I was doing a little bit of nothing yesterday when I thought, “I’m gonna compile a list of Hall and Oates’ 25 greatest songs.”
Why would any sane human compile a list of Hall and Oates’ 25 greatest songs? Easy: Because Hall and Oates are friggin’ awesome. They’re (easily) my all-time favorite musical act. I like ’em more than the Beatles, more than Tupac, more than A Tribe Called Quest, more than Michael Jackson and Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill. Truly.
As a high schooler, I used to offer up vigorous Hall and Oates defenses, only to be mocked by those worshiping here-today-gone-tomorrow crap nuggets like Warrant and Young MC and Skid Row. They called the music cheese and fluff and air filler. And, at times, perhaps they were right (God, I loathe Maneater). But, mostly, the words were uttered by people who didn’t grasp the entirely of a magnificent musical catalog. Which is understandable. We were in the 1980s, when fluff ruled the airwaves.
But Hall and Oates, well, they’re far more than fluff.
I’m babbling. Below is my ranking of the duo’s 25 best songs. It has nothing to do with popularity, and everything to do with depth and quality.
1. Rich Girl (1976)—Every so often Rolling Stone does one of those 100 Greatest Songs of All Time issues, and Rich Girl never makes it. Which is insane, because it’s a truly brilliant piece of songwriting. For a long time, the belief was the song was about Patty Hearst and her kidnapping/brainwashing. It wasn’t. Hall actually wrote it about a spoiled guy he knew, but changed the focus to a woman. The vocals are A+, and I’ve always loved the simplicity of a moment 1:28 in, when Hall utters a little “Oooh” for no apparent reason.
2. She’s Gone (1976)—It’s just a perfect song in so many ways—the duality of the split vocals, the merging of two opposite voices, the harmonizing, the lyrics (“Worn as the toothbrush hanging in the stand”). The final minute or so—with Hall and Oates engaging in a vocal battle—is an Oreo dipped in cold milk. It’s a song everyone knows, but not enough people appreciate.
3. Wait for Me (1979)—Some Hall & Oates hits are definitive. This one isn’t, even though it was a Top 20 single off of X-Static, the duo’s final (and fairly crappy) album of the 1970s. But the vocals are just gangsta, and the guitar solo doesn’t go on too long—as most did during the time period.
4. Georgie (1972)—I’m one of seven Americans who know this song, and I’m fairly convinced neither Hall nor Oates remember the lyrics. It’s off their oft-overlooked-but-absolutely-fantastic studio debut, “Whole Oates,” and I love everything about it. Hall’s voice is so young. The story (about a young girl’s death) is captivating. I used to sing it to my children every night, though instead of dying the girl sneezes.
5. I’m Just a Kid (Don’t Make Me Feel Like a Man) (1973)—When people think Hall and Oates vocals, they think Hall. Which makes sense. His voice is otherworldly. If he’s not on a Whitney Houston level, he’s close behind. Oates, on the other hand, is merely a very good singer. There’s no shame in that. It’s just, well, compared to his partner, eh, there’s no comparison. The thing is, Oates has some awesome songs, and this is the best of the best. He wrote it, and it’s about entering manhood but not feeling quite ready. The lyrics spoke to me when I was, oh, 24ish, and still do.
6. Can’t Stop the Music (He Played it Much too Long) (1974)—This one is also written and sung by Oates. It’s off the War Babies album, which is sorta obscure and sorta great. I actually asked Oates about this in Quaz No. 66, because it seems funny that he’s nearly 70 and still performing, and the song’s about a singer who doesn’t know when to quit. I love everything about this tune. It has a certain Motown quality.
7. So Close (1990)—This was really Hall & Oates’ final pop hit. It peaked at No. 11 in 1990, and wound up on a lot of radio rotation. Here’s the interesting thing: The song, in and of itself, it fantastic. But it was produced by Jon Bon Jovi, and Hall hated the final product. So, on the same album, the duo included the acoustic version—which takes a fabulous song and turns it into all-time great material.
8. Ennui on the Mountain (1975)—Forty years ago, Hall and Oates posed in women’s makeup on the cover of their fourth studio album—kicking off a decade of people thinking them to be gay and lovers. It’s a friggin’ terrific record, and this song is Hall as an elite vocalist. I actually think it’s an impossible song not to like.
