on June 15. $24-$30. 619-220-8497.