Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – John Oates, Hall & Oates

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: John Oates, one half of Hall & Oates

An easy one to begin with. Which pop star recently covered your song ‘Maneater’ on The Tonight Show?

“The dynamic Miley Cyrus.”


“She did a kick-ass version. I like her attitude – she’s in-your-face and on the edge. I loved that she performed with a rock band and there was no sampling, no computers or artifice involved. I live in Nashville and have met her father Billy Ray, but I’m hoping to meet Miley one of these days.”

Which song by The xx samples ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’?

“That song has been sampled so many times that I’ve lost track! I can tell you about a lot of other versions, but I don’t know that one.”

WRONG. It’s ‘On Hold’.

“If you say so! (Laughs) I’ve never heard it. The first time I was aware of sampling in general was in the early ‘90s when we were doing a live video in New York City with Nile Rodgers. A girl came to the front of the stage and said, ‘Have you heard this?’, and handed me a cassette of De La Soul’s ‘Say No Go’, which samples ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’  – I thought it was cool they’d used it as a jumping off point to create something new. We’ve approved most of the samples we’ve heard. It’s in the great rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Once Chuck Berry played ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, there were a lot of people ‘sampling’ him by playing the same riffs.”

Many big-name rap acts like Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan, Heavy D and Notorious B.I.G have all sampled Hall & Oates tracks…

“That doesn’t surprise me at all. We were one of the first real crossover artists. We were getting played on both R&B radio and pop radio before Prince etc, and I think opening those doors [and breaking down racial barriers] is something we don’t get enough credit for. Back in the early ‘70s, when we released ‘She’s Gone’, it wasn’t a huge hit for us, but the Tavares covered it and had a Number One R&B song.”

In 2006, you and Daryl Hall made a guest appearance in the sitcom Will & Grace, as yourselves (going by the band name of Oates & Hall) that Karen Walker has hired to sing and serve drinks at Grace Adler’s wedding. What does Karen claim that you’ll do for a dollar after the service?

“(Raucous laughter) I hope it’s not take my pants off? That would have been a better way to go, but it was probably something like clean up?”

WRONG. She says John Oates will paint your caricature for $1.

“(Laughs) OK, I’d take my pants off for less. That was a funny show. Great writing!  The show’s director, Jim Burrows, had a house close to Daryl in New York, and we’re friends, so that’s how that came about.”

Talking of art (kinda!), you used to hang out with Andy Warhol. What was he like?

“Enigmatic. It was almost like he was playing the character of Andy Warhol. I remember visiting his Factory and he had all his paintings lying against the wall, and he said: ‘If you see anything, just tell me’. I bought a couple of small pieces which were inconsequential, but now I think: ‘How stupid! I could have had this incredible private collection of Warhol pieces for a song!’”

“He took pictures of me in nightclubs and would come to our shows. He snapped a picture of me in a ‘War Damn Eagle’ t-shirt which was the motto of Auburn University in Alabama. When I’d play colleges in the old days, I’d always buy the local T-shirts. I’d totally forgotten about it but when my son was looking at colleges, we visited that university and in their art museum was that picture of me! I’d never even seen it before. My son didn’t end up going there – maybe that’s why!” (Laughs)


Which frontman once said: ‘Everything you need to know about writing a hit song, it’s in ‘Rich Girl’’?

“Was it Brandon Flowers?”


“I love The Killers. They’ve just covered another song of mine – ‘Electric Blue’ – which I wrote with Iva Davies from Icehouse, and was a Number One in Australia for his band. The Killers did a very faithful and cool version of it.”

Which gonzo writer once made you read an article you’d written out loud to him while he prodded you with a knife?

“(Laughs) You’ve done your homework, sir! Hunter S. Thompson, who was my neighbour in Colorado.”


“When we were looking at the property, we heard a shotgun blast and bullets hitting the cabin’s metal roof. We went: ‘What the hell is that?!’ and the real estate agent said: ‘That’s your neighbour – Hunter S. Thompson.’ We got to know each other well and it was a comfortable relationship. He was a lot like Andy [Warhol] – he liked being the character of Hunter Thompson.

“I’d written an article about him and I didn’t want to publish it without his approval so I went up there during Monday night football. He had a salon and would have the sheriff and his cronies over to get high and watch football. He’d control the remote and when the commercials came on, he’d click mute – and that’s when you’d have a discussion about politics or whatever. But as soon as the game came back on, we’d stop and watch.”

“I handed the article to him and he demanded: ‘No! Read it aloud!’. So I had to read it aloud in segments during the commercials of the football. I was intimidated and reading it quietly, and he kept poking me in the ribs with his giant Bowie knife saying: ‘Top notch! Speak up!’ So that was his tacit approval.”

As a journalist, he could be vitriolic. What’s the most upsetting thing that’s ever been written about you?

