Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Daryl Hall & John Oates Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

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

Voices (1980, RCA)                                                                                      

A +

In spite of two fine consecutive albums under the direction of David Foster, the duo bravely decides to produce themselves here for the first time, and the end result is the duo’s greatest album since Luncheonette. The sound and the performances are even punchier than they were on X-Static, and the songs? Well, this might be the duo’s finest set of songs yet. The album yielded four Top 40 singles in the clever and timeless Number One hit “Kiss on My List,” the bouncy “You Make My Dreams,” a top-notch cover version of the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and the quite-underrated Oates-penned “How Does It Feel to Be Back.” What’s most shocking is just how immediately catchy the non-singles here are. The album is bursting with hooks from start to finish, and you’ll quickly find yourself singing along to cuts like the bracing power-pop of “United State,” the vaguely Joe Jackson-like new wave of “Gotta Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect),” and the twisted retro-flavored pop of “Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices).” You’ll also immediately recognize Hall’s six-minute gospel workout “Every Time You Go Away” as a song that became Paul Young’s lone American Number One hit years later in a faster arrangement. Even the most obvious throwaway cut here, Oates’ playful novelty “Africa,” is still so catchy that it’s hard to resist singing along to the song.   

Private Eyes (1981, RCA)                                                                             

A +

Arguably the duo’s finest hour, Private Eyes is an absolute knockout. Part of the credit for this should go to Neil Kernon, who engineered, mixed, and co-produced this sonically astounding disc, and the duo’s top-notch band (highlighted by a pre-SNL G.E. Smith on lead guitar and the duo’s explosive new drummer, Mickey Curry.) But any truly great album from Daryl and John all comes down to the songs, and, boy, do they ever deliver the goods here! The album boasts two iconic Number One hits in the snappy and deceptively complex title cut (which boasts the best bridge of any single from the duo) and the urban-R&B-flavored “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do.)” The album boasts two more Top 40 hits – and criminally underrated ones, at that – in the danceable pop-funk of “Your Imagination” and the melodically clever “Did It in a Minute.” The regular album cuts are so high-quality that they nearly upstage the singles. “Head above Water” and “Tell Me What You Want” are both deliciously quirky, muscular rockers bursting with hooks from top to bottom. (Jerry Marotta’s drumming on the latter is especially incredible.) “Looking for a Good Sign” is a first-rate Motown-flavored R&B/soul stomper that ranks right up there with the best Temptations songs, while Oates’ “Mano a Mano” is a fun, deliriously catchy, handclap-laden number with a partially-stuttered chorus and a killer bass riff.

H20 (1982, RCA)                                                                                          

A –

A slight disappointment from the two preceding albums, H20 is still a truly excellent pop album, but it just doesn’t pack quite as many immediate hooks. The singles are still as first-rate as ever, be it the vintage-Motown R&B bounce of “Maneater” (the intro of which nearly braces you for a cover of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”), the gorgeous synth-driven ambient gentle balladry of “One on One,” or the unexpected Mike Oldfield cover “Family Man.” The surrounding cuts just aren’t quite as catchy as they were on the last two discs (though Oates’ lighthearted “Italian Girls” is every bit as catchy as “Africa” or “Mano a Mano.”) They’re still fairly good, though, especially “Delayed Reaction,” “Art of Heartbreak,” and “Open All Night.”

Big Bam Boom (1984, RCA)                                                                                  

A –

It actually arguably makes a better listen when you listen to the album second-side first, but, sequencing aside, the material here is fantastic. There may only be eight full songs, but the Number One hit “Out of Touch” is here, as are the Top 40 hits “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid,” the percussive and gorgeous “Method of Modern Love,” and the Oates-sung “Possession Obsession,” all three of them quite underrated. The dance excursions of “Dance on Your Knees” are a little jarring but the duo fares better on “All American Girl,” and the album also boasts one truly killer non-single in “Going thru the Motions.”

