It's been more than 40 years since Daryl Hall and John Oates released their first album. Now, they're being recognized for their decades of musical accomplishments with their well-deserved induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Believe it or not, the Hall of Fame induction has been a controversial topic for those who only consider the work that the Philadelphia-bred duo did together in the '80s. That somehow makes them less worthy in the eyes of some — which is kind of funny, because really, shouldn't they be eligible on the strength of that period of songwriting alone?
However you want to frame it, when you take away the decades of hits, the albums and concert tickets that have been sold, you're left with the most important thing: the influence that Daryl Hall and John Oates have had as musicians and songwriters on generations of people who are making music now. Just witness the words of Questlove, the Grammy-winning drummer for the Roots (presently, the house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) and a fellow Philly native, who honored the importance of their contributions during his speech inducting them into the Rock Hall.
It was their work with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick of the Temptations in the mid-'80s that would spark new interest in both the Temptations and classic Motown, Questlove said, while noting that because their songs covered so many different genres, "their music became prized amongst hip-hop artists." Hall & Oates "cross all of the boundaries, because that's what great music does."
In a phone conversation a few weeks prior to the ceremonies, John Oates was modest about their upcoming induction.
"Well, you know we've been eligible since '97. So it's nothing I've been losing sleep over. [Laughs] It's more like really a lifetime achievement award in a way and I appreciate that. I think on the night that it happens, it's going to be very exciting and emotional, but right now I'm not really dwelling on it."
When he finally found himself at the podium, he gave thanks to his parents, the "young couple in New York City in the early 1950s who bought a '47 Chrysler and decided to move to Pennsylvania." It was in Philadelphia where Oates would hear both big-band music and rock and roll for the first time. He also saw "the greatest R&B acts in the world" and folk music at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Second Fret.
As he said in his remarks, "There was a hotbed of incredible music happening in the '60s and that's where I wanted to be — I wanted to be in Philadelphia. It really defines everything, the way I think about music, the way I write songs and the way I play."
More than four decades later, Oates is still finding new ways to define himself musically. His latest solo album Good Road to Follow features 15 tracks spread across three genre-specific EPs strategically named Route 1, Route 2 and Route 3. Each of the 15 tracks features Oates collaborating with different songwriters and musicians. "Stone Cold Love," the opening track, finds him paired up with OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder and offers an immediate hint that it's going to be an interesting ride.
"He and I crafted this completely separate set of lyrics to this music that he had basically created and then he really had a vision for it," he says. "He wanted it to be really extreme, really heavy, really lean and not overly complex. He told me to pick up the guitar and he basically walked me through how he wanted me to play. It really was Ryan taking the lead on this thing. I just took his direction, because I wanted to be directed. It was almost like being an actor in a movie. I wanted to be directed by him and I wanted to really see his vision through and I'm glad I did. Because I never would have done a song like that on my own, so it's really awesome."
The initial plan was to simply release a series of singles, which is exactly what Oates did beginning in March of last year. But after releasing a half dozen tracks, the idea of an album began to materialize.
"Everyone was really intrigued and I was getting a lot of press and a lot of interest, but there was an overwhelming response of, "Hey, these songs are really cool — how come they're not on an album?" I didn't really think of them as an album, and for that reason, the songs are very diverse."
The "album" part of things was really important to him, and he put a lot of work into making sure that Good Road to Follow would be available as an actual physical product.
"I want to go back to the old days when you bought an LP and you couldn't wait to see it and hold it and look at it and read the liner notes, look at the pictures and look at the cover and have it give you a feeling of something," he says. "It just seems like music is just taken so lightly. It's here one minute and it's gone. I wanted to make something that felt like something you wanted to hold onto."
Hall & Oates have created plenty of tangible musical memories for people to hold onto and they'll celebrate that during their sold-out show at Public Hall as part of the 11th annual It's Only Rock and Roll Spring Benefit.
As for Oates himself? Good Road to Follow makes it very clear that creatively, he still has plenty of roads left to travel.
It's Only Rock and Roll Spring Benefit featuring Daryl Hall and John Oates
9 p.m. Saturday, May 10, Public Hall, 500 Lakeside Ave., 216-515-1201. Tickets: $20-$25, rockhall.com.