Hall & Oates: “Our songs have stood the test of time”

Ahead of a massive show at London’s O2 Arena, the pop heroes reflect on their incredible career

Daryl Hall and John Oates’ time in the public eye has seen the duo go from being critically acclaimed, to widely derided, back to being retrospectively embraced. Right now, Hall & Oates are making the most of their status as late ’70s and ’80s pop heroes. This month they released ‘Timeless Classics’, a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin distillation of their finest moments, containing ‘You Make My Dreams’, ‘Maneater’ and ‘Out of Touch’.

They’re also continuing to pack out giant arenas: this weekend, they play London’s O2 Arena (October 28) and Dublin’s 3Arena (29). Ahead of those shows, NME spoke to one half of the duo, John Oates, about their wild career and legendary status.

Is it true you get standing ovations midway through shows these days?

Pretty much. It happens periodically throughout the show. It depends on what song we’re playing, it depends on how well we play it. It depends on the vibe of the audience. We really have so many songs that are still so popular. They’re such big hits, and these are the songs people come to share and hear.

NME hasn’t always been the kindest critic of your work. In fact, most publications haven’t always been on your side.

I’m hoping that’s not a subtle warning of how NME will judge the show. Although if you slate it, I wouldn’t care! But it’s interesting. Our relationship with the press had its ups and downs. At first, we were darlings of the rock press. We were underground, hip and undiscovered. But as time went on, they decided they didn’t like us so much. You can’t expect everyone to like you. All I cared about was making the best records we could. Daryl felt the same way. Those songs have stood the test of time, so what’s going on now feels special.

Who decides the setlists? Is it dictated by what people want to hear rather than your own personal choice?

Yes and no. In a sense, we’re bound by our success. We have the most incredible amount of hit records that people really wanna hear. But at the same time, we have a catalogue of over 400 songs. Some of them are very interesting musically, but we only have so much time. It’s our professional responsibility to play the songs people wanna hear, but we also do what we wanna do. We balance it between album tracks, hits, and the way we stretch, evolve and modernise those hits in some ways. At our shows, you’re hearing the records you wanna hear, but not necessarily exactly like they are on record. That’s really what we bring. Luckily for us, we’re proud of our hits, so it’s not like we’re playing songs we don’t want to play.

You just released the ‘Timeless Classics’ compilation. Plenty of bands feel uneasy about playing their biggest hits. Have you never been of that mindset?

I don’t understand that. If you had a popular song, a hit, that means people like it. And if people like it, why… As long as you like it. If you’re being untrue to yourself, if you really hate the song you wrote, then maybe you should reconsider what you’re doing for a living. I would assume that most bands are pretty proud of what they’ve made.

Hall and Oates, Timeless Classics, Album

Your memoir ‘Change of Seasons’ came out this year. It contains so many memories that you’ve reflected on for the first time in a while. Did it make you look back on certain periods of time any differently?

It did make me think back into those deep memories. I began to recall things I hadn’t thought about. What I discovered: I found the ’70s and the process of becoming Hall & Oates much more interesting than talking about the ’80s and the big commercial success we had. I found the ’70s way more interesting and more exciting, more vivid in my mind. The ’80s, to me, were just a big blur. Running around the world, touring, recording videos – we never really had time to stop and reflect. Whereas in the ’70s, things were much slower. We were figuring out who we were going to be as musicians. We were driving around the country, it had a much more romantic feel to it. In my book, I really unpack the ’70s.

It does strike me that you wanted to be a musician before even thinking about fame. When things took off, did you ever fall out of love with making music?

I never fell out of love with it. I’ve been a musician since I was a kid. To this day, I’m still inspired about making music. But in the ’80s, we were overwhelmed by our success. There was so much demand on our time, so much attention. We were being popstars, rather than musicians. We always thought of ourselves more as musicians, but the popstars element overshadowed the craft and the quality.

You’ve described it as ‘extended adolescence’, the way you were whisked off and became famous while you were young. Do you sympathise with stars like Justin Bieber and members of One Direction who have so much demand placed on them at a young age?

I can sympathise with anyone who has mega-popstardom. The issues you have to deal with when trying to retain yourself, and this dual-personality, it’s such a strain. So yeah, I get it. But at the same time, I look at what some of the individuals in One Direction are doing now, and they’re making some really good music. Obviously, they have a lot of talent, and now they can define themselves outside of the band. In a way, Daryl and I did that in the late ’80s. We dropped out. We didn’t want to be MTV has-beens. We just stopped. We stopped touring, we stopped recording. And when we came back to recording, we made different types of records. I think we found a way to preserve ourselves. Now, we’re more successful than we’ve ever been. There’s been a rediscovery of our music by a younger generation. In a way, it’s a vindication of the quality of music we have.

Is there a contemporary artist working today you’d like to record with?

There’s so many. I think Bruno Mars is unbelievable. I like everything he does in terms of his energy, his talent, his excitement. And the songs are great. There’s a lot of great pop music.