In the movie Music & Lyrics, a woefully undervalued cinematic gem, Hugh Grant brilliantly plays the other half of a pop British duo -- think Wham's Andrew Ridgely -- who comes into his own personally and professionally rather late in the pop game. Every time I watch the film on HBO in the middle of the night, which is often, I think of John Oates, a great guy I've been a fan of since my youth and had the pleasure of getting to know a bit over the years.
John is, of course, that fine fellow who comes after the ampersand in Hall & Oates - the most commercially successful duo of all time and a group I love with every bit of my green-eyed soul. Growing up in New Jersey I learned almost everything I ever really needed to know about Philly soul from these two. Abandoned Luncheonette was one of my favorite albums when I was a teenager, and is one of my favorite albums today -- when I am far from a teenage. In the Eighties, of course, they ruled the airwaves for a long span.
Yet in a sense, Hall & Oates became victims of their own runaway success -- and early MTV overexposure -- and too rarely get the respect they deserve. Even within the confines of Hall & Oates, John Oates rarely gets proper respect -- call it an unavoidable occupational hazard of standing onstage with Daryl Hall, the single best white soul singer in the entire world. Don't believe me about Daryl -- listen to "Sara Smile" again, and please try not to think of any unqualified Republican candidate for Vice President. Yet for my love of money, Hall & Oates' greatest moments have come when both the name partners blend their two voices -- most notably on "She's Gone," simply one of the greatest songs of the Seventies and one that for me has never dated one bit.
In 2002, John Oates finally got around to putting out his first solo album, the memorably titled Phunk Shui and I liked it a lot. That album gave you a better sense of the man behind the mustache -- a patch of hair that for the record exists now only in our collective Eighties memory. Apparently on a roll, John is just about to put out his second solo effort, 1000 Miles of Life, and it is fantastic, a luminous, lived-in song cycle combining folk, country and even bluegrass with a whole lot of rocking soul.
Wonderful things can happen on both sides of the ampersand, and this is one of them. Let that be a life and punctuation lesson to us all.
Follow David Wild on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Wildaboutmusic