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Daryl Hall is on everyone’s list

A rocker’s rebirth, embraced by younger generation

(Mark Maglio)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / March 28, 2010

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When Brookline-bred soul shouter Eli “Paperboy’’ Reed dropped by to jam with Daryl Hall on his popular online rock-and-talk show “Live From Daryl’s House,’’ the host was blown away by how much common ground lay between the two musicians so widely separated chronologically, at 26 and 63, respectively.

“It’s extraordinary. What he does is what I did when I was a teenager,’’ Hall says, describing everything from the pair’s shared R&B influences to their sartorial style. “It just got to me, because it was really reliving something I didn’t think I would ever share with anybody from another generation.’’

Hall shouldn’t be too surprised, since a younger generation has taken Hall & Oates on as a reclamation project of sorts over the past few years. And thanks to a confluence of offbeat, profile-raising media moments — from “Daryl’s House’’ to current musicians declaring their love to tastemakers plugging H&O hits into cool projects — the duo has been experiencing a commercial and critical renaissance.

Prominent rockers like Brandon Flowers of the Killers and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy have outed themselves as vociferous fans. Last summer the Hall & Oates hit “You Make My Dreams’’ played a pivotal role in the beloved indie breakout film “(500) Days of Summer.’’ In October, talk-show host Rachael Ray began a campaign to get the duo into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Last Tuesday, the hipster-approved duo the Bird and the Bee released “Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates.’’ In June, Hall will try to re-create “Daryl’s House’’ at the Bonnaroo music festival with Canadian electro-funkateers Chromeo. Oates is also thriving during the hiatus, staging successful singer-songwriter gatherings with folks like Tift Merritt and Patty Griffin and lending his voice to the online comic cartoon dedicated to his crime-fighting mustache “J-Stache.’’

“I think there was a little bit of the same thing with the Bee Gees a couple of years ago too,’’ says Inara George, the half of the Bird and the Bee who bravely tackles H&O’s iconic melodies on “Masters.’’ “Obviously Hall & Oates wasn’t overlooked by the masses in terms of the record sales’’ — indeed, they were lousy with top 10 hits and platinum records — “but I think critically a lot of times both those artists were overlooked, maybe because they were aiming at a certain audience. But if you really dig into the songs they’re complex and they’re sincere; it’s just good songwriting. So I feel like when you have some years behind you and you look back, you’ll find the biggest bands were really doing amazing stuff.’’

Distance from the duo’s goofy ’80s videos may also be helping younger listeners appreciate that songwriting, says John Powhida, leader of Boston band the Rudds, who performed a spot on Hall & Oates’s tribute show a couple of years back. “It’s very sophisticated chord structures,’’ he says. “I’ve been defending them forever, but you don’t need to defend them so much anymore because people are coming around.’’

“Live From Daryl’s House’’ is part of the reason. The monthly series, which has been running for two-and-a-half years, has included everyone from Hall’s idols and peers like Smokey Robinson and Todd Rundgren to up-and-comers like Reed and Diane Birch performing originals, covers, and rejiggered versions of Hall & Oates hits such as “Out of Touch’’ and “Kiss on My List.’’

“I think ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ is a major engine in reevaluating or looking at me in a new light,’’ Hall says, “because I think that it is such a surprise to a lot of people and it causes you to re-listen to the music.’’

The rest of the renewed interest, he says, has been one thing leading to another.’’ I think awareness breeds awareness, and also there is a cyclical thing that happens to some people. I think the kind of music that has appeared in the past few years owes more to what I do than maybe other styles of music. There’s a tradition in my music that seems to have transferred into the new world.’’

Add to the fact that two generations of potential decision-makers — like the screenwriters of “(500) Days’’ — were raised on H&O’s irresistible rock and soul and feel no shame in sharing their joy.

“They’re not singing about things like ‘my boo’ or whatever the lingo is of today that will be out five minutes from now,’’ says Andrea Von Foerster, the film’s music supervisor. “It’s all very classic, straightforward songs about love — it’s just timeless.’’ And happy, she adds. “No one ever got sick of the song and we must have heard it over 100 times that day. Every time it was just fun.’’

Hall is also having a lot of fun. He’s at work on a solo album he hopes to release by the end of this year and is enjoying the commercial benefits of the Hall & Oates resurgence. According to Billboard, the pair’s album sales rose by 16,000 copies from 2008 to 2009 and their digital downloads were up 19 percent. He’s especially loving doing “Daryl’s House’’ and is in talks to expand the show to television.

(The show and Hall suffered a crushing blow last month with the sudden death of costar Tom “T-Bone’’ Wolk, Hall’s friend and longtime bassist. Hall said he plans to memorialize the man he calls “my brother and my best friend’’ on the May 15 episode.)

Ultimately, Hall thinks his music has withstood the test of time and sparks renewed interest for an old-fashioned reason: hard work. “I think the perception of us has been all over the place in the past and it didn’t allow us to be complacent about what we do so that has kept us vital, so I’m happy with the way that worked,’’ he says. “I see a lot of people who had great fame and accolade after accolade and sort of rested on that and what happens is you start working with diminishing returns.’’