9 Tracks that Rock by Daryl Hall and John Oates

One of the most successful and popular songwriting duos of all time, Daryl Hall and John Oates have notched 16 Top-10 hits, including six No. 1s and millions in album sales. What has made the Grammy-nominated team immensely popular is their ability to intertwine R&B, soul, and rock sounds into a melodic mix that highlights the great blended vocal harmonies created from Hall’s tenor and Oates’ baritone. While they have always possessed an R&B and pop accessibility, the talented twosome (who are sadly estranged as of late) have released some songs that rocked out more than others.

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Following is a list of nine Hall & Oates tunes from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that fall more on the rock scale, with Oates singing lead on three of them. Although their music pulls from many influences, their slightly harder rock side is not as often appreciated, particularly many of the deep cuts explored here.

“Alley Katz” from Along the Red Ledge (1978)

There’s a garage-rock energy to this very guitar-heavy track, and it doesn’t hurt that Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen lends his six-string skills here. If you’re used to poppier Hall & Oates singles like “Kiss on My List” and “Out of Touch,” you’ll be surprised at the punk-like verve of this song. It’s a refreshingly different part of their repertoire. Along the Red Ledge is the most rock-oriented of their 18-album catalog. Fun fact: Steve Lukather, Todd Rundgren, Dick Wagner, Robert Fripp, and George Harrison also contributed guitar to this album.

“Pleasure Beach” from Along the Red Ledge (1978)

Don’t be fooled by the heavenly sounding vocal and synth intro. If you want a hyperactive, ‘50s-style rocker complete with blustery sax and guitar solos, then voila, this is your new jam. Oates takes the lead on this song and also wrote it. If it feels out of place for what people think of this duo in general, “Pleasure Beach” feels in sync with this particular album, which was produced by future hitmaker and songwriter David Foster.

“Bebop/Drop” from X-Static (1979)

Featuring another Oates lead vocal (he also wrote it), this highly charged track combines a disco stomp with rock electricity and a catchy chorus. This is probably the hardest driving song in the Hall & Oates catalog and will likely appeal to rock fans who might not be as into their ballads or R&B-friendly material. There are plenty of charged guitars present. The rarely seen video shows the band performing atop of a circuit board inside of a boom box, with lead guitarist and future SNL bandleader G.E. Smith pogo-ing and making funny faces.

“Intravino” from X-Static (1979)

Prefaced by the percolating, synth-heavy instrumental “Hallafon,” X-Static’s rollicking closing rocker “Intravino” serves up perkiness aplenty and agile bass work from John Siegler. In the video, the band once again performs inside of a boom box, while Hall & Oates also sip wine next to a giant bottle of vino. As they extol the virtues of wine over hard liquor, Oates also douses himself in the red stuff while Hall plugs into an IV drip full of it. That image probably wouldn’t fly today, even in our era of endless wine memes.

“Private Eyes” from Private Eyes (1981)

The most laid-back song on this list, this soulful title track to one of their many Platinum-selling albums is driven by insistent piano chords and an unwavering backbeat. There’s also a double handclap in the chorus that invokes audience participation at shows. Beyond the soulful earworm of a chorus, lead guitarist G.E. Smith plays equally indelible guitar melodies. Hall & Oates’ first greatest hits collection was appropriately titled Rock and Soul, Part 1, and tracks like this epitomized that union.

“Mano a Mano” from Private Eyes (1981)

This mid-tempo anthem with Oates on vocals finds a way to combine all the elements we love from the duo. There’s a catchy guitar riff, pleasing vocal harmonies, a rock-steady groove, and a tasteful guitar solo. Oates’ lyrics are a call for unity in the face of social divisions, which makes it very relevant today. It’s apparent that Oates was the more rock ‘n’ roll of the duo, and his voice suits the material.

“Head Above Water” from Private Eyes (1981)

This spirited, solid melodic anthem rocks as the duo’s dulcet vocal harmonies glide over thumping drums, dancing piano, and dramatic guitar chords. If “Head Above Water” had been released as a single it could have been at least a modest hit, but their rock side was being marketed less than their pop side by then. It’s a mid-tempo track that will get your groove on pretty quick. Fun fact: Private Eyes producer Neil Kernon went on to work with Queensrÿche, Dokken, and Cannibal Corpse.

“Tell Me What You Want” from Private Eyes (1981)

If you ever wondered what a combination of ‘80s rock riffs, ‘50s vocal harmonies, and a touch of ska sounds like, here’s your answer. One of the deep cuts from Private Eyes, there’s a Police-like vibe at work here, and it’s got some great vocal interplay throughout. Let’s be fair – if you like Hall & Oates in solid rock mode, this album is it.

“Family Man” from H2O (1982)

This is a cover of a keyboard-laced Mike Oldfield song that was a minor for hit for the Tubular Bells composer in 1982. The original was already intriguing, but Hall & Oates beefed up the guitar quotient, and supplanted Maggie Reilly’s singing with Hall’s lead vocals and their harmonies, to take their rendition to No. 6 in the U.S. by mid-1983. In this agitated tale, a married man finds himself propositioned by a prostitute, but despite the temptation he rejects her offer. She remains determined to snare him. Hall & Oates tweaked the lyrics to make the story’s ending definitive and not ambiguous (she leaves in their version), and the moody song—contrasting robust guitar chords, a flittering guitar line, and punchy drums—is one of the duo’s most memorable. By the way, the official video offers an extended mix of the song. The original is better.

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Photo by Andrew H. Walker/FilmMagic

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