In the Fall of 1984, Daryl Hall and John Oates, the most successful duo of all time, released the album that would end up being the last of their highly successful run that began in 1980 with the release of their Voices album and ended when this album, Big Bam Boom, ran out of commercial steam around the time of the duo’s highly anticipated performance toward the end of the Philadelphia segment of Live Aid on Saturday, July 13, 1985. Upon the release of Big Bam Boom, Daryl and John seemed positioned to artistically blow up during the second half of the Eighties, the duo and their band of ace musicians knew the magic between them was vanishing and change was in the air.
As far as the duo’s fans were concerned, they were excited by the 1984, since from the sound the pair used seemed to be centered on the street songs of hip hop and rap, all the while continuing to nod toward their past as folk/rock/soul lovers. With Big Bam Boom, Daryl and John had brought in ace hip hop engineer Bob Clearmountain to forge a more contemporary R&B sound, as well as having renown DJ mix artist of the moment Arthur Baker to bring the hip hop mixes to the twelve-inch dance versions of the album’s hits. After Hall & Oates had embraced New Wave on Voices, power pop on Private Eyes and tough New York City R&B on H2O, likewise the boys were on the cutting edge of the latest sounds of the city, from Run-DMC influences to Afrika Bambaataa electro hip hop sounds, Daryl Hall & John Oates were once again bringing the cutting edge to the MTV generation, and we were eating it up.
The best part of all this experimentation that Daryl and John were doing, you could still find that timeless Hall & Oates sound in songs like “Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid”. Yet, you could find the exciting hip hop influences as the opening number of “Dance on Your Knees” segues into what would become their last #1 hit, the sublime “Out of Touch”.
Sure, “Method of Modern Love” stumbles a bit under the weight of this new bit of production work, the basics of a Hall & Oates pop song still saves it. One song that seemed to get overlooked by the world was how the duo put their rock-funk stamp on the song “Going Thru the Motions”, which anticipates the Arthur Baker mixes he did on some of Bruce Springsteen’s twelve-inch remixes. I love the juxtaposition of the past in the form of a saxophone solo, the present in a speaker melting guitar solo with the future hip hop beats. It is a song that reminds me of the experimental stuff Daryl cut with former King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp on Hall’s first solo album called Sacred Songs.
Even John Oates jumps into the foray with his own “Cold Dark and Yesterday”. It is the type of song that Oates used to write before the duo had their Eighties breakthrough. Afterwards, it seemed as though Oates had been taking a creative backseat as Hall was not only writing his own songs, as well as collaborating with sisters Sara (“Sara Smile”) and Jama Allen. And, as if on cue to answer Oates’ fantastic song, Hall himself counters with “All American Girl,” as song that has New Wave and Funk running through its veins.
Like I said, I thought I was listening to Daryl Hall and John Oates on the cusp of yet another creative renaissance. Unfortunately, the duo and their bandmates were fried. Maybe if I had only listened more closely that that brilliant last song, “Possession Obsession” more closely I would have realized these guys were toast. Unfortunately, they took a break that lasted three years.
In late 1985, the duo released a live document of their performance at Harlem’s hallowed Apollo Theater with Kendricks and Ruffin. Then, in 1986, Hall released his second solo album, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine. By the time the guys reconvened, they assembled a different band, although bassist “T-Bone” Wolk, often referred to as the ampersand in “Hall & Oates”, remained, the rest of the band was different. Additionally, Daryl, John and the Allen Sisters had all lost touch with the cutting edge musical sound in the Big Apple, so their 1988 comeback album, Ooh Yeah, reminded me of some of their post-“Rich Girl” albums, i.e. directionless.
My wife and I did caught Daryl, John and their new band in the fall of 1988, it was not the knock-out punch I had experienced when I saw back in 1981. Oh, sure, the new band included a well-known musician formally from Billy Joel’s band, saxophonist Mark Rivera, who is quite a showman in his own. And while the band was hot and flawless, they lacked the magic the original early Eighties line up had.
Like most of Daryl Hall & John Oates’ albums, Big Bam Boom is a highly underrated album. It deserves another evaluation, as does many of their albums. Form some reason, Baby Boomer rock critics were simply way too hip and too self-important to recognize what all of us young Gen X-ers recognized immediately: Daryl Hall & John Oates were two of the greatest pop/rock songwriters, and Big Bam Boom was the duo’s last piece of evidence.
Let’s raise a glass to Big Bam Boom!