Although it wasn’t originally released as a single in the UK, Hall & Oates’ 1980 track ‘You Make My Dreams’ has become of the most one of their most recognisable songs, ubiquitous in films such as 500 Days of Summer, The Wedding Singer, Dumb & Dumberer and Despicable Me 2. And now the most successful duo in music history (Take that Simon & Garfunkel, Pet Shop Boys and Jedward) are celebrating amassing one billion streams of it.
We caught up with John Oates – the half of the pair whose distinctive moustache was once immortalised in its own cartoon, via Zoom, from his home in Nashville, to toast this landmark achievement.
Hello John! Congratulations on racking up one billion streams of ‘You Make My Dreams’. How are you feeling?
John Oates: “It’s amazing, right? What really gets me about this is when the song ‘You Make My Dreams’ was released as a single in 1981, it wasn’t a massive Number One hit – it reached Number Five in the US. We couldn’t have predicted the impact it would have. Over the years, it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s become this anthemic feel-good thing. A lot of it started with its use in the movie 500 Days of Summer and the dance sequence they created around that song. From there on, it took on this life of its own. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It’s an amazing feel-good groove and it has a great timeless appeal.”
It seems like the type of buoyant track that people might stream to cheer them up during the time of COVID-19…
“It’s such a simple sentiment – You Make My Dreams Come True. Funnily enough, when we finished writing that song, our manager didn’t like it that much. He said: ‘Who do you guys think you are? Wordsworth?’, because the lyrics went: ‘Like the flame that burns the candle/The candle feeds the flame’. He thought that was too flowery for a pop song! What the hell did he know? One billion streams later…”
And counting! You were supposed to be touring this year before COVID came along. Have you been working on any new Daryl Hall & John Oates music?
“We were supposed to be working on an album. Daryl and I were set to do some recording and when everything broke down, we had exchanged ideas. We were sending each other tracks and we were starting to formulate [a record] – we didn’t know what we were going to do or what style we were going to end up with. But when COVID broke everything down, it put the brakes on it. So I think he and I will probably do our best work when we’re physically together and because we’re not, we’ll just put it on hold for a while and see what happens.”
You’ve also just released your own concert album, ‘Live in Nashville’, with your Americana side project The Good Road Band. How did you choose which songs to cover for it?
“It was inspired by the music I was making before I met Daryl Hall. I was a folk blues guitar player and singer and when I moved to Nashville 10 years ago, I became part of the Americana roots community and in doing so, I began to meet and play with musicians who had those same influences. So I was able to go back in time, tap into my earliest influences, but re-imagine them through the lens of who I am today. It shines a light on the roots of American popular music. I did some research and found a song called ‘Anytime’ by Emmett Miller which sold one million copies in 1923 and that was the key to unlocking the project.”
“Because I don’t think people understand that American popular music didn’t necessarily start with rock ‘n’ roll. So I wanted to shine a light on the earliest days with the invention of the phonograph when people could actually take music into their homes. I got in deep and the album’s an exploration of that. There are tracks by legendary people like Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash, Don Gibson, Blind Blake, and Mississippi John Hurt – so it’s combination of my earliest folk influences and using it as a template to talk about their being music before rock ‘n’ rock.”
Have you been working on any new music during lockdown?
“I’m working on music for an amazing film called Gringa – the director, who’s a friend, reached out to me during this shutdown. It’s a great story about a high school girl living in Southern California whose mother passes away, and she has nowhere to go – so she heads off to Mexico to find her estranged father. I wrote this song and we did two versions – one has me singing in Spanish, which was wonderful because I’ve never sung in a foreign language before. I also did a song for the movie with a rapper from South Carolina called CerVon Campbell.”
So it’s fair to say it’s been a creative period for you?
“Yes. It’s been one of the brightest aspects of this whole thing. It took me a long time to get to grips with the fact I wouldn’t be touring and the realisation that from the beginning of my professional career in 1972, this is the longest I’ve not travelled in my entire career. But I decided to make the most of it, and I’ve written more songs in the last four months than I have in the last four years.”
Miley Cyrus recently covered ‘Maneater’, The Killers’ Brandon Flowers is a fan, and both The xx and Kanye West have sampled you. Would you ever consider collaborating with any of them?
“I’m very open to things like that – it’s just a matter of hoping our worlds’ intersect. It’s happening to me a lot more frequently lately because I’ve been more active on Instagram – I’ve just got involved with an Australian nu-Americana band called The Buckleys because we DM-d each other, and we’re going to try dong something. So that’s really opened my mind to possibilities like that.”
You and Daryl Hall went from being critically-acclaimed to being treated as punchlines and the epitome of ’80s guilty pleasures, before being embraced by a new generation of younger musicians. What do you think shifted?
“It’s a combination of things. The music climate changed. When we stopped recording around 1990, it was the beginning of grunge, which – and I don’t mean to denigrate it – was anti-melodic and really about teenage angst. Our music didn’t gel with what was going on in the world. As the ‘90s went on, things changed. Daryl’s show, Live from Daryl’s House, where he began to reach out to younger artists, have them on the show and cover a lot of our songs and spread the word to their fanbase, helped. In addition, the old gatekeepers of the big music business disintegrated so the younger generation began to look at music in a more open-minded way.”
There’s a trend for music biopics at the moment. Would you like to see a Daryl Hall & John Oates one?
“Sure. Why not? I’m open to possibilities. If that’s what someone wants to do, I’d be curious to see who might play me. I’d like Robert Redford to play me – the perfect candidate! I’d have to be hired as Moustache Consultant – it would be a very important condition before I would OK the project!”
‘You Make My Dreams’ by Hall & Oates is obviously out now.