Back in the 1980s, pop acts didn’t get much bigger than Hall and Oates. With their radio-friendly brand of blue-eyed soul, they dominated the charts, releasing one mega-selling album after the other. Today, they rank as the most successful duo of all time, with six US number-one singles and seven platinum and six gold albums to their name. Here, we take a look back at their finest (and not so finest moments) as we rank all the Hall and Oates albums from worst to best.
18. Change of Seasons
By the turn of the 1990s, time was up on Hall and Oates’ period as pop juggernauts. Change of Seasons, their fourteenth studio LP, stalled at number 60 on the Billboard 200 and became their first album since 1979’s X-Static not to go platinum. It’s not a travesty (People even goes so far as to describe it as a “sincere, heartwarming return to a simpler style”) and there’s certainly plenty to enjoy in tracks like Sometimes a Mind Changes and Starting All Over Again. Unfortunately, the balance between thriller and filler weighs heavily on the side of the latter, resulting in a forgettable album that’s few people’s idea of essential listening.
17. Ooh Yeah!
1998’s Ooh Yeah! signaled the start of Hall and Oates’ commercial decline. It still sold well enough to go platinum (the last of their albums to do so) but it sold fewer copies than its direct predecessors and charted at a relatively disappointing 24 on the Billboard 200 – a success by other artists’ standards, but not by Hall and Oates’. The critics crucified it, calling it the duo’s worst release in a decade. But while it might not be as era-defining as some of their earlier albums, it’s by no means a travesty, with several of the songs (Soul Love, reaLove and Keep On Pushing Love, in particular) easily ranking amongst their best efforts.
16. Big Bam Boom
After a trio of excellent albums, it seemed like Hall and Oates could do no wrong. And then they released Big Bam Boom and proved they were still human after all. The album (their twelfth) has a more contemporary vibe than its predecessors, utilizing a smorgasbord of equipment and studio tricks to come up with an urban, electronic sound. While its ambition is laudable, the production is too heavy-handed to allow the duo’s song-crafting abilities to shine through. That’s not to say it’s a bad album – Out of Touch, Method of Modern Love, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid, and Bank on Your Love are all excellent songs – it’s simply not up to the very high standards that Hall and Oates had, for better or worse, set themselves.
15. Bigger than Both of Us
After their excellent fourth album, Daryl Hall & John Oates, hopes were riding high for its follow-up. Bigger than Both of Us didn’t disappoint. A strong collection of glossy, pop-oriented songs that demonstrate the duo’s strength as songwriters, it’s a worthy addition to their cannon. A commercial success, the album reached number 13 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a string of top 40 singles, including the number one smash (and album highlight) Rich Girl.
14. Home For Christmas
Artists tend to play it safe when it comes to Christmas albums, but Hall and Oates decided to buck tradition on theirs. There are plenty of familiar festive treats scattered throughout Home For Christmas, but in amongst the likes of Oh Holy Night and Jingle Bell Rock are rare gems like Robbie Robertson’s Christmas Must Be Tonight and William Bell and Booker T. Jones’ Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday. As a result, Home For Christmas manages that rare feat of being both familiar and fresh, with enough to tempt new and old fans alike.
13. Our Kind of Soul
In 2004, Hall and Oates paid tribute to the soul music that has always served as the bedrock of their music with Our Kind of Soul, a collection of songs in which the duo put a new spin on some old classics. The production is a little too mellow for the album to leave much of a lasting impression, but while it may be sleepy, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable listen.
12. Beauty on a Back Street
In September 1977, Hall and Oates continued their run of gold-selling albums with Beauty on a Back Street. Like War Babies, it finds the duo stretching beyond their trademark blue-eyed soul into arena-rock territory, but while War Babies floundered under the weight of its ambitions, the strength of the songwriting saves Beauty on a Back Street suffering a similar fate. A success on both sides of the pond, it reached number 40 in the UK Album Chart and number 30 on the US Billboard 200.
11. Marigold Sky
After kicking off the 1990s with the undistinguished Change of Seasons, Hall and Oates staged a minor creative comeback with its follow-up, Marigold Sky. Commercially, it was an even bigger disappointment than its predecessor, barely breaking into the top 100 on the Billboard 200. But artistically, it finds the duo on fine form, exploring everything from folk to funk while never straying too far from their hook-laden blue-eyed soul. Highlights include the gorgeous ballad Throw the Roses Away and the heartstopping The Sky is Falling, a song Rolling Stone describes as an exquisite midtempo piece of stately, sweet soul music that’s probably the most perfect song the pair has recorded since Sara Smile.
10. Whole Oats
Whole Oats, Hall and Oates’ debut, consists largely of demos they’d previously released on the Past Times Behind collection, albeit with a livelier sound that played on the duo’s R&B influences. It’s a little fragile in places, but when they let loose and trade the earnest, folky melancholy of the original demos for a more bombastic sound, it works brilliantly. The funky guitars and soulful horns of Fall in Philadelphia contrasts wonderfully against the song’s folky roots, while on Goodnight and Goodmorning, the soaring string arrangements and understated beauty of the harmonies combine to create something quite startlingly beautiful. The melancholy closer, Lilly (Are You Happy), and beautiful opener I’m Sorry are equally delicious.
