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Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Stephen Thomas Erlewine is a Senior Editor of Pop Music at Rovi, whose database of music information is licensed throughout the internet and can be accessed at Allmusic.com. While at Rovi/Allmusic, he's written thousands of record reviews and biographies. He's also contributed to Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Vulture, Wondering Sound and Maura magazine, and has written liner notes for Raven Records and Legacy.

“‘70s Scenario: How Daryl Hall & John Oates Walked Along the Red Ledge to Discover Their X-Static Voice”
Before Daryl Hall & John Oates became two of the voices that defined mainstream pop in the early ‘80s, they found themselves caught up in the maelstrom of the '70s. Like so many of their Baby Boom peers, they entered the decade still in thrall to the sounds of the ‘60s, an influence apparent in their intertwined vocals—harmonies indebted to the soul of their native Philadelphia and Motown but also to the coffeehouse folk that arose in the wake of Bob Dylan's rise. On their earliest albums for Atlantic—Whole Oats (1972), Abandoned Luncheonette (1973)—they were searching for a common ground between these two superficially opposed styles, finding their shared voice in fits and starts. One of their earliest successes, "She's Gone," was a silken 1973 single that didn't become a hit until 1976, long after the duo jumped from Atlantic to RCA. It, along with "Sara Smile" and "Rich Girl," suggest Hall & Oates were merely a blue-eyed soul duo. 

But R&B is only one aspect of the signature sound the duo would later unveil on 1980’s Voices. That successful turning-point album found the pair marshaling all the sounds they experimented with on a run of unsuccessful records in the '70s—albums characterized by experimentation that was simultaneously tentative and fearless. As the duo wandered through the '70s major label wilderness, they rejected such seemingly natural fits as disco in favor of art-rock, arena anthems, reggae, pop, and electronics, finding their way via passing infatuations and collaborations. Neither the Todd Rundgren–produced fantasia War Babies (1974) nor the David Foster–helmed X-Static (1979) sold much—to this day, they remain the group's only albums of the '70s or '80s to not go gold—but within these odd, misshapen records lay the idiosyncratic beginnings of Hall & Oates' distinctive, indelible voice, one that continues to echo through modern pop. 

“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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