Ooh Yeah! (1988, Arista)                                                                              

B +

After following Big Bam Boom with a live album taped at the Apollo, the duo went on an extended hiatus, during which Hall cut his second solo album and the duo severed its ties to RCA, signing a new deal with Arista. Daryl and John never really were able to recapture the same creative magic that they had throughout nearly their entire tenure with RCA, in part due to misguided attempts to contemporize their sound, but their first outing on Arista – the best of all their post-RCA discs – does boast sporadic sparks of pop perfection that would have fit neatly into place on a disc like Big Bam Boom, and the album did manage to yield three Top 40 hits. “Downtown Life” admittedly takes a few listens to really sink in, but the soulful “Missed Opportunity,” which wisely opens immediately with its chorus, clicks right away. Even better is the sparkling synthesizer-driven pop of the Top Ten hit “Everything Your Heart Desires,” easily one of the prettiest singles in the duo’s catalog. The rest of the album is slightly spotty, although there are two real knockout album cuts in Hall’s beautiful pop shuffle “I’m in Pieces,” which is the catchiest song on this album next to “Heart Desires” and truly should have been chosen as a single over “Downtown Life,” and Oates’ surprisingly moving album closer “Keep on Pushin’ Love.”

Change of Season (1990, Arista)                                                                  

C    

Easily the duo’s weakest album since Beauty on a Back Street, the album stumbles due to a combination of sub-par songwriting and the duo veering too far from the pop, soul, and dance stylings that colored their Eighties albums to such powerful effect, to the extent that the synthesizers have noticeably been dialed back quite a great deal, and there’s nothing all that terribly danceable here, either. The album’s leadoff single even finds the two men co-writing with and being produced by, of all people, famed ‘70s session guitarist Danny Kortchmar and, believe it or not, Jon Bon Jovi. There are a few minor gems here – especially “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” and the Top 40 hit “So Close” – but the duo sounds just a little bit too uninspired and out of their element here. 

Marigold Sky (1997, Push)                                                                            

B –

After a seven-year hiatus, the duo re-emerges on an indie label, and they noticeably seem a little more relaxed this time and don’t try nearly as hard as they did on Change of Season to change up their sound to stay contemporary. Naturally, this is a much softer album than any of their ‘80s discs and is much more akin to their ‘70s albums like Abandoned Luncheonette or Bigger Than Both of Us, but the move seems natural and appropriate. There’s some filler here, but the best cuts here work better than anything on Season, highlighted by “The Sky Is Falling” and the lovely ballad “Promise Ain’t Enough.” 

Do It for Love (2003, U-Watch)                                                                    

B

At first glance, the album doesn’t look like anything worth picking up, since the tacky packaging makes it look very much like an unlicensed release, but this disc is the best of the duo’s post-Arista albums and the songwriting is a step up from Marigold Sky. The album noticeably lags a bit in the middle, but the best stuff here is a real return to form, especially the title cut, “Man on a Mission,” “Forever for You,” and “Getaway Car.”

Our Kind of Soul (2004, U-Watch)                                                              

C +

A covers disc largely comprised of ‘70s R&B chestnuts (although three originals are also thrown in for good measure), this album’s not bad (although the radically-rewritten cover of Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You” is somewhat ill-advised and would have sounded much more sincere without so many lyric changes.) In fact, the duo sounds so natural doing some of these songs (especially the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” and the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child”) that it’s a wonder it took them this long to cover them. Still, it’s a covers album, and while it mostly sounds pretty good, it’s not a particularly necessary purchase, either, and as you listen to this, you can’t help but wish that the duo had simply incorporated the best covers here into an album of new originals.

Compilations:
There are plenty of different hits packages from the duo to choose from, but the best one to pick up is easily RCA’s 2004 package Ultimate Daryl Hall + John Oates (re-issued in 2005 by Legacy under the title The Essential Daryl Hall & John Oates), which impressively includes all but one of the duo’s 29 Top 40 hits [only their live “A Night at the Apollo Live!” medley is missing] and also tosses in a couple great early album cuts, i.e. “Las Vegas Turnaround,” and two fine late-career singles (“Promise Ain’t Enough,” “Do It for Love”).  

Live Albums:
There are quite a few interchangeable late-career live discs from the duo available, but of the two live discs released by the duo during their first two decades together, the most fun is 1985’s Live at the Apollo, featuring former Temptations members David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick on a thirteen-minute medley of Temptations classics like “Get Ready,” “My Girl,” and “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” It’s a fun medley (and made the Top 40 when edited down for release as a single), but it’s more impressive to hear the duo win over the crowd on their own with electrifying versions of cuts like “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” and “Adult Education.” The album’s biggest fault is simply that it’s too short, featuring only five of the duo’s own songs.