Friday, August 8, 2008

Daryl Hall & John Oates -- "She's Gone" (1973)

When I saw Daryl Hall and John Oates perform in concert over a year ago at SUNY Purchase, it was then that I realized how unbelievably successful these two artists were in the 70's and 80's. They performed for over 90 minutes and believe me when I say that they could have done several more of their greatest hits no problem. Some artists can fill a greatest hits album with several songs... these guys can do a double album easily.

In 1975, I entered the dorms at SUNY Buffalo with a cast of characters from all over the state, everybody bringing their own musical taste blasting from their phonographs. One of the freshmen on my wing, Paul, began dating a sophomore named Elyse, who was absolutely obsessed with Hall and Oates, whom I had never heard of. She played the "silver" album repeatedly, which had the duo in glam feminine makeup, which dogged their reputation for years (see right). When "Sara Smile" broke out as a hit, their old record company Atlantic re-released the single "She's Gone" from their Abandoned Luncheonette album to capitalize on that success, and it followed right up the charts.

Back in the earlier RCA days, Hall & Oates were bouncing back and forth between folk rock ("When The Morning Comes," "Las Vegas Turnaround") and some of the blue-eyed soul that would blossom later on. Abandoned Luncheonette, produced by recording legend Arif Mardin, had an artsy existential-looking cover, nothing that conveyed the real slickness that brought these guys fame, but it was the favorite of many fans. Although Hall and Oates took over the production duties for all of their future albums, Mardin was an inspired choice, having overseen The Rascals (another group of black-music fixated white boys), Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, and Dusty Springfield earlier.

Daryl Hall was the talkative, good looking blond guy who sang the majority of the lead vocals and played keyboards. When I saw him perform in 2006, let's just say he was pretty well preserved. John Oates always had a great, more throaty rock kind of voice, bore the trademark mustache, but he remained much quieter as a stage presence and interviewee, swaying off to the side on his rhythm guitar.

"She's Gone," as with a number of their other future hits, would be reminiscent of the Philly soul hitting its zenith right about the time it came out. Along with San Francisco's Boz Scaggs, it must have seemed quite unusual to see prominent white guys cop off this distinct slick black style of music. Based on a simple major two-chord motif with a steady bass note in the verses, "She's Gone" has the classic twangy wah-wah guitar chords, Mardin-arranged strings that climb into the choruses, a big fat thumping electric bass, and the kind of descending chord pattern in the chorus that Philly soul hits were made of. As a musician/composer, I was very into that simple two-chord verse pattern and the way Hall and Oates used the tension of those root notes. Looking back at their catalog, those two were tremendously talented composers.

Everybody's high on consolation
Everybody's trying to tell me what is right for me, yeah
My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon
But it's plain to see that they can't comfort me

Sorry Charlie for the imposition
I think I've got it, I got the strength to carry on, yeah
I need a drink and a quick decision
Now it's up to me, ooh what will be?

She's gone she's gone
Oh why? Oh why?
I better learn how to face it
She's gone She's gone
Oh why? Oh why?
I'd pay the devil to replace her
She's gone She's gone
Oh why? Oh why?
What went wrong?

Get up in the morning, look in the mirror
One less toothbrush hanging in the stand
My face ain't looking any younger
Now I can see love's taken a toll on me

While a three-and-a-half minute single was edited for Top 40 radio, they cut out much of the good stuff from the full 5:15 version. Some of the song's little and big highlights for me: the 1-2 knocked claves in the song's opening, the repeated "got it, got it" in the second verse, the short soprano sax solo that slides in at the end of the second chorus, and most definitely the huge break towards the end when the song goes up three half keys, the strings and horns powering it up each step along with a sharp electric guitar lead and the bass rolling upwards each time.

Here's Hall and Oates and their band performing "She's Gone" live in 1976 on the great UK program "Old Grey Whistle Test."

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