Saturday, May 8, 2010

Koot Hoomi's 10 Favorite Hall and Oates Albums

You have, no doubt, heard of the Rhodes Scholars. That august group counts among its alumni Bill Clinton and Kris Kristofferson. Less well known but perhaps more prestigious, however, are the Oates Scholars: an elite corps of renunciants who spend years cloistered away in abandoned luncheonettes poring over the Hall and Oates canon in an attempt to decipher the esoteric messages embedded therein.

It should come as no surprise that the members of Koot Hoomi are former Oates Scholars. We can tell you exactly who produced War Babies and why Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs was initially withheld from the public. We may not be able to explain the theory of relativity, but dagnabbit, we do know the year “She’s Gone” charted.

In recent years, we have been visited by tribes of earnest young seekers drawn to the Hoomi’s Lair as if by the North Star. They come from all the established civilizations of the Nine Planets*, yet despite their cultural differences, they all arrive armed with the exact same question.

Oates Scholar puzzles over the original manuscript of "I'm Just a Kid, Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man."

“Esteemed Members of Koot Hoomi,” they say, “We wish to commit to the Way of Oates, but we do not know where to begin. The back catalog is simply too extensive. Please point us to the most sacred platters.”

As a service to them, and to you—and, quite frankly, since we’re tired of answering the door and speaking to homeless crackpots from Neptune—we have taken it upon ourselves to compile a list of our ten favorite Hall and Oates albums. Your Way may be different from our Way, but the melodies etched into the grooves of these phonorecords have, for us, unlocked the harmonic codes of the universe.

#10: Marigold Sky. Those familiar with the canonical works of Hall and Oates may be scratching their heads at this one. After all, the general academic consensus is that the Golden Age of H&O concluded with Big Bam Boom in 1984. We’re not necessarily disputing that, but we also know that greatness doesn’t just get turned off like a spigot. There have been sporadic flashes in the ensuing years and this is one of them. If any other artist were to include tracks such as “Romeo is Bleeding,” “Throw the Roses Away,” and “Marigold Sky” on the same album, it would be declared their masterpiece. For Hall and Oates it’s just a good album.

#9: Big Bam Boom. 1984 found Daryl and John sitting astride the world like colossi. Surely they were tempted to simply sign, seal, and deliver a rehash of their formula to the teeming masses. Instead, they served up a pop album nearly bursting with melodic innovation. From the swaggering power chords of “Out of Touch” to the dizzying calypso rhythms of “Method of Modern Love” to the dissonance of “Some Things are Better Left Unsaid,” Big Bam Boom is both radio-friendly and creative. Even the weaker tracks, such as “Possession Obsession,” are better than you remember.

#8: Daryl Hall: Sacred Songs: Okay, this is one of the apocrypha, and is therefore not a required text for Oates Scholars. Nevertheless, it’s awfully hard to go wrong with a collaboration between Daryl Hall: the king of blue-eyed Philly soul, and Robert Fripp: the high priest of progressive rock. This is an alchemical stew of doo-wop, psychedelia, ambient soundscapes, and angular hard rock. “Without Tears” is a beautiful homage to Aleister Crowley. Seriously.

#7: Rock and Soul Part I. If you need a quick shot to get you through the day, this is the one. This compilation includes “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “Say It Isn’t So,” “Rich Girl,” “Maneater,” and on and on. The sheer weight of all these hooks is staggering.

#6: H2O. Oates Scholars are already well aware that beneath the glossy sheen, this is dark, dark, dark. Have you ever sat down and really listened to the lyrics of “Maneater”? How about “Open All Night” and “Crime Pays”? Or the Mike Oldfield cover “Family Man”? Even “One on One” is a song of emotional isolation. He’s tired of playing on the team, folks. And on “Italian Girls,” John Oates asks the very same question that has perplexed archeologists, sociologists, genealogists, cosmologists, and cosmotologists for centuries: “Where are the Italian girls?”

#5: Whole Oats. We see the through-line from “Waterwheel” to the vocal stylings of Thom Yorke. Maybe Thom doesn’t, but that’s not our problem. This folk-rock-soul hodgepodge also contains the wonderful “I’m Sorry,” “Goodnight and Goodmorning” and “Lilly.” Harmonies come tumbling out of every rickety closet door you open. Plus, it took serious balls to put the magnificently loopy “Georgie” (which features the line “The girl caught her locket / on an underwater branch / and the next thing she knew / she had died”) as track #3.
#4: Private Eyes. Punchy, catchy, and just plain marvelous from start to finish. Highlights: “Unguarded Minute,” “Your Imagination,” “Head above Water,” “Did It in a Minute,”
“I Can’t Go for That,” “Mano a Mano,” and, of course, the title track. The songs you don’t recognize are every bit as good as the ones you do.

