Maximum Performance

The Hipster Renewalism of Hall & Oates

Maximum Performance

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Daryl Hall and John Oates

Hall & Oates has never won a Grammy but the No. 1 selling duo of all time has won something else: hipster respect.

Putting aside those shoulder pads for a moment, Daryl Hall and John Oates looked like hand-picked opposites: The lanky blond Hall called himself the "more flamboyant" one, while the shorter dark-haired Oates — with his distinctive 'stache — embraced his role as "worker bee."

Related: Watch Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival Streaming Live From San Francisco

But their union came from no design, except by the music gods: The Temple University students met in an elevator, both trying to duck a gunfight that had broken out at the Adelphi Ballroom in 1967. Forty-six years later, they're performing as a duo--again--at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Aug. 11. Not that they ever abandoned their partnership, but the two have been working on solo projects.

Their legions of fans of their Philly soul sound and/or their synthesized '80s pop have been swelling anew — some who are sheepishly acknowledging their GenX affection, others who weren't born when "Sara Smile" peaked at No. 4 on Billboard in 1976. Even critics who swatted Hall & Oates with the "yacht rock" label have been begrudgingly moved by persistent YouTube tributes, movie and TV callouts, social media adulation, even a "Callin' Oates" hotline. Oh yes, and just plain ol' addictive beats.

While the pair have said that there's no creative future for them, they've been keen to be a part of this revival. Let's take a look at what's brought them this musical reincarnation.


House rules. Reality TV and music artists were pretty commonplace by the time Darryl Hall laid down $40K to launch his free Web series, "Live From Daryl’s House," in 2007. But what made the series different wasn't just its relaxed tone as he and friends got together and did everything from singing to making banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). The show re-created a public identity for the lead singer. "I'm a firm believer in the intergenerational interplay," Hall once told Billboard. "In order for an artist to really achieve significance you have to go out of your own generation, and luckily, I think I've pulled that off."

Hall incidentally will be going the way of Vanilla Ice — to house renovations. He's not redoing his "Live From" home but aiming his hammer at a Connecticut one-bedroom in "Daryl's Restoration Over-Hall," to air on DIY Network in 2014. Meanwhile, a clip from his Web series:


Rocking the yacht. Platinum records means somebody was buying their albums — an awful lot of somebodies — but even ironic references to Hall & Oates weren't in vogue. It was as if a giant pop culture sinkhole had swallowed them up, until the 2005-2010 mockumentary series, "Yacht Rock," which featured a psychopathic Oates controlling a blubbery Hall. And the duo was down with that.

"I think Yacht Rock was the beginning of this whole Hall & Oates resurrection," John Oates told the Seattle Weekly in 2007. "They were the first ones to start to parody us and put us out there again, and a lot of things have happened because of Yacht Rock."

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(YouTube)


The Stern Factor. Billboard pinpointed part of the H&0 revival to the 2007 visit with another aging icon, Howard Stern. Hall's frank talk about Lyme disease (and his murderous impulses towards tick-carrying deer) and sexual escapades "earned something that largely eluded them during their heyday: street cred." Hall's performance of "Kiss Is On My List":


"Ghetto pass." Even as pop-culture gatekeepers packed away Hall & Oates along with leg warmers, big hair, and padded power suits, they got what Gym Class Heroes rapper Travis McCoy called the "ghetto pass." Subliminal slivers of their songs have made it into tracks by Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep. Brandon Flowers of the Killers rhapsodzed about his guilty pleasure to Spin magazine. "I like Hall & Oates. I really like Hall & Oates. 'Rich Girl' is one of the best songs ever written, and you can quote me on that."

McCoy, who has Hall's and Oates's faces tattooed on his hands, reminded New York Magazine, "Dude, they played the [bleep] Apollo with the Temptations. Lauryn Hill got booed there, and Hall & Oates got a standing ovation."


Bluebirds of happiness. Not too many movie musicals these days, but the 2009 breakout romantic hit "500 Days of Summer" had the eternally talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing with an animated bluebird to "You Make My Dreams." That 1981 song also got another kind of giddy pickup in the 2008 "Step Brothers." The duo's bluesy song "Sara Smile" made it to the soundtracks of "The Fighter" (2010), "Bad Teacher" (2011), and the 2013 series finale of "The Office."

And then there was the cover band in the 2010 comedy, "She's Out of My League."


The 'stache.. Besides '80s music, the mustache has had a curious renaissance as well. The bristles borne by Oates didn't just define his contrast from his puff-haired, clean-shaven mate. His bewhiskered extravagance, especially for a guy measuring a petite 5'4", practically hid his upper lip, unintentionally adding to a pursed look of creative concentration. He has since then shaven his mustache, although he had a slimmed-down handlebar when he sat down with VH1 to evaluate the mustache, which he described as "the sartorial version of a prow of a boat."

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(Getty Images)


Hall me, maybe. Welcome to Call'n Oates, your emergency Hall... and Oates helpline. As a new employee at the Twilio startup, creator Michael Selvidge came up with 719-26-OATES. It's mad retro, calling a hotline for eight song choices and harking back to a time when cash registers were involved in music sales. Actually, "Every Time You Go Away" (option 3) came out in 1980, three years before one Gordon Matthews got a patent for something called voicemail.

 

And Selvidge, in an interview with the Atlantic Wire, wanted to make sure the world knew he had only good intentions. "I'm not trying to make fun of Hall and Oates. ... I do sort of recognize the cheesy factor but I actually do appreciate their music and I do actually listen to it and they are one of my favorite bands. It's definitely an affectionate thing."


Meme potential. Another requirement for hipster revivalism: one's meme-ability. The duo may just have been hand-designed made for memes.

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(quickmeme.com)


Home shopping. OK, so hawking your greatest hits on QVC doesn't seem like hipsterism — unless you think of a platinum-selling duo on the home shopping TV as a kind of nirvana irony. The twosome performed to sell their boxed set, "Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates." In the first hour, 5,000 sold, and the set peaked at No. 89 on the Billboard 200.


Amateur tribute bands. The shameless singability of Hall & Oates has made their doo-wop repertoire a karaoke natural and, in later years, a YouTube staple. But more than that, people like San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum could feel free to confess how songs like "Sara Smile" and "Maneater" helped them through tough adolescent times.

Ten million-plus views just for a photo collage and this song:

The electric euphoria of "You Make My Dreams" inspired Martin Ballew's video production class at Shorewood High to sing the defining '80s classic backward. The class project has racked up more than 2 million views to date.

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