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avatar for Alfred Soto

Alfred Soto

Alfred Soto is a media advisor and instructor at Florida International University in Miami. His work has appeared in Slate, Billboard, SPIN, The Village Voice, and The Quietus. He is a contributing editor to The Singles Jukebox and served as features editor for Stylus Magazine. His writing on music, film, books, and politics can be read at humanizingthevacuum.wordpress.com. His karaoke version of Hall & Oates’ “Say It Isn’t So” has topped the chart in 69 countries.

“Downtown Life: The Urban Voices of Daryl Hall”
“Rich Girl” created the stereotype Daryl Hall would coast on in the ’80s: a sleek panther sheathed in Armani, out for kicks. The Rich Girl—c’est Daryl. Then he collaborated with Robert Fripp on metronomic beats, anarchy in the Bowery, and fractured boogie. A fallow commercial period followed, unbroken until “Kiss on My List”—their second No. 1, not long after Reagan’s inauguration. The Daryl Hall Story in the ’80s is also New York’s under Ed Koch: bust to boom, boho chic to yuppie isolation.

Philly soul clichés told only one story—a familiar one. For Hall, finding a voice meant figuring out his relationship to Philadelphia soul roots and the new sounds coming out of the Lower East Side. In 1979 he and Oates shimmied to the beat of Manhattan with a failed disco-lite crossover. On the appropriately titled Voices, Hall & Oates left tradition behind with an aggressive synthesis of new wave and R&B. But working with Arthur Baker to build that NYC electro groove resulted in Hall’s best work. Crucial to the Hall M.O. as freelancer for INXS and Diana Ross was injecting the shows of tread soul that he eschewed in his own work.

Eventually, Hall’s smugness did him in. In 1988’s “Downtown Life,” Hall wrote about “Velvet Lou,” a neighbor, now walking a dog in Jersey. “Yuppies in black with the white collar crime/They scared away the local color,” he sings over syndrums and MIDI, a student of Black music who can’t see past his exoticist clichés. The suggestion? Hall kept his street cred, Lou Reed didn’t.

Nonetheless, through assists, collaborations, and a shrewd eye on the marketplace, Daryl Hall kept his—to quote one of his songs—head above water, syncopating his artistic identity to the beat of the city.

“Hall & Oates Find Their Voices”
In 2014, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson took to the podium to induct Daryl Hall and John Oates, saying, “They combined rock, and folk, and soul, and pop into something that was new, because it had many smart pieces of what was old.” Indeed, Hall and Oates—the most successful duo of the Rock Era—were by their very nature synthesizers, even code-shifters, who deliberately and sometimes unwittingly found a new polyglot voice in pop. Building on their background in the Philadelphia music scene and Daryl Hall’s powerful, genre-flexible voice (Robert Fripp called Hall the best all-around singer he’d ever met), Hall and Oates both shaped and were shaped by their time in the ’70s and ’80s—they effectively bridged the rock and soul of the former decade and the pop and (eventually) hip-hop of the latter. This three-paper EMP panel considers Hall and Oates’s career across all its phases, not just their well-known’80s Imperial phase but also the odd early and late byways of their career. All of these periods elucidate how the duo found their place in a pop landscape that was at times inhospitable to, and other times utterly defined by them.


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