Jeff Pearlman

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Hall and Oates: The 25 Best Songs

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I was doing a little bit of nothing yesterday when I thought, “I’m gonna compile a list of Hall and Oates’ 25 greatest songs.”

Why would any sane human compile a list of Hall and Oates’ 25 greatest songs? Easy: Because Hall and Oates are friggin’ awesome. They’re (easily) my all-time favorite musical act. I like ’em more than the Beatles, more than Tupac, more than A Tribe Called Quest, more than Michael Jackson and Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill. Truly.

As a high schooler, I used to offer up vigorous Hall and Oates defenses, only to be mocked by those worshiping here-today-gone-tomorrow crap nuggets like Warrant and Young MC and Skid Row. They called the music cheese and fluff and air filler. And, at times, perhaps they were right (God, I loathe Maneater). But, mostly, the words were uttered by people who didn’t grasp the entirely of a magnificent musical catalog. Which is understandable. We were in the 1980s, when fluff ruled the airwaves.

But Hall and Oates, well, they’re far more than fluff.

I’m babbling. Below is my ranking of the duo’s 25 best songs. It has nothing to do with popularity, and everything to do with depth and quality.

Enjoy …

1. Rich Girl (1976)—Every so often Rolling Stone does one of those 100 Greatest Songs of All Time issues, and Rich Girl never makes it. Which is insane, because it’s a truly brilliant piece of songwriting. For a long time, the belief was the song was about Patty Hearst and her kidnapping/brainwashing. It wasn’t. Hall actually wrote it about a spoiled guy he knew, but changed the focus to a woman. The vocals are A+, and I’ve always loved the simplicity of a moment 1:28 in, when Hall utters a little “Oooh” for no apparent reason.

2. She’s Gone (1976)—It’s just a perfect song in so many ways—the duality of the split vocals, the merging of two opposite voices, the harmonizing, the lyrics (“Worn as the toothbrush hanging in the stand”). The final minute or so—with Hall and Oates engaging in a vocal battle—is an Oreo dipped in cold milk. It’s a song everyone knows, but not enough people appreciate.

3. Wait for Me (1979)—Some Hall & Oates hits are definitive. This one isn’t, even though it was a Top 20 single off of X-Static, the duo’s final (and fairly crappy) album of the 1970s. But the vocals are just gangsta, and the guitar solo doesn’t go on too long—as most did during the time period.

4. Georgie (1972)—I’m one of seven Americans who know this song, and I’m fairly convinced neither Hall nor Oates remember the lyrics. It’s off their oft-overlooked-but-absolutely-fantastic studio debut, “Whole Oates,” and I love everything about it. Hall’s voice is so young. The story (about a young girl’s death) is captivating. I used to sing it to my children every night, though instead of dying the girl sneezes.

5. I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man) (1973)—When people think Hall and Oates vocals, they think Hall. Which makes sense. His voice is otherworldly. If he’s not on a Whitney Houston level, he’s close behind. Oates, on the other hand, is merely a very good singer. There’s no shame in that. It’s just, well, compared to his partner, eh, there’s no comparison. The thing is, Oates has some awesome songs, and this is the best of the best. He wrote it, and it’s about entering manhood but not feeling quite ready. The lyrics spoke to me when I was, oh, 24ish, and still do.

6. Can’t Stop the Music (He Played it Much too Long) (1974)—This one is also written and sung by Oates. It’s off the War Babies album, which is sorta obscure and sorta great. I actually asked Oates about this in Quaz No. 66, because it seems funny that he’s nearly 70 and still performing, and the song’s about a singer who doesn’t know when to quit. I love everything about this tune. It has a certain Motown quality.

7. So Close (1990)—This was really Hall & Oates’ final pop hit. It peaked at No. 11 in 1990, and wound up on a lot of radio rotation. Here’s the interesting thing: The song, in and of itself, it fantastic. But it was produced by Jon Bon Jovi, and Hall hated the final product. So, on the same album, the duo included the acoustic version—which takes a fabulous song and turns it into all-time great material.

8. Ennui on the Mountain (1975)—Forty years ago, Hall and Oates posed in women’s makeup on the cover of their fourth studio album—kicking off a decade of people thinking them to be gay and lovers. It’s a friggin’ terrific record, and this song is Hall as an elite vocalist. I actually think it’s an impossible song not to like.

