There are several soul music capitals in the United States. Each scene, whether it’s New Orleans, Memphis, or Detroit, has its own sound. There’s one particular city that I focus on quite often in this column and that’s Philadelphia, renowned for the smooth sound of Philly Soul. I come by my love of Philadelphia’s music honestly. As a kid growing up in Atlantic City, Philadelphia was the closest major media market, and the beaches and boardwalk in Atlantic City would be jammed with kids from Philadelphia every summer weekend. Soul music was like a religion to those kids. When the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were everything to kids across this country, Philly kids remained focused on soul music, no matter what city it emanated from. I have those kids to thank for inspiring this column.
Along with the rise of soul music in the ’60s came a sub-genre known as blue-eyed soul. It was defined simply as soul music that was performed by white people. Among the leading exponents of blue-eyed soul were the Righteous Brothers, the Rascals, and Dusty Springfield. A few years later, they were joined by Daryl Hall and John Oates, a Philadelphia duo who set the charts on fire with their own take on blue-eyed soul.
They met in Philadelphia in 1967. At the time, each had his own group. Daryl was playing with the Temptones, and John with the Masters. Their meeting involves one of those classic stories that you can choose to believe or not. As legend has it, the Temptones and the Masters were engaged in battle of the bands at the Adelphi Ballroom, when a real battle broke out between rival street gangs. Shots were fired, Hall and Oates headed for safety, and they met in the building’s freight elevator.
The two musicians got to talking and soon discovered that they liked the same music, and that they were both students at Temple University. After hanging out for a couple of years the Hall & Oates duo was formed in 1969. Three years later they signed with Atlantic Records. Their early albums, Whole Oats, Abandoned Luncheonette, and War Babies, pretty much laid an egg, despite the imprint of producers like Todd Rundgren and Arif Mardin on the records. There were no hit singles either.
Abandoned Luncheonette did have one song though, “She’s Gone,” that simply refused to go away. It was covered by no less than Lou Rawls, and although it might not have been a hit for Hall & Oates, Tavares took it to the #1 spot on the R&B chart in 1974. Atlantic finally saw the light and released the Hall & Oates original as a single that same year. It did great business in their hometown of Philadelphia, and had moderate success nationally, reaching #60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Hall & Oates moved on to RCA Records and had an enormous smash with “Sara Smile” for the label in 1976. Atlantic looked to make some hay on their departed duo and re-released the “She’s Gone” single. This time, with Hall & Oates now well known across the country, the record reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and made the top 100 on the R&B chart.
The rest, as they say, is history. “Sara Smile” was just the beginning of a career that saw Hall & Oates release six #1 singles, and many others that were Top 40. In all the duo had 34 Top 100 chart records. There were also seven platinum albums, and six gold albums. If you were alive in the ’80s, or if you have ever turned on a radio, you know what I’m talking about.
Billboard Magazine named Hall & Oates as the most successful duo of the rock era. Numerous awards and honors have been bestowed on them, including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just a few weeks ago.