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Music Review: Daryl Hall and John Oates – Do What You Want Be What You Are (Box set)

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It's no secret. When it comes to music, I get nostalgic. Step into my office or ride with me in the car and you're just as likely to hear me playing an album that came out in the '70s or '80s as you are to hear something released last week. My kids would be the first to agree if you accused me of being lost in time, but I protest.

Sure, part of the appeal of music from the past is the memories tied to it. It seems like yesterday "Private Eyes" and "Maneater" were blaring through the speakers as we danced beneath the red and blue reflections from a disco ball in the high school gym. I remember driving a car without a parent in the front seat for the first time – "Rich Girl" was cranked on the radio. However, to say I thoroughly enjoyed this box set strictly for the memories it recalled would be a gross understatement. When it comes right down to it, these are classic songs, written by major talents. Do I sound like a curmudgeon if I say 'they just don't write 'em like that anymore'? So be it.

Known for the blues-tinged brand of rock and roll, the duo burst on the scene in 1972 with their debut release Whole Oates and released a total of 18 albums, including a covers album in 2004 and a Christmas album in 2006. They reached their apex of popularity in the early '80s with the platinum and double platinum releases Voices (1980), Private Eyes (1981), H2O (1982), and Big, Bam, Boom (1984). Most of the chart-topping singles that adorn Disc 3 of this four-disc collection come from those albums, which would make you think it's my favorite of the bunch. I'll admit it's spent a good amount of time spinning in the CD player, but the real treasure of the box set is the collection of gold nuggets: live performances and previously unreleased tracks.

Disc one opens with three songs that precede the formation of the duo. "Girl I love You" and "Say These Words of Love" were written/co-written by Daryl Hall and performed by the group the Temptones, which Hall fronted. In '66 Oates co-wrote "I Need Your Love" and performed it with the Masters. In these three tunes you get a good sense of each man's individual roots and can almost guess (if you didn't already know) where the sound is going to go when they join forces. We're then treated to 11 or those early hits from the late '70s. The disc concludes with five previously unreleased live performances from 1975. All songs were recorded from the same October 3rd show at the New Victoria Theater in London.

Time marches forward and the hits continue on disc two. Sprinkled amongst the singles are a previously unreleased remix of "Gino" (from 2009) a seven inch remix of "I Don't Wanna Lose You", and a live performance of "Everytime You Go Away" (Also previously unreleased from 1996). That live performance is the special gift on this disc. Simply stated, it's a great rendition of a classic song. This track, along with "Rich Girl", "You've Lost that Loving Feeling", and "Kiss on My List" will be the most familiar to your ears, but by no means define the disc. Every song marks another rung on the ladder of Hall and Oates history and carries you up to the previously mentioned third disc, a shrine to their biggest hits from the 80s. Two live performances ("Possession Obsession" and "The Way You Do the Things You Do/My Girl") and a previously unreleased "Don't Go Out" are highlights, if only because they are new aural treats for the ears.

Disc four is a treasure trove of those extras and live performances that make collections like this special and worth the cost of admission. Because no matter how nostalgic a person gets, a box set that contains nothing more than the songs every fanatic already owns isn't a value. Here is where this set not only meets expectations but leaves them in the dust. Fans will love these renditions of the songs they love and the collection is still compilation enough to be enjoyed by the casual fan who doesn't already own the hits or someone who is just discovering the classic songs.

In addition to the four discs, a glossy, full-color book is included. In its 59 pages are typical liner notes, and commentary on each and every song that includes observations from Hall and Oates. It's the perfect companion for those of us who like to get in a songwriter's mind and know what they were thinking when they wrote the songs that became the soundtrack to our lives.

Do What You Want Be What You Are will whittle away the hours whether you're taking a walk down memory lane or longing to enjoy the quality, soulful rock music.

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About Connie Phillips

  • Greg Barbrick

    I love Hall & Oates, and as a fan probably have most of the previously released material. I was wondering about some of the better goodies on disc 4. Anything especially stand out?

  • zingzing

    hall’s 1980 solo record, sacred songs, is incredible. it was actually recorded in 1977 with robert fripp (king crimson, bowie, eno, etc,) and uses bunches of tape loops and a punk rock sound some of the time. really strange.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    yeah, “Burn Me Up, I’m A Cigarette” is probably as far away from Hall & Oates as you can get.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Hall and Oates are still alive?

    Dave

  • zingzing

    ketchup, dave.

  • http://www.constancephillips.com Connie Phillips

    Greg — I love live recordings, so the whole disc is stand-out for me, but if you’re going to make me pick “Starting All Over Again” and “Me and Mrs. Jones” are both great.

    Zingzing & Mark — Agreed.

    Stay tuned. We’ll be launching a giveaway for this set next week.

  • zingzing

    larry levan’s mix of “maneater” is amazing. but “babs and babs” on sacred songs is just ridiculous.

  • Greg Barbrick

    I have seen them twice, once in 1984 with old-school MTV vee-jay Mark Goodman introducing them, and more recently at The Pier in Seattle.

    At The Pier they did “Me And Mrs. Jones” and it blew me away. I wasn’t sure about the box, but now I am. If disc four is all live, then it is a “must” for me.

    Thanks for the great review.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/justin-kantor/ Justin Kantor

    Hall & Oates were one of the first groups outside the landscape of funk and soul that I took a liking to. Their accessible–yet meaty — brand of rhythm, pop, and blues holds a unique appeal. A few years ago, I discovered for myself some of their earlier LP’s such as Whole Oats and Along the Red Ledge, and really dug ‘em. Your review of this box set has re-piqued my interest. Thanks!