It’s been an arduous couple of weeks for me in terms of my music listening. Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates, is the third four-disc box set (after Big Star: Keep An Eye On the Sky, and Where the Action Is! L.A. Nuggets 1965 – 1968 ) that I’ve reviewed in that period. I don’t know if this is true for other writers, but reviewing large collections like these is more difficult for me than reviewing single albums. You are forced to stay focused on one artist or genre for an extended period of time. My attention span just doesn’t work that way naturally. But enough bitching about my relatively minuscule concerns.
I am tempted to compare Hall and Oates to another band that I wrote about recently: the Four Seasons. This may sound somewhat dubious at first, but bear with me. Both groups were singles-oriented, and had multiple hits. Neither group ever got much in terms of respect from the musical tastemakers. I’m sure this didn’t make a damn bit of difference to them as they were cashing their royalty checks. My point is, do we really need a four-disc career retrospective from a group that lived and died on their single releases? Wouldn’t a two-disc greatest hits compilation do the trick? The answers aren’t all that obvious. In fact, it’s a tough call.
Daryl Hall and John Oates had six number one singles. In addition to these, they had 10 Top 10 hits. You know these songs, and yes, you probably love them. For people of a certain age, these songs are a soundtrack to their lives. I’m talking about songs like “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My Lips,” “Maneater,” and my favorite of the number ones, “Out of Touch.” There are the early jewels like “She’s Gone,” and “Sara Smile,” and later hits like “Everything Your Heart Desires.” They are all included in this set, and I’m happy to hear them again.
The question is, what is included in this 74-song set in addition to the big hits? Well to start with, there are 16 previously unreleased songs. There are the live performances recorded at the New Victoria Theatre in London on October 3, 1975, including a great take on the title track from the Abandoned Luncheonette album. There’s an extended live version of “Everytime You Go Away,” recorded in Tokyo in 1996. And let’s not forget two other live tracks that come from Live at the Apollo With David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, on which Hall and Oates join the Temptations immortals to celebrate the re-opening of the famous Harlem theater in 1985.
There are a number of unreleased studio tracks as well, including the just plain weird “Don’t Go Out,” an outtake from the Private Eyes album, which would seem to be some sort of failed attempt to take advantage of the success of “Thriller,” were it not for the fact that it was recorded earlier than that mega-hit. “Dreamer” was first demoed in 1972 for the Whole Oats album, but not recorded at the time, and the demo was subsequently lost. A brand new 2009 recording of the song closes out this set.
As for the rest of the set, there are certainly lesser-known tracks that are well worth hearing. These include very early tracks from an early Hall and Oates affiliation known as the Temptones, which are pure Philly soul, along with “Las Vegas Turnaround” from the Abandoned Luncheonette album. Several tracks from 1975’s Daryl Hall and John Oates are included. This is my favorite of all of their albums, and I was happy to note the inclusion of “Camellia,” “Alone Too Long,” “Ennui On the Mountain,” a new remix of “Gino (The Manager),” and the previously mentioned “Sara Smile.”
My favorite Hall and Oates song is the beautiful “Wait for Me,” and it’s here as well. You can also find “How Does It Feel To Be Back” from X-Static, “Did It in a Minute,” from Private Eyes, the cover of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” from Voices, and a gem that I’d forgotten about, “Go Solo,” from H2O. Disc four opens with the #3 hit “Everything Your Heart Desires” from 1988’s Ooh Yeah, and includes a cover of the Volcanoes soul classic “Storm Warning” which was previously unreleased. There are more live tracks, including a stirring version of “So Close,” recorded live in Portland in 2006, a cover of “Me and Mrs. Jones” recorded at John Jay College in New York in 2003, and the first audio ever released from the popular Web series Live from Daryl’s House, a cover of the Mad Lads’ “I Want Someone.”
The 60-page booklet that accompanies the music contains extensive liner notes from music journalist Roy Trakin. There are track-by-track annotations by author Ken Sharp, which he based on interviews with Hall and Oates, and testimonials from a roster of artists that includes Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Carly Simon, Mick Jagger, Rick Nielsen, Dave Stewart, Todd Rundgren, Otis Williams, Nile Rodgers, Rob Thomas, Smokey Robinson, Ben Gibbard, and that man again, David Foster.
If you’re a diehard Hall and Oates fan, you are certainly going to want to own Do What You Want, Be What You Are. If you are a casual fan, you might want to pick up a more concise collection of their hits. What about the rest of us? I’m sort of in the middle. It’s Disc Four which pushes this into recommended buy territory for me. It’s a compilation of their more recent live and studio recordings, and a cool bunch of previously unreleased tracks and covers. It’s a close call, but if you’re in the middle like me, and you can find it at good price, I’d pick this set up, or at least place it on your Christmas wish list.