“Because of Daryl’s incredible level of talent and vocals, people think that I really didn’t do anything – which always bothered me to a small extent. But at the same time, I’m comfortable in my own skin and know what I bring to the table. It may not be as obvious to the general public but it’s equally important to our partnership’s success.”

Which film was ‘Grounds For Separation’ originally meant to be used in?



“I was in a band called Valentine with Frank Stallone, Sylvester’s brother, in the late ‘60s before Daryl and I got together. We got to know Sly. In his Rocky heyday in the ‘70s, he appeared at a gig and dragged me and Daryl offstage. He wanted to use ‘Grounds For Separation’ in Rocky, and I don’t know why it didn’t work out.”

What is the 2009 cartoon about your moustache called?

“(Laughs) J-Stache.”


“How deep are you digging?! You’re going to some dark places! It was a joke – our publishing company was coming up with novel ways of expanding our catalogue and thought that would be a cool way to reach the kids. It was pretty funny. Over the years, my moustache has become a weird icon. I’m in the pantheon of great moustache wearers!”


In 1985, you and Daryl raced each other in Learjets from the East and West Coasts of the USA for MTV. Where was the finish line?

“Was it in Kansas?”

WRONG. It was Oklahoma City.

“Hey, listen, I don’t remember a lot about those days! It was a blur. Everything in the ‘80s was exaggerated and overblown and money flowed like proverbial water. The average person on the street assumes that because we had our biggest commercial success in the ‘80s, that would be my favourite time. It was my least favourite because the demands on our time were unbelievable. Between 1979 ‘til 1986, I had no life other than writing, recording, making videos and touring. The ‘70s were more fun because everything was new – the process of becoming it is more interesting than the victory lap.”

Which spoof song, a parody of the charity single ‘We Are the World’, did you sing on the Sesame Street-inspired adult comedy Wonder Showzen in 2006?

“What is that song?! Oh shoot! You got me on this one!”

WRONG. It was ‘War Never Solves Anything’.

“That’s right! All I remember is that it was New York-based and a really weird show.”

You and Daryl appeared on the actual star-studded ‘We Are the World’ charity single in 1985. Who were you most excited to meet at the time?

“Everyone! Michael [Jackson] and Lionel [Richie] were clever because they chose the night of the American Music Awards, which anyone who was anybody in the pop world was at. We all came to the studio in Hollywood, there were no agents or hangers on allowed in the room, and artists who were usually in their own orbit let their guard down and talked. Where I was standing in the picture, Ray Charles was right in front of me and Bob Dylan was behind me. I thought: ‘Hey, this is pretty frickin’ cool! ‘ I went around and got everyone to sign the sheet music, which is on the wall in my music room as one of my prized possessions.”

Apparently at the We Are the World recording, Michael Jackson – who used to dance in his bedroom mirror to ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ – told Daryl he “stole” the groove from that song for ‘Billie Jean’. Could you hear the similarities?

“Well, I could tell the groove was definitely influenced but I wouldn’t say “stole” by any means – I’d say inspired by, but it’s a massive compliment.”

Name the guest stars on Hall & Oates’ 1978 album ‘Along the Red Ledge’

George Harrison, Todd Rundgren, I think Rick Neilsen from Cheap Trick played on it and….who else? Robert Fripp.”


“I knew George through the Formula One racer Sir Jackie Stewart. We were recording ‘Along the Red Ledge’ in LA when George was living in the city and he invited us over to his house to watch The Rutles – the spoof Beatles movie which he produced – so it was funny to be sitting in his living room watching it while he commentated over it: ‘This is what they’re sending up here…’ I asked him if he wanted to play on the album and he said: ‘I’d love to – but I just want to be in the band. I don’t want to do anything special.’ He was very humble.”

On the subject of musical icons, Hall & Oates opened for both David Bowie and Lou Reed. What were those experiences like?

“The experience of opening for David Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour was really impactful to us. When we opened for him, we were doing a very acoustic, quiet introspective singer-songwriter type show and we were expecting singer-songwriter ‘Hunky Dory’-era Bowie. We did our show and were told we weren’t allowed to stay backstage, so we went into the audience. All of a sudden, these strobe lights appeared and he opened with a recorded version of 2001 Space Odyssey, and then appeared in the sequin suit with the giant platforms. I was like: ‘Holy shit! Our low-key show is not going to cut it!’ I realised we needed to notch up our energy in our own unique way.”

“The Lou Reed tour was a huge mistake and we were a terrible combination. Lou was at his lowest. He was stoned and it was a match made in hell. We lasted four or five shows before we stopped and said: ‘We can’t keep doing this’.”


The verdict: 6/10

“”Not bad! The mind is still working!”

Daryl Hall and John Oates are celebrating one billion streams of their feel-good hit ‘You Make My Dreams