To celebrate Hall & Oates’ election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Philly Mag writers are sharing their memories and thoughts about the Philly duo.
I’m a huge Hall & Oates fan, but I always felt a little guilty that I wasn’t more interested in John Oates. When I was a kid and they were on MTV a lot, my eyes were inevitably drawn to Daryl Hall. He was so pretty in that pleasingly androgynous way, with his soft blond hair and tall frame. He seemed exotic to me, much like the tall blond girl in my class who was on the social register and was already preparing for her debutante ball in eighth grade. They were another species.
In my own life, I was surrounded by short, dark-haired people, and little John Oates, well, he just faded into the background like so many cousins or prepubescent Hebrew school classmates. Could he sing? I guess I figured he did, but given that I never looked in his direction, the duo might as well have been called Hall & Hall.
When I grew up, I realized I wasn’t the only one who paid John Oates less attention. Maybe that’s what happens to a brown-eyed guy in a group defined as “blue-eyed soul.” But here’s the thing: John Oates is amazing. He has an exquisite voice, and always did. Of course — this is completely obvious, but must be said — Hall & Oates could not have been successful without him.
Still, the man has needed some vindication, and it came to him during the 2008 World Series. It was Game 5, and Daryl Hall (not John Oates, of course) had been chosen to sing the National Anthem. But Hall got sick, so Oates took his place — “pinch-hitting for his partner,” the Fox announcer said. He stepped onto the field in a windbreaker that said World Series, his hair blowing on a windy day, and just went to town. Probably half the people in the stadium hadn’t even known what Oates’s voice sounded like. But you can really hear where the “soul” in that “blue-eyed soul” comes from. And he did a lovely job — “he rocked that shit,” wrote one critic.
Even more beautiful is the way Oates sounds on “Had I Known You Better Then” that he does with Hall and T Bone Burnett Wolk on Live From Daryl’s House (the song in the video starts at 2:02). He rocks that shit. Hard.