 #3: Abandoned Luncheonette. Earthy. Sophisticated. Self-assured. Oates firing on all cylinders and more than holding his own against the heaven-scraping ululations of the tall blonde mangod who shares his destiny. This is the work of a duo. It would never be quite this democratic again, but that’s okay. We have this sonic artifact imbued with celestial fire.

#2: Hall and Oates: The Early Years. Not an official album per se, just a collection of mostly acoustic guitar-and-piano demos. But it was this compilation that set Koot Hoomi on the path to the Dark Side. We fell in love with the unadorned beauty of those two voices—Daryl’s angelic tenor and John’s elemental baritone—blending over softly tickled ivories and gently strummed steel strings. “Back in Love” calls out to us across the decades, laying its beating heart on the table here, now, today. The Early Years were good years. For all of us.

#1: Beauty on a Back Street. The true Dark Side of Hall and Oates. Folks, this one thrums with so much unholy occult energy that Daryl and John themselves disowned it. No matter. If you happen to find it in a bargain vinyl bin somewhere, I can guarantee it’ll be the best $1.99 you’ll ever spend. Where else can you find a pitch-perfect Led Zeppelin pastiche (“Winged Bull”), a pair of voice-lacerating screamers (“You Must Be Good for Something” and “Bad Habits and Infections”), two of the finest top-ten hits that never were (“Why Do Lovers Break Each-other’s Heart” and “Bigger than Both of Us”) and Oates blowing his soft breeze over the tumbleweeds of our souls via “The Girl who Used to Be”? Beauty on a Back Street did not need the Koot Hoomi treatment; it’s already well and truly in the twilight zone. And that’s a good thing.

There you have it. Ten platters of excellence. Ten bells in the fog. Ten cries of lamentation. Ten mortal blows to musical snobbery. Ten gifts to give your sweetheart in exchange for eternal love.

You’re welcome.

*Koot Hoomi does not recognize the recent downgrading of Pluto

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Rise and Fall of the Dark Side of Hall and Oates: A Brief History

When was The Dark Side of Hall and Oates born? That question has perplexed scholars, music lovers, and theologians alike for years, and even now, in this nuclear winter of 2064, it continues to divide the Tribes of Earth. There is, of course, a small but particularly violent group of fundamentalists who insist that the project commenced the moment the Lurie brothers espied a $2.00 cassette copy of Hall and Oates: The Early Years in a Portland convenience store in 1993. Others point to the Christmas Eve in 2002 when the brothers stormed an open mic in Kingston, WA to deliver an extended take on “One on One”—complete with a rap that name-dropped Captain Kirk, Attila the Hun, and the mighty Australian ensemble Men at Work.

Researchers from Instanbul University work to unravel the mysteries of The Dark Side of Hall and Oates.

Archaeologists, however, have declared a recently unearthed email transcript (stardate 2004) the probable inception point for the album. In this missive, the elder Lurie encourages his younger sibling to “imagine Pink Floyd teaming up with Tom Waits to perform Hall and Oates songs on broken banjos.”

Then, frustratingly, the trail goes cold.

We have the recordings from the infamous “Lost Weekend” of 2008—the sessions that yielded “Adult Education,” “Had I Known You Better Then,” and “If That’s What Makes You Happy.” And we know from carbon dating that the cracked, brittle renditions of “Say It Isn’t So” and “Maneater (Reprise)” also hail from the same era—albeit from a different session.

In 2053, self-educated anthropologist Don “Doughboy” Doughty reported an amazing find: three cassette tapes buried at the bottom of a box of Hustler magazines in his recently deceased father’s attic, labeled “Swami Sessions.”  These turned out to be the legendary recordings of Swami Premananda crooning “Back in Love Again” seventy-seven times. Prior to this find, historians had concluded that the Swami himself was simply a fictitious creation—an embellishment that had crept into the accounts of the few survivors who’d heard the album in its entirety prior to its destruction.

Recent findings trace the origins of Koot Hoomi's Hall & Oates tribute album back to the year 2004.