9. Sara Smile (1975)—It’s sorta unfortunate how, if you love a band, you grow to turn indifferent toward the biggest hits. “Sara Smile” is a complete song, it’s perfect vocally—and I’ve heard it 876,432 times. Which means I’m tired of it. That said, it’s fantastic and vintage Hall and Oates.
10. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid (1984)—My Bar Mitzvah was in 1985, and I handed out singles of this song. Nobody heard of it, nobody cares. But it’s friggin’ dazzling in all ways. Still holds up.
11.Did it in a Minute (1981)—The 1980s were Hall & Oates’ most successful era—and my least-favorite era for their music. Yeah, lots of good stuff. But also a fair amount of cheese. This song, though, leaps off of a relatively ordinary album. Again, a lot of Motown influence in Hall’s vocals.
12. Adult Education (1984)—I’ve always been a little bit embarrassed to proclaim my love for this one, because it’s an 80s tune with a cheesy video. But, really, it’s terrific. And find me a tune that better speaks to the awful pressure that comes with being a high schooler.
13. Goodnight and Goodmorning (1972)—The wife lists this as her favorite H&O song. It’s simple, it’s pleasurable, it’s all about love and togetherness. If anyone besides the most loyal fans (and my wife) knew it, it’d have served many a wedding.
14. Family Man (1982)—A little-known fact. “Family Man” is not a Hall and Oates original. Nope. It was originally performed by Mike Oldfield, who released it in, eh, 1982. I’m not entirely sure what Hall and Oates were thinking, but they covered it, made it 1,000 times better and had a hit. Credit to Oldfield—it’s an awesome song. But he wasn’t a singer of Hall’s caliber.
15. Fall in Phildelphia (1972)—I’m a huge fan of songs that are adopted for civic pride, but actually mock the very people singing it. Daryl and John spent their younger years in Philly, had a rough stretch, put together a song bemoaning the city (The shower stall is leakin’/And the ceiling’s fallin’ in/And I’m getting twenty bills to every letter) and Philadelphia loved it.
16. I Can’t Go For That (1981)—I never loved this song. Then I started hearing it everywhere in hip-hop. Seriously, name a tune that’s been more sampled. The beat is infectious, the lyrics terrific. So not only has it grown on me, but it may well be the duo’s most famous song.
17. It’s a Laugh (1978)—“Along the Red Ledge” is not a Hall and Oates classic album, but this song is. It’s Hall’s “F*ck you” message to a lover, and it resonates.
18. Had I Known You Better Then (1973)—Simply beautiful vocals and arrangement. Oates doesn’t sing as well as Hall, but he’s a better songwriter. This is a perfect example.
19. Camellia (1975)—A couple of years ago Hall and Oates starter performing this live again. It’s a really obscure Oates song, and it’s fabulous 100 different ways. I know it’s pretty cliché, but the staying power of the duo is the musical uniqueness. They’re two white guys who sound Motown; who ooze soul. Perfect example: Camellia.
20. Method of Modern Love (1984)—It’s pure cheese nearly the entire way through. I mean, truly, it’s a bad song (and the video—sheesh). And then—boom! Hall starts quasi-skatting his way over the final minute, and it’s friggin’ magical. It’s something Hall does better than anyone else out there. He takes a song, deviates from the lyircs, ad-libs, jumps around. And it always works.
21. Everytime You Go Away (1980)—Hall and Oates’ biggest commercial blunder. The song came out in 1980, but wasn’t released as a single. Five years later, Paul Young covers it and hits No. 1 on the Billboard charts. The H&O version is much better.
22. Promise Ain’t Enough (1997)—This was on “Marigold Sky,” Hall and Oates’ comeback album after a seven-year hiatus. The record sucks really bad. I mean, it’s a turd, and most of the stuff sounds like it was recorded in two studios far, far away. The album cover speaks for the album—dumb, lame, bad. That being said, I really dig this song.
23. You Make My Dreams (1980)—Huge hit, catchy as herpes. It’s a pure pop song, and I don’t usually love pure pop songs. But this thing is infectious.
24. Say It Isn’t So (1983)—My wife hates this song. I love this song. Reminds me of being a kid, watching MTV, blah, blah, blah. Not the best thing they’ve ever done, but still killer.
25. It’s Uncanny (1977)—Had I been doing this list five years ago, this is a Top 10. Grew a little fatigued, but still a strong piece of music and another Motown ode.