Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Daryl Hall & John Oates Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Whole Oates (1972, Atlantic)                                                                        

B –

The album’s a little too ballad-heavy (particularly in its second half) and the album is noticeably a bit more folk-flavored than their later albums, but you can see the duo’s songwriting potential here, even if the album sounds a bit embryonic and slightly disjointed in its search for the style that fits them best. The moments that fare the best are the ones where the duo ventures deeper into R&B territory, namely “Lilly (Are You Happy),” “I’m Sorry,” and the gorgeous “Fall in Philadelphia.”

Abandoned Luncheonette (1973, Atlantic)                                                  

A +

Undoubtedly the best of their pre-RCA albums, Luncheonette is where the duo’s distinctive soul-pop sound truly begins to flower. The soul classic “She’s Gone” would flop upon its initial release but would be re-released three years later (following a successful R&B Number One remake by the vocal group Tavares) and become the duo’s second Top Ten hit; the song is still best heard here on this LP in its atmospheric full-length form. Other highlights here include the shimmering, synth-laden “When the Morning Comes,” the vaguely folky soft-pop of “Las Vegas Turnaround,” and “I’m Just a Kid.” The album’s slightly front-loaded, but there are no bad cuts here. 

War Babies (1974, Atlantic)                                                                          

B

Easily their most fascinating album, War Babies is also easily the duo’s least commercial album and definitely not one of the first discs of theirs you want to purchase. Fresh off the success of Luncheonette, the duo inexplicably shifts gears entirely, bringing in Todd Rundgren to produce them and making their own version of an art-rock record. It’s an unbelievably suicidal move and one that resulted in the pair getting dropped from Atlantic Records. This is still Hall and Oates, however, so the album isn’t nearly as weird or uncommercial as you might think from everything you’ve ever read about it, and even if the album gets steadily more eccentric over the course of the disc (the closer “Johnny Gore and the C Eaters is truly the most bizarre cut here), the album’s first half actually has some vaguely, if not immediately, catchy tracks, particularly Oates’ “Can’t Stop the Music” and Hall’s “Beanie G and the Rose Tattoo.” Just think of it as a Todd Rundgren disc with Daryl and John singing the songs, and it will make much more sense than it does as a Hall and Oates album.   

Daryl Hall & John Oates (1975, RCA)                                                        

A

A thankfully much less deliberately weird album than their final Atlantic outing, the duo’s RCA debut largely retreats back to the pop-soul of Luncheonette in Philly-smooth cuts like “Camellia,” “(You Know) It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” and especially the Top Ten hit “Sara Smile.” Even the more unusual and experimental cuts are much more accessible this time, and the quirky “Gino (the Manager)” (a tribute to their manager – and future Sony CEO – Tommy Mottola) and “Grounds for Separation” both rank among the finest hidden gems in the duo’s catalog.

Bigger Than the Both of Us (1976, RCA)                                                   

A –

Only slightly inferior to its predecessor, the duo’s second outing for RCA (similarly produced by Christopher Bond) managed to make even bigger stars of the duo, yielding three Top 40 hits, including the band’s first Number One hit, the clever and heavily-orchestrated soul-pop of “Rich Girl.” Hall’s beautiful ballad “Do What You Want, Be What You Are” and the R&B strut of Oates’ “Back Together Again” are both here as well. The surrounding album cuts aren’t quite as consistently impressive as those on the last disc, but there are still some gems in the lot, particularly Oates’ “Crazy Eyes” and Hall’s “London, Luck, and Love.” 

Beauty on a Back Street (1977, RCA)                                                          

D +

Easily the duo’s worst album, there’s technically nothing here that actually qualifies as being either embarrassing or a misguided experiment. The album fails only in the sense that all the songs just sound like rejects from prior albums, neither man managing to come up with any particularly memorable hooks, and, for that reason, it’s fairly easy to completely forget all about this album when you’re trying to recall all of the duo’s albums over the years. The closest the album comes to a strong pop song is the opener “Don’t Change,” but even that song pales quite a great deal next to the duo’s ordinary singles, and it’s easy to see why this is the duo’s only album for RCA that failed to yield a single Top 40 hit. The album sounds perfectly fine when it’s on, but of all the duo’s albums, this is the one you’re least likely to remember any of the songs from after it’s over, and the duo would have been smart to simply leave most of these songs on the shelf and hold “Don’t Change” over to use as an album cut on its next disc. 

Along the Red Ledge (1978, RCA)                                                               

A –

After four albums working with Christopher Bond, the duo brings aboard a new producer in the then-little-known David Foster, who manages to bring the duo back to form in a big way. Part of the success of the album is in part due to the richness of the sound and the playing, the duo surrounded by some great backing musicians here, including Caleb Quaye, Kenny Passarelli, and Roger Pope, all from Elton John’s mid-‘70s backing band, plus guest appearances from Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, and even George Harrison! The other reason Red Ledge blows away its predecessor is the dramatically superior quality of the songs. Hall contributes one of his all-time most underrated songs in “It’s a Laugh,” which did chart Top 40 but should have fared even better, while the fun “Don’t Blame It on Love” (featuring Fripp) is one of the duo’s most aggressive rockers. Elsewhere, the duo turns in one of its best Philly-soul-styled numbers in “I Don’t Wanna Lose You,” which is as good as anything Gamble and Huff ever wrote, while the album closer “August Day” is as hypnotic a song as the duo has ever made. The album’s second side does pale slightly to its rock-solid first half, but this remains one of the duo’s most wildly underrated albums. Note for vinyl buffs: some of the original copies were pressed on red vinyl! 

X-Static (1979, RCA)                                                                                    

B +

The duo retains Foster as producer, and, though there are no special guest stars this time, this album consequently sounds just as good, if not even better, than Red Ledge. There is noticeably  a bit of dip in the quality of the songwriting, though, and the album’s middle third is occupied by too many dance experiments that don’t work. Thankfully, the first four cuts – the snappy stuttered pop of “The Woman Comes and Goes,” Hall’s gorgeous Top 40 ballad “Wait for Me,” the discofied “Portable Radio,” and Oates’ pretty “All You Want Is Heaven” – are all first-rate, and the album thankfully comes back to life halfway through the second side with Oates’ intriguing “Bebop/Drop,” and the album closes on an incredibly fun note with the catchy rocker “Intravino.”