Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Had I Known You Better Then, I Would've Said Those Three Ol' Words -- Daryl Hall/John Oates's Abandoned Luncheonette

While I do try to keep (negative) reputations from influencing what unfamiliar things I will listen to, it does mean that they're often things I won't go after quickly. Artists with a reputation for flaccid or sneer-inducing pop I tend not to judge near so harshly, but not knowing which will really strike a chord with me means I'm wary of touching any of them without some point of familiarity. Mix in the fact that, my current and varied and peculiar knowledge notwithstanding, I used to have no idea who wrote or sang this song or that one and it doesn't help much. Of course, those who were at a point of absorbing a lot of those facts when artists were regularly and visibly releasing music can say, "They did..." and hum or sing a few bars, sometimes even just name a song and things will fall into place. Recommendations when I stumble into something, too, can help with this.

One day a few years back, I was flipping through a crate of duplicate and unwanted records my father had, taking what I wanted for myself. After picking out the known quantities--a copy of my favourite Beach Boys album (Surf's Up) as well as the double-LP reissue that combined their later album So Tough by "Carl and the Passions," named for a pre-Beach Boys group Carl was in, packaged with Pet Sounds; The Association's Greatest Hits; and newly-appreciated-to-me Sparks' debut under that name, A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing (they were called Halfnelson and released a self-titled debut under that name, but renamed themselves Sparks and the album was reissued as eponymously as that instead), I was left sorting through mostly obscure disco, pop, and electronic music, the dance/electronic end very much derived from the taste of one of his friends. Things like Michael Garrison's 1979 debut In the Regions of Sunreturn, which is out of print even on CD, or Larry Fast's 1975 debut as Synergy, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra, which is an utterly fantastic album that made the charts in its day--#68, anyway--but is sort of lost today. There were some other in-between sorts of known quantities like Golden Earring's 1975 album Switch, sandwiched between 1973's Moontan (which spawned the huge hit "Radar Love") and 1982's Cut (which spawned the other big hit, "Twilight Zone").

There was one other album that managed to jump out at me, simply because it looked a bit odd, had names I knew, and had those names arranged in a peculiar fashion:

I was hesitant but beginning to explore the realms of the bands I'd been told for years to avoid as lame pop, so I asked my father about it. I was told it was actually a really good album and, being as it was free, shrugged and went on with it. I don't know--maybe in my head there was some increased integrity from it being framed as a collaborative album between two people, rather than a condensed, chopped group-sounding name, or a credit that deviates from the "known" quantity of "Hall and Oates."

Now, yes, I knew Pet Sounds and Surf's Up, so those were no surprise. But I failed to listen to a lot of the other albums more than once or twice, to this day. I'll talk about Synergy some other time, but Abandoned Luncheonette, the 1973 source of "She's Gone," a hit for "Hall and Oates," after they were regularly credited that way, reissued to capitalize on later successes, really caught my ear. Much like I felt about Big Star the first time I listened to their first albums, this, for lack of a better phrasing, sounded like vinyl. It had just the right tempo, the right production, to watch the swirling black disc, and feel the connection between what I was hearing and what I was seeing. In a weird way, though naturally it was impossible, I felt like I had dropped back in time and was hearing this album fresh around its release. This effect may not exist for anyone else and, indeed, this version of the song is significantly slowed (likely to avoid being removed), but it is the opener, "When the Morning Comes," which saunters along at a pace that seems to match the emphasized guitar strums with a completed revolution:

Now, the funniest part of all, to be sure, is that I'd had years of "Ew, Hall and Oates," broadcast to me from various circles, but had no idea what they sounded like. I didn't know what songs were so loathsome, nor what songs I'd heard myself and whether I liked them unknowingly myself. This was a completely blank listening for me, so no preconceptions or notions existed to colour what I thought would come out of the slab of vinyl I'd just dropped the needle on. I didn't know what to expect after this ridiculously catchy and appealingly-produced (by Arif Mardin, incidentally, who started out as assistant to the brother of Atlantic Records founder/president Ahmet Ertegün, Nesuhi Ertegün), but the album just kept on with the quality, rolling through some nervous, comfortably naïve love songs like "Had I Known You Better Then" and "I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)," alongside somewhat more mature-narrator songs like "Las Vegas Turnaround," which starts off with the line, "Sara's off on a turnaround," which is the first reference to Hall's then-girlfriend, Sara Allen, later more openly and famously referenced in the song "Sara Smile."

They earn the label "blue-eyed soul" (barring any offense incurred by the term) with the fourth track, "She's Gone," which is subdued and slightly funky through the verses, until it builds to a fully soul-styled pair of vocals in the chorus, echoing each other until they come together and emphatically mourn a loss for which they'd "pay the devil to replace her." It's not a wonder that this song was a hit, it is a shame that it had to be covered before anyone noticed it--Lou Rawls amd Tavares brought it into the limelight and allowed it to climb the charts three years after its release, hitting #7 in 1976 and thankfully earning its place on future hits collections and best ofs.

The album has a relatively steady place in my listening. It's a great album for listening to on a rainy day in low-light, not to revel in depression, but for a warm, comfortable feeling in the dark and the wet, like the forlorn looks of kids longing to play outside in a television show on a rainy day, lost in thought. A strange association, I realize, but the most intense and visceral of my responses often connect back to images, feelings, or ideas I can't quite make sense of like that.

Now, since then I've decided quite readily that I need to listen to more of their work, even if I like having this island of fantastic soul-inflected pop to return to with no clear connections to anything on either side of itself. Of course, I've come to be informed, realize and read that I know various Hall and Oates songs--"Maneater," "Kiss on My List," and "Private Eyes," for example. Of course, the one that has stuck out for me, likely reflecting my endless, slightly temporally-distorted nostalgia for 1980s pop, is "You Make My Dreams." Nothing like a grungy, punchy, funky keyboard riff to catch my attention, especially when matched with an emphasized beat like that.

Oddly, Voices, the album from which it originates, is not one I see floating around any stores--ever. Used on vinyl or CD, new in the latter format--it just doesn't appear. Of course, the swarms of Rock 'n Soul, Part 1 are unsurprising as tends to be the case with "best of" compilations, but the regular appearance of all four follow up albums is a source of mild annoyance to me with some of its own regularity.

It's not a surprise to have the "ew, pop" designator stripped from yet another group, considering I spent high school occasionally maligned--by friends, no less--for my endless affection for Robert Palmer that started, as it did for many people around my age, with the most well-known of songs, "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistible"--though I always preferred the latter, something of a sin, itself. But that's all another story, and a bit of an important one for one of my favourite topics, that of being careful what you discard on basis of surface judgment, reputation, or assumed designation of unimportant "pop dross." We'll get there, though.

I have not linked this to create revenue for me, so think of this purely as a link to make sure you consider purchasing this great music I tell you about. Here's the Amazon page for the album on CD and in MP3 format, both because the CD is actually currently cheaper.

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