Hall and Oates Still Shaping Soul Music John Oates talks to Farai Chideya about being half of one of the most popular blue-eyed soul groups, their continued success with black fans, and the group's influence on modern-day music.
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Hall and Oates Still Shaping Soul Music

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Hall and Oates Still Shaping Soul Music

Hall and Oates Still Shaping Soul Music

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Popular rock duo Daryl Hall and John Oates practically own the charts in the late 1970s and early '80s with hits like "I Can't Go For That" and "Maneater." If sales are the true test of a group's success, Hall & Oates passed with flying colors. Another test, though, was the impact their music has on younger musicians.

Just check out modern hits from Kanye West and Rhymefest…

(Soundbite of song, "Fight with the Best")

Mr. KANYE WEST (Singer): (Singing) I can fight with the best.

Unidentified Man #1 (Singer): (Singing) But I can only go.

RHYMEFEST (Singer): (Singing) But I can go another round. Another MC(ph) came to my show and they watched me put the low.

CHIDEYA: …to the Wu-Tang Clan.

(Soundbite of song, "Method Man")

WU-TANG CLAN (Singing Group): (Singing) M-E-T-H-O-D-O-F-L-O-V-E.

Mr. CLIFFORD SMITH (Singer): (Rapping) M-E-T-H-O-D. Method Man, here, I am. Here, I am, the Method Man.

CHIDEYA: Countless other musicians pay tribute to this day. Modern music wouldn't be the same if Daryl Hall and John Oates hadn't met up by accident while fleeing a gunfight back in the '60s. And their influence is so wide that chances are, even if you don't like Hall & Oates, you got to love Hall & Oates.

Forty years later, Hall & Oates are still at it. And John Oates joins me now. Thanks for coming on.

Mr. JOHN OATES (Singer, Hall & Oates): Thank you very much for having me.

CHIDEYA: So, when was the last time that you heard that your music was being sampled by another artist? I mean, it must happen so much, but tell me your reaction when you hear someone else is sampling your music.

Mr. OATES: Well, you know, it's been happening for such a long time. It's really not very unusual at all. And I'm quite used to it. In fact, we were one of the earliest, earliest groups to be sampled. In fact, I think it was the late '80s or the early '90s, De La Soul was one of the first groups that ever sampled us. They did a sample on "I Can't Go for That." And they called it "Say No Go." And they used a portion of that song.

(Soundbite of song, "Say No Go")

Mr. VINCENT MASON (Singer, De La Soul): (Singing) You got the body. Now you want my soul.

Mr. KELVIN MERCER (Singer, De La Soul): (Singing) No, I can't have none of that. Tell 'em what to say, Mase.

Mr. MASON: (Singing) Say no go.

Mr. OATES: And that's - of all the songs we've ever had, "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" is probably the most sampled song that we've ever had.

(Soundbite of song, "Say No Go")

Mr. MASON: (Singing) Say no go.

Mr. OATES: I love to hear other people's interpretations of what we've done. I think that's the beauty of it all because once you, you know, you've written a song, you've, you know, you've done it. You know, we don't feel that much proprietary feeling toward that song after it's been written because we did what we did. And then it's kind of interesting to hear what other people - how they interpret it.

CHIDEYA: So you guys have done some interpretation yourself.

Mr. OATES: We did a whole album of soul classics called "Our Kind of Soul" about three years ago - three or four years ago. So…

CHIDEYA: How did you pick the songs on that album?

Mr. OATES: Well, the songs in that album were really, you know, the theme behind that album was not so much a tribute album to the songs of our past so they're not so much influential to us as little kids, you know, in those terms, but songs that we just felt were just really great songs that would stand the test of time and could be reinterpreted in - for today in our style. And that's why it was called "Our Kind of Soul" because we took soul classics but we did them in our way, in the way that we've evolved as artists. And that Hall & Oates sound - we wanted to do those classic songs in our style.

CHIDEYA: That sound has gotten you seven platinum albums, six gold albums, 34 hit singles on the Billboard Top 100. How would you describe that sound?

Mr. OATES: Well, you know, it's interesting. We come from Philadelphia, so at the basis of everything, at the root of all of our influences, it's Philadelphia soul. And that's where we come from. And that's really kind of been our trademark.

CHIDEYA: So you're talking about Philly soul today - when people hear Philly soul, they might think Musiq Soulchild or they might think of, you know, so many of the other artists. The roots are obviously hip-hop, but they come out of a tradition of drawing on Philly soul. Do you ever get to interact with any of the people who are of that type of Philly soul?

Mr. OATES: Well, it's starting to happen now because a lot of these newer artists and younger artists are paying tribute to us in a lot of ways by talking about us in the press and using us and touting us as influences on their music. So we're starting to come in contact with a lot of people - Gym Class Heroes and The Killers, and all these new bands who have been heavily influenced by us over the years. And because of that fact, we're actually starting to even collaborate with them.

CHIDEYA: So you worked with the Handsome Boy Modeling School along with the RZA and De La Soul on their album, "White People." And the track you were on was "Greatest Mistake." Kind of a departure from the Handsome Boy Modeling School's style, which I loved but it can be kind of campy. So why did - why do you think that you working with them on that took them to a more sincere or grounded style?

Mr. OATES: Dan the Automator - he's the producer and mixer. He just called me and his management called me and said he had an idea for a song. And he wanted me to collaborate with Jamie Cullum. And I said, great, sounds fantastic. And I went to the studio not knowing what to expect. And I basically started writing the song on the spot. You know, right there. It turned into that particular song.

So really, the beginning of the song, it all started with Dan and his idea. And he had this idea of, like, going through life and what would be a greatest mistake if someone's thinking back on - ruminating on what could possibly be the thing that, you know, they might regret the most in their life. And I thought it was a provocative idea and I went with it.

(Soundbite of song, "Greatest Mistake")

HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL (Singing Group): (Singing) I made the greatest mistake of my life…

CHIDEYA: So what's been your greatest mistake on today, the moment where you were, like, oh, my God, I can't believe we did that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OATES: Uh-oh. I would probably say just years ago when we - I just finished the "Abandoned Luncheonette" album and we were perceived to be a sincere, I mean, not sincere but sensitive, quiet kind of folky songs singer-songwriters. We came out with this record called "War Babies." And we played this little coffeehouse near Philadelphia called The Main Point, which is known for its very traditional folk artists who had played there over the years. And I'll never forget when my mom and dad were sitting in a little table and we had done two shows. And they were there for the second show. And written on the table in big, giant letters were, these guys suck. That was so funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OATES: So I thought that maybe - maybe that was it.

CHIDEYA: Well, the Q magazine, you know, the British magazine, just came back and said "War Babies" was one of the most underrated records around. So you're still capturing plenty of attention. John, have a great time with the rest of your gigs.

Mr. OATES: All right. Thanks very much.

CHIDEYA: John Oates is the curly-haired half of the group Hall & Oates. If you're in the Los Angeles area, you can catch Hall & Oates at the Hollywood Bowl tonight and tomorrow, September 6th and 7th.

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