9. Sara Smile (1975)—It’s sorta unfortunate how, if you love a band, you grow to turn indifferent toward the biggest hits. “Sara Smile” is a complete song, it’s perfect vocally—and I’ve heard it 876,432 times. Which means I’m tired of it. That said, it’s fantastic and vintage Hall and Oates.

10. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid (1984)—My Bar Mitzvah was in 1985, and I handed out singles of this song. Nobody heard of it, nobody cares. But it’s friggin’ dazzling in all ways. Still holds up.

11.Did it in a Minute (1981)—The 1980s were Hall & Oates’ most successful era—and my least-favorite era for their music. Yeah, lots of good stuff. But also a fair amount of cheese. This song, though, leaps off of a relatively ordinary album. Again, a lot of Motown influence in Hall’s vocals.

12. Adult Education (1984)—I’ve always been a little bit embarrassed to proclaim my love for this one, because it’s an 80s tune with a cheesy video. But, really, it’s terrific. And find me a tune that better speaks to the awful pressure that comes with being a high schooler.

13. Goodnight and Goodmorning (1972)—The wife lists this as her favorite H&O song. It’s simple, it’s pleasurable, it’s all about love and togetherness. If anyone besides the most loyal fans (and my wife) knew it, it’d have served many a wedding.

14. Family Man (1982)—A little-known fact. “Family Man” is not a Hall and Oates original. Nope. It was originally performed by Mike Oldfield, who released it in, eh, 1982. I’m not entirely sure what Hall and Oates were thinking, but they covered it, made it 1,000 times better and had a hit. Credit to Oldfield—it’s an awesome song. But he wasn’t a singer of Hall’s caliber.

15. Fall in Phildelphia (1972)—I’m a huge fan of songs that are adopted for civic pride, but actually mock the very people singing it. Daryl and John spent their younger years in Philly, had a rough stretch, put together a song bemoaning the city (The shower stall is leakin’/And the ceiling’s fallin’ in/And I’m getting twenty bills to every letter) and Philadelphia loved it.

16. I Can’t Go For That (1981)—I never loved this song. Then I started hearing it everywhere in hip-hop. Seriously, name a tune that’s been more sampled. The beat is infectious, the lyrics terrific. So not only has it grown on me, but it may well be the duo’s most famous song.

17. It’s a Laugh (1978)—“Along the Red Ledge” is not a Hall and Oates classic album, but this song is. It’s Hall’s “F*ck you” message to a lover, and it resonates.

18. Had I Known You Better Then (1973)—Simply beautiful vocals and arrangement. Oates doesn’t sing as well as Hall, but he’s a better songwriter. This is a perfect example.

19. Camellia (1975)—A couple of years ago Hall and Oates starter performing this live again. It’s a really obscure Oates song, and it’s fabulous 100 different ways. I know it’s pretty cliché, but the staying power of the duo is the musical uniqueness. They’re two white guys who sound Motown; who ooze soul. Perfect example: Camellia.

20. Method of Modern Love (1984)—It’s pure cheese nearly the entire way through. I mean, truly, it’s a bad song (and the video—sheesh). And then—boom! Hall starts quasi-skatting his way over the final minute, and it’s friggin’ magical. It’s something Hall does better than anyone else out there. He takes a song, deviates from the lyircs, ad-libs, jumps around. And it always works.

21. Everytime You Go Away (1980)—Hall and Oates’ biggest commercial blunder. The song came out in 1980, but wasn’t released as a single. Five years later, Paul Young covers it and hits No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The H&O version is much better.

22. Promise Ain’t Enough (1997)—This was on “Marigold Sky,” Hall and Oates’ comeback album after a seven-year hiatus. The record sucks really bad. I mean, it’s a turd, and most of the stuff sounds like it was recorded in two studios far, far away. The album cover speaks for the album—dumb, lame, bad. That being said, I really dig this song.

23. You Make My Dreams (1980)—Huge hit, catchy as herpes. It’s a pure pop song, and I don’t usually love pure pop songs. But this thing is infectious.

24. Say It Isn’t So (1983)—My wife hates this song. I love this song. Reminds me of being a kid, watching MTV, blah, blah, blah. Not the best thing they’ve ever done, but still killer.

