Before they became one of the biggest acts of the '80s, Daryl Hall and John Oates kicked around various songs, styles and producers in search of a defining sound. Some worked; many didn't. Initially influenced by the thriving soul music coming out of their hometown of Philadelphia, the duo scored just as much R&B airplay as they did on Top 40 stations back in the mid-'70s.
By the end of the decade, they were inching closer to the glossy, but still soulful, '80s pop that netted them five No. 1 hits in four years. Our list of the Top 10 Hall & Oates Songs From the '70s covers their formative period.
"Do What You Want, Be What You Are"From: 'Bigger Than Both of Us' (1976)
This slow-burning cut from Hall & Oates' fifth album recalls the best songs from their early LPs, when they were still being marketed as blue-eyed soul singers. "Do What You Want, Be What You Are" sounds so much like the authentic thing that the R&B group the Dramatics covered the song just a few years later.
"I Don't Wanna Lose You"From: 'Along the Red Ledge' (1978)
After six albums of fluctuating quality and success, Hall & Oates stepped up their game for Along the Red Ledge, working with a more experienced pop producer (multiple Grammy winner David Foster) and guests like Robert Fripp, George Harrison and Todd Rundgren. It wasn't a huge hit, but it went gold. More importantly, it moved their music toward the glossier pop that would make them one of the biggest groups of the '80s. The soulful "I Don't Wanna Lose You" just missed the Top 40.
"Why Do Lovers (Break Each Other's Heart?)"From: 'Beauty on a Back Street' (1977)
The slinky "Why Do Lovers (Break Each Other's Heart?)" features a steamy guitar solo, but the rest of the song recalls a sort of '70s-style doo-wop. Hall & Oates were reportedly unhappy with the rougher rock touches applied to their sixth album. The only single released from the LP made it to No. 73 at the end of 1977.
"It's a Laugh"From: 'Along the Red Ledge' (1978)
Most of 1978's Along the Red Ledge pushed for a more pop sound (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Hall & Oates Songs of the '70s). The album's opening track, "It's a Laugh," nods to the duo's soul roots, complete with searing saxophone and call-and-response backing vocals. It reached the Top 20.
"It's Uncanny"From: 'No Goodbyes' (1977)
After Hall & Oates switched record companies, their first one reissued their 1974 single "She's Gone" (which originally stopped at No. 60; see No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 Hall & Oates Songs From the '70s) and scored a Top 10 hit with it in 1976. So they released a 10-song compilation culled from the three albums the duo recorded for the label plus three new songs, including the soulfully stylish "It's Uncanny."
"Back Together Again"From: 'Bigger Than Both of Us' (1976)
The opening track on the duo's fifth album (the one with "Rich Girl," their first No. 1; see No. 2 on our list of the Top 10 Hall & Oates Songs From the '70s) is an old-school R&B song written and performed by Oates. It sounds like an authentic street-savvy R&B cut, with stabbing keys, swirling strings and flashing horns. "Back Together Again" erases any doubt that Hall & Oates were, first and foremost, a soul group in the '70s.
"Wait for Me"From: 'X-Static' (1979)
Hall & Oates' last album of the '70s -- and the final one before Voices launched their '80s streak with four Top 30 hits, including the No. 1 "Kiss on My List" -- sums up the decade, and their first eight albums, with an occasionally uneasy mix of rock, pop and soul. "Wait for Me," though, gets it exactly right.
"Sara Smile"From: 'Daryl Hall & John Oates' (1975)
After three albums in three years with Atlantic Records, which tried to make them blue-eyed soul stars, Hall & Oates signed with RCA Records and soon scored a Top 5 hit with "Sara Smile." It's not like they were doing anything all that different. The soulful ballad is built on an old-school R&B foundation, but with a bit of '70s AM Gold edging its way into the mix.
"Rich Girl"From: 'Bigger Than Both of Us' (1976)
Hall & Oates finally scored their first No. 1 song after five albums and two record companies. And unlike their other two hits -- both slower cuts -- "Rich Girl" packs a head-bobbing rhythm and Philadelphia soul-worthy strings (and a great vocal by Hall). The duo wouldn't have their next Top 10 hit for another four years, when "Kiss on My List" kicked off their '80s reign. "Rich Girl" was a taste of things to come.
'She's Gone'From: 'Abandoned Luncheonette' (1973)
'She's Gone' has a tricky history. It was originally featured on Hall & Oates' second album, Abandoned Luncheonette, in 1973 and released as their debut single. It climbed to No. 60. Three years later, the duo were recording for another label and hit the Top 5 with 'Sara Smile' (see No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Hall & Oates Songs of the '70s). So their old record company reissued 'She's Gone,' and this time the song made it to No. 7. It's the duo's best song, a soulful ballad featuring powerhouse vocal performances by both Hall and Oates. Needless to say, it should have been a hit the first time around.