The duo of Daryl Hall & John Oates is best known for their huge string of hits during the '70s and '80s, when songs like “Maneater”, “Rich Girl”, and “Out of Touch” were staples of both Top 40 radio and MTV. They were named by Billboard as the most successful duo of the rock era, unseating The Everly Brothers. What many don't know is that Hall & Oates have been lauded for their songwriting as much as for their hits. Their induction into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame pre-dates their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame enshrinement by nearly a decade. These five songs, a mix of hits and deep cuts, show off the pair's unrivaled lyrical skills.
The 1997 album Marigold Sky was released in the middle of an unusually fallow period in the duo's career. It was their first album in seven years and their last for another six. It produced no major hits but showed that the duo's songwriting chemistry had not faded. The album's standout track was its closer, “War of Words.” Within the framework of the duo's gentle blue-eyed soul balladeering is a lyrically symbolic tale of love lost.
“I thought our love would never end,
like letters in the sand.
Our passion's washed away,
and so the tide rolls in again.”
Arguably Hall & Oates signature hit, “Maneater” came in the middle of a spectacular run of #1 hits by the duo. It spent the most weeks, four in total, at #1 and the video cemented the duo's signature '80s look of Hall's blond locks and Oates' trademark mustache. Lyrically, the song has always been perceived as a straightforward song about a woman. But Oates has said that there's a deeper meaning behind it, saying the song actually used the woman as a metaphor for the culture of New York City in the '80s, and was an indictment of the “greed is good” culture there at the time.
“The woman is wild, a she-cat tamed,
by the purr of a Jaguar.
Money's the matter, if you're in it for love
you ain't gonna get too far.”
The second single from their 1975 album Daryl Hall & John Oates, “Sara Smile” became the duo's first Top Ten hit, climbing to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was written about Hall's longtime girlfriend Sara Allen, who contributed as a writer to a number of the bands biggest hits, including “I Can't Go for That”. The love ballad showed off the duo's strong r&b influences, pulled from the “Philly Sound” of their hometown.
“When you feel cold, I'll warm you.
When you feel you can't go on,
I'll come and hold you.
It's you and me forever.”
The lead single from their 1981 album of the same name, “Private Eyes” is a rare Hall & Oates single that was in large part written by other writers, in this case Warren Pash and Janna Allen. Hall and then girlfriend Sara Allen took the germ of the song and re-arranged it, changing some of the lyrics. The group effort worked as “Private Eyes” was yet another #1 single for the duo. Its contrast of the intrigues of love with the cloak and dagger maneuvers of a movie-style private detective is one of the more unique takes on love ever put to song.
“Why you try to put up a front for me?
I'm a spy but on your side you see.
Slip into any disguise, I'll still know you.
Look into my private eyes, they're watching you.”
A huge hit for Hall & Oates in 1976, when it reached #7 on the charts, “She's Gone” is actually from the duo's 1973 album Abandoned Luncheonette. Failing to crack the Top 40 upon its release, “She's Gone” was given a re-release by Atlantic Records to capitalize on the success of “Sara Smile”, as the duo had moved on to RCA by that time. While many of Hall & Oates songs were primarily written by one band member or the other, “She's Gone” was a full collaborative effort. With both men going through romantic problems, Oates wrote the chorus and brought it to Hall and they worked together to put together the verses. Hall has gone on record calling “She's Gone” one of his favorite songs of the pair.
“Think I'll spend eternity in the city.
Let the carbon and monoxide,
choke my thoughts away.
And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories,
There can never be what she once was to me.”