Hall and Oates are a duo you may know from ‘You Make My Dreams’, the straight up classic tune from that weird but amazing morning after scene in 500 Days of Summer. After I heard and saw that I was hooked. They have a cache of unbelievable bangers and a signature sound combining expert song writing, beautiful harmonies, funky-ass production, and a litany of top tier session musician friends. I stumbled on Abandoned Luncheonette, their second, lesser-known album and a favourite of both Daryl Hall and John Oates. They consider it their first, probably because their actual first Wild Oats was a bit of a flop. It caused them to move to NYC to start afresh recording an album with producer Arif Mardin and Atlantic Records.
In 1973, Atlantic Studios was popping off. Imagine if you will the titans of 70s music (Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin to name a few) all hanging out in the same place making some of the greatest music of all time. That’s where Hall and Oates found themselves when recording Abandoned Luncheonette, a masterpiece they both treasure. As Oates put it in an interview with American Songwriter in 2013, “It’s a special album. It was a perfect storm of creativity for us. It was the right producer in the right studio with the right musicians and the right songs all at the same time.”
Interestingly, the duo doesn’t look favourably on Side B of the record which was heavily influenced by Chris Bond who was obsessed with the Beatles. I can’t say I disagree. It is a bit Paul McCartney in its beige-ness. As such I will ignore most of it (no offence guys). The song ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’ is an exception. It’s a song about the mundanity of failure set in the once bustling derelict luncheonette an old couple worked in. It’s got that the same Philly-soul sound of Side A and the same space for Hall’s voice to shine. The inspiration for much of the album’s storytelling was the album cover picture, which was taken near Hall’s grandmothers’ house at an abandoned luncheonette (see what they did there?). It was taken by Oates’ then-girlfriend Barbara Wilson and they got busted by the cops for trespassing. That’s where this album came from. Come on, how badass is that?
“On side one, there’s not a note on that body of work that isn’t just right,” Hall said in 2013. He’s right. Every single song is crafted to perfection and for two 27-year-olds to literally make something perfect in every way makes me feel a bit sick. As Hall said “in those days, we were just kids and we were just trying.” OK what were they trying and can I get some of that please. ‘When the Morning Comes’ is like warm summer breeze, utilising then-modern synths over that sublime funky production. But the tune. This tune will change your life. I can’t describe it, it just will. ‘Had I Known You Before’ is gentle, bewitching and an encapsulation of the youthful innocence of this album. ‘Las Vegas Turnaround’ is just the maximum smooth-ness and some of the best stories of the album about Sara the stewardess: “Sara’s off on a turnaround // Flying gambling fools to the holy land, Las Vegas”. ‘I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man)’ is another coming-of-age masterpiece.
But by farrrrr my favourite is ‘She’s Gone’. I know I keep saying perfect, but I can’t stress this enough: this song is perfect. The keyboard, the synths, the lyrics, the vocals, the guitars, the trumpet solo. Again, it defies description and MUST be listened to. If you don’t love this song there’s something wrong with you. Yeah, I said it. Usually I’d be like ‘everyone’s entitled to their taste’ but sorry no with this song if you don’t like it there’s no hope for you.
What I love is that Oates can see that our generation is getting in to their ‘deep tracks’ and jamming to songs that went under the radar when they were released. He loves that people aren’t just sticking to the hit singles. They’re happy to play their hits, but these days they want to highlight some of their lesser-known diamonds. As Oates said in an interview in 2015, “Because we have such a body of work that’s virtually undiscovered by the average Joe, and I feel that music should be heard.” Let us be those Average Joes and discover the music that should be heard. Who are we to question John Oates?