9. Along the Red Ledge
Along the Red Ledge is very much a tale of two sides. Side two is by far the weakest of the two, consisting of a sorry collection of long, tedious rock songs blighted by jarring instrumentals and overblown production. Fortunately, the gorgeous R&B-inflected songs, wonderful performances, and stellar songwriting on side one are transcendent enough to keep the album afloat.
8. War Babies
After building a loyal fanbase with their blue-eyed soul, Hall and Oates took a massive risk with their rock-oriented third album, War Babies. The soulful, pretty ballads and lush R&B arrangements of their previous two albums were out, and in their place were cynical lyrics and clashing keyboards. When it works, it’s masterful, with producer Todd Rundgren adding plenty of subversive cool to tracks like Beanie G and the Rose Tattoo and I’m Watching You (A Mutant Romance). When it doesn’t, the duo sound ill at ease and uncomfortable. Regardless, it gave them their biggest hit till that point, reaching number 86 on the Billboard 200.
As Medium notes, 1979’s X-Static may have been Hall and Oates’ only album since War Babies to not go at least gold, but it’s crucial to their artistic development. There’s a trace of their usual slickness in the slower numbers, but this is an album that’s characterized by its sharpness, not its smoothness. Moving into the disco arena at the height of the Disco Sucks backlash wasn’t the wisest move from a commercial perspective, but even if it didn’t click with audiences at the time, it represents a vital stepping stone in the duo’s path to becoming ’80s megastars.
In October 1982, Hall and Oates dropped the biggest commercial success of their career, the platinum-selling H2O. In addition to climbing to number 3 on the Billboard 200, the album spawned a string of hit singles, not least the No. 1 smash, Maneater, and the deeply seductive One on One. It’s not quite the epic creative achievement that its predecessor, Private Eyes, is, but while there’s a little too much filler than there needs to be, there’s still more than enough creativity and top pop tunes to justify Hall and Oates’ status as one of the decade’s biggest pop acts.
5. Do It For Love
1997’s Marigold Sky was a fine, fine album, but it was far too subtle to give the duo the comeback they were shooting for. Six years later, they tried again with Do It For Love. This time, it worked. As All Music says, not only was the climate ripe for a Hall and Oates reunion, but Do It For Love was also their best album in 20 years. Sonically, it has less in common with the new wave/pop/ soul fusion of the like of Private Eyes and H2O than it does with albums like Abandoned Luncheonette and their debut, in which the production served second fiddle to the songwriting. It may not be groundbreaking, but the exemplary songcraft and focused consistency make it one of the most enjoyable albums in their catalog.
4. Daryl Hall & John Oates
After the slightly uneven War Babies, Hall and Oates returned with a bang with Daryl Hall & John Oates. There’s a couple of very minor missteps (notably the self-indulgent Ennui on the Mountain and the reggae-inflected Soldering), but those aside, it’s a remarkably strong album that returns the group to the pop-inflected blue-eyed soul of their first two albums. Standout tracks include Camellia, Alone Too Long, and their breakthrough single, Sara Smile, which became their first top ten single in 1975.
Hall and Oates kicked off the 80’s in style with Voices. If its predecessor, X-Static, had hinted at the duo’s new direction, Voices was the album that spelled it out. It became their major breakthrough, peaking at number 17 in the charts during a 100-week stay and achieving platinum status within two years. Any trace of the earnest folk of their debut has been obliterated, replaced with a melodic, highly polished fusion of pop and new wave that was destined for mainstream success. In later years, the ubiquity of hit singles like Everytime You Go Away, Kiss on My List and You Make My Dreams would turn the duo into something of an annoyance, but the eclectic delights of Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices), Big Kids, and Africa are irresistible, even now.
2. Private Eyes
One year after hitting the big time with Voices, Hall and Oates were back with their tenth studio album, Private Eyes. If Voices was big, Private Eyes was mammoth, with many viewing it as the duo’s creative and commercial apex. Released in September 1981, it hit number 5 on the Billboard 200 and earned platinum status soon after. While the production is a typically 80s affair, the vibrant, exuberant performances lend the album enough kinetic energy to stop it from dwarfing the songs. The songs themselves are faultless- from the reggae-tinged Tell Me What You Want to the handclap propelled title track, there’s not a single dud to be found.
1. Abandoned Luncheonette
Hall and Oates’ debut was a strong introduction to the group, but it was on their sophomore album, Abandoned Luncheonette, that they really set forth their powerhouse credentials. Released in November 1973, Abandoned Luncheonette failed to launch the first time around, but when it was reissued three years later, it become a hit, charting at number 33 on the Billboard 200. As Oates later explained to the Huff Post much of its success can be attributed to producer Arif Mardin, who helped the duo dig deep into their eclectic influences to create a soul-inflected, pop/rock masterpiece. “Recording that album was where we learned how songs become records. Our producer, the legendary Arif Mardin carefully crafted each song, every bit of nuance, bringing in the perfect players for the right moments. And it all worked together as one beautiful musical tapestry,” he said.