25. It’s Uncanny (1977)—Had I been doing this list five years ago, this is a Top 10. Grew a little fatigued, but still a strong piece of music and another Motown ode.

  • Christopher M. White

    Think I’ll spend eternity in the city
    Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away
    And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories
    They can never be what she was to me

    Any artist(s) who could think up that lyric, are not to be trifled with.

    Sara Smile belongs higher on the list, but I get the logic behind the decision. Then again, maybe when I hear it for the 876,432nd time I will have become tired of it too.

  • blmeanie

    Maneater has to make the 25

  • Mike

    I’m sure you’ve seen all of the LFDH episodes…the version of “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid” with Johnny Rezenik is really good.

    “I Can’t Go For That” is in my top 5, and speaking of samples, none other than Simply Red released a song about 10 years ago called “Sunrise” which uses the ICGFT intro, and I like that one as well.

    We are about the same age, and there are certain H&O songs that do take me back to early/mid 80s’ MTV. “Out Of Touch”, and “One on One” are right up there also.

  • william harmon

    I’ve thought about requesting a list like this from Jeff for a couple years, but never got to it. I have wanted to explore the duo’s lesser known material for years. beach vacation starts in 6 days, I’ll be sure to listen to all 25. Except Method, which is my own personal Maneater.

    I’d put Kiss on My List on your list, love the keyboards and smooth harmonies. I know it’s a huge hit but I still remember hearing it on the top 40 countdown on the car radio on the way to my sister’s swimming lessons like it was yesterday.

  • Gwen Holloway

    “I know what it’s like to be forgotten
    Left alone with your simple dreams
    But even dreams are fading fast
    No one to turn to when you can’t sleep at night
    Waking up to another day that will soon be over
    And if you think that time has forgotten you
    Well just look into my eyes
    And know the times we’ll change”

    “Don’t Hold Back Your Love” – best post-breakup-will-I-ever-find-love-again-what-are-the-chances-of-running-into-Daryl-Hall-in-his-Jeep-on-the-side-of-a-deserted-road song EVER!

    Great list!

  • James Bailey

    The line from “She’s Gone” is actually, “One less toothbrush hanging in the stand.” As in she’s gone and she took her toothbrush with her, along with all the rest of her shit. If his toothbrush was worn enough to be noteworthy, it would be time to get a new one. (It might possibly explain why his girl left, though. Maybe she was skeezed out by his toothbrush.)

  • FriarTuck00

    One of my favorites that most have never heard is “I Ain’t Gonna Take It This Time” from the “Change of Season” album. Kinda surprised that “Private Eyes” isn’t on this list. One of my all-time favorites.

  • Jim Haug

    My list would include Perkiomen, las Vegas Turnaround and Do What You Want Be Who You Are.
    Jeff, I’m a member of the Club. On my way from Vermont to NJ for a roto draft, I palyed all 4 cds of the DO What You Want box set

    • Amy

      Oh yes, Perkiomen. Hearing him do that song with Fitz and the Tantrums was fantastic.

  • Paul Daugherty

    No Forever For You? Getaway Car? 25 better than When The Morning Comes and Las Vegas Turnaround?

  • Tom Ehlebracht

    Can we do Loggins & Messina next, Pleeaase?

  • bfox

    Love L&M …have all their albums .their reunion DVD is a must see

  • OTamandua

    “(You know) It doesn’t matter any more”. (Off the “silver cover” Hall and Oates album.)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY4PffAtLY0

    A music teacher of my son’s said the human voice reaches its peak in one’s early 30s. Daryl Hall was about 2-3 years from turning the “big 3-0” on that album, but that honestly may be my favorite H+O song, combining his voice with the wonderful instrumentation and arrangement, delivering a very poignant message.

  • Adventry App

    Love sarah smile! warms our hearts here!! http://adventryapp.com/

  • force263

    Big ups for having Some Things are Better Left Unsaid in your top 10. Dazzling is a great description. But no ManeTer? Faux Pas!

  • mamaku

    Maneater is a great song, you should try a later arrangement of the song like at Daryl’s house etc.

    Most of all nobody should be excused for not having listened to Abandoned Luncheonette.

  • Mertin

    Abandoned Luncheonette (the song) makes my list. The chorus is absolutely transcendent.

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