Side By Side: The Art of Sequencing - Big Bam Boom

by Jeff Fiedler

Usually, in our Art of Sequencing features, we showcase an album where you more or less can’t imagine the songs in any other order than the one the artists selected. In this instance, we make a case for why an album may have been a stronger artistic statement had the two sides simply been flipped.   

I was only seven when I first purchased Daryl Hall & John Oates’ Big Bam Boom. Nearly all of the duo’s previous albums from the ‘80s lacked typical Side One or Side Two designations and instead confusingly labeled the album halves “Side A” and “Side One.” Big Bam Boom, in contrast, has a “Bam” side and a “Boom” side.  Somehow, my seven-year-old-self failed to notice this, and the first time I opened the album, I noticed that the inner sleeve placed the lyrics to “Going Thru the Motions” closer to the top than any other track and assumed that was the first song. I put the song on, and the stuttered acapella opening bars made such a statement that I was sure I had guessed correctly. So I unknowingly listened to the two sides in opposite order, and it sounded so perfect that way, I never had reason to go back and think that maybe I had got the track listing wrong. 

From there on out, every time I would go back and listen to the album in its entirety, I would reflexively just cue up “Going Thru the Motions” – in actuality, the album’s sixth track – first. I did this for well over twenty years! Flash forward to my late twenties, and I am in an FYE perusing the Hall and Oates section in search of a gift for a friend, and I notice that they have Big Bam Boom. I pick it up and glance at the back and immediately think, “Wait, why are the songs in the wrong order?" As soon as I get home, I get out my old vinyl copy and inspect the label and realize I have been playing the sides in the wrong order since I was seven years old! 

Naturally, I had to go back and listen to the album all over again in the correct running order, thinking this might be particularly eye-opening and enhance my appreciation for the album. Oddly enough, it had the exact opposite effect. The songs themselves still sounded as great as ever, but it just didn’t sound nearly as carefully designed of an album piece anymore. The frenetic “Dance on Your Knees” made for a particularly jarring opening track. The brief instrumental is the closest Hall & Oates has ever ventured into pure club music, and there’s nothing beforehand to brace you for the musical makeover. “Possession Obsession” seemed to me like a considerably more anticlimactic way to end the album than the weary near-balladry of “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid.”

If you listen to the sides in reverse order, the album ends up being very back-loaded, with most of the hits arriving in the second half. That’s certainly not a common practice, of course, but when it is done, it works wonderfully. (Just look at Thriller and Purple Rain, for example. Both of those are extremely back-loaded, but they’re both pure masterpieces.) “Going Thru the Motions” is still a slight bit of a makeover for the duo, but it’s also not that far off from the soul-pop of their then-most-recent hit “Adult Education” and is a much more natural way to reintroduce the duo than the club stylings of “Dance on Your Knees.” “Cold Dark and Yesterday” retains the cool vibe of the prior track, while “All American Girl” delves deeper into dance music and better prepares you for the opening cut of the album’s other side.  John Oates’ fantastic “Possession Obsession” makes a perfect halfway point for the album, providing a cooldown from “All American Girl” but lacking the emotional intensity that any particularly obvious album closer should have.

“Dance on Your Knees,” while completely jarring as the album’s true opening cut, actually works quite well if you listen to it as a second-side opener, and the cut segues right into the album’s biggest hit, “Out of Touch.” It’s undoubtedly a fantastic single, but it’s neither fast enough nor soulful enough to sound like it really belongs at the beginning of a Hall and Oates album, so it sounds much more at home in the mix when listened to in this context. The dreamy pop of “Method of Modern Love” is similarly a first-rate single, but its vibe and aural caress makes for a better back-half track than the more aggressive stylings of a cut like “All American Girl.” “Bank on Your Love” is the album’s weakest cut and would be better tucked away towards the album’s end than to appear so early on in the disc, while the aforementioned “Some Things …” is simply too sweeping in its lyrical message and the complexity of its music to sound like it should be anything but the obvious album closer.

But that’s only my own take, and I certainly invite and encourage you to try this experiment out for yourself and see which version you prefer. Do you like the album better with “Going Thru the Motions” as the opening cut, or with “Possession Obsession” as the closer? For those of you who try this out, reach out to us and let us know what your own verdict is; we’d love to hear from you!