As we well know, the Great War of 2011 is the reason for our shamefully spotty historical record. And we also know that the war itself was sparked by internecine violence within the indie rock community as radicalized Koot Hoomi fans and Bird and The Bee fans took up arms against one another. What had started out as a friendly rivalry quickly soured with the brutal martyrdom of Topher Blair (He was burned in a giant wicker man by ironic hipsters. One eyewitness account has them dancing lewdly and chanting the canonical works of Death Cab for Cutie while Topher’s flesh curled off the bone, but this has never been verified.)

From that point forward it was brother against brother, mother against daughter, alligator against crocodile, slug against snail.

The rest of the story you no doubt remember from your history lessons in elementary school: The Purge of 2013, the nuclear meltdown of the Blue Note Records pressing plant, the invasion of Rhode Island, and the birth of the squid baby.  It’s all too depressing to recount here. But for that one shining moment before the great cataclysm, the Lurie brother’s great dream had its day in the sun. And what a wonderful day it was.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Dark Side of Hall and Oates: A Manifesto

We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. In a sane, rational world, one where talent and mastery of craft counted for something, I wouldn’t feel the need to justify my love for Daryl Hall and John Oates. Their greatness would be evident to anyone with functioning ears.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that the hallowed, mystery-shrouded dark tower of “music criticism” is populated by lemmings. How else to explain the monolithic fawning over, oh, let me just pick one example, Patti Smith? Never mind that she sounds like a dying cat; that guy from Trouser Press said she’s the next Dylan!

Maybe the scribblers never paid any attention to Hall and Oates because they weren’t the “next” anything. Sure, Daryl Hall idolized and emulated the Philly soul singers he’d listened to in his youth, and yes, John Oates—in the early days at least—was enamored of bluegrass and folk songwriters. And both were fans of good old rock and roll. But they combined those ingredients to create a hybrid they called “rock and soul”—and that’s a calibration they retained, whether they were singing of rich girls who had gone too far, winged bulls scraping the sky like Icarus, Beanie G with his rose tattoo, private eyes who were watching you, or that nameless maneater, from 1970 through 1986 (what I regard as the golden era). Now, I’ve heard all the arguments that the self-appointed arbiters of integrity and authenticity have leveled against the dynamic duo over the years: that the songs are silly, the albums are slick and overproduced, and that the mustache is ridiculous. Well, let’s take these one by one.

I won’t deny that some of the songs are silly, but I would counter with Paul McCartney’s question: “What’s wrong with that?” Let’s face it: rock and roll itself is silly. It’s a medium filled with grown-ass men jumping around onstage in makeup, sometimes smashing their instruments for no apparent reason and generally conducting themselves in a manner that frat boys doing keg stands would find obnoxious. To paraphrase Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, “Accusing these men of being silly in the medium of rock music is like passing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”

I’m also wondering why Bowie gets a pass. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Bowie, but stack “a she-cat tamed by the purr of a jag-u-ar” (From H&O’s “Maneater”) against “keeps all his dead hair for making up underwear” (from Bowie’s “Jean Genie”) and tell me which line is more ridiculous.

Are the albums overproduced? Well, sure, I suppose so. But what does that mean, anyway? Isn’t Pet Sounds overproduced? How about any of the records from the Lindsey Buckingham era of Fleetwood Mac? If, by overproduced, you mean polish and attention to detail, then I say guilty as charged. And if you want everything to sound like The Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat, there’s nothing I can do for you.

Lastly, the mustache. People fear it, as they did Samson’s hair. There is no doubt that it possesses occult powers. Oates himself had to eventually get rid of it, just as Spider Man broke free of the black suit. But make no mistake, that mustache defined an era and an ethos. All eyes went to it. And Oates was hardly alone. Need I remind readers of the unstoppable sexual magnetism of Tom Selleck?

Ultimately, this is all smokescreen. The pundits are trying to distract you from the fact that, when you get right down to it, the music of Daryl Hall and John Oates is simple, direct, true, and good. And that’s why it resonates. Koot Hoomi’s introduction of psychedelia, Tuvan throat chanting, backwards masking, and the occasional rap about robot invasions should in no way be construed as mocking the source material. You can’t improve upon perfection, so our only option was to do these songs in our own way. We sincerely hope that you enjoy the result.

The Dark Side of Hall and Oates is now available. Ordering info and streaming audio from the album can be heard at