Ladies and Gentlemen! I hope everyone had a fantastic Easter, end to Passover, April Fools Day or the end to a good weekend, depending on your point-of-view. And, by the way, if you live in Illinois, April 1 is Cheap Trick Day in the state, so I was able to celebrate three holidays on a single day, even though I do not, nor have I ever, live in Illinois, I still celebrate Cheap Trick Day since I am a fan of theirs.
So, what does all of this have to do with today’s topic? On the surface? Seemingly, nada…uh…nothing. Yet, there is a connection so indulge me a bit. You see, in 1983, Cheap Trick released their eighth album, One on One. The album, which was an unfortunate flop because the band’s record company was busy trying to force extremely poor song choices on the band for them to record. This was happening all the while lead singer Robin Zandt had penned one of his finest songs ever called “I Can’t Take It”. If you go back and listen to that song you will be listening to one of the finest non-hits ever to not make the Top Forty. Why is this significant? It’s not worthy, except for who produced this album: Todd Rundgren.
In addition to being a terrific songwriter, singer, solo artist, member of Utopia, Todd Rundgren is one of the greatest producers of all time. Among the many artists whom Rundgren has produced, you will find albums by the likes of New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Tubes, XTC and Meat Loaf. Additionally, you will discover that Rundgren produced the third Daryl Hall & John Oates album, War Babies from 1974.
Now, we all know that Daryl Hall & John Oates went on to become the biggest-selling duo in rock history and members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I hope everyone remembers that Hall & Oates had their earliest tastes of commercial success with the album released immediately after working with Rundgren. That album is known as “The Silver Album” due to its metallic silver cover with the photograph of an androgynous-looking Daryl and John. That 1975 eponymous album is significant because it had the duo’s first Top Ten hit single “Sarah Smile”. In the aftermath of that song’s and album’s success, the album that was released the year BEFORE Rundgren produced War Babies, the song “She’s Gone” along with the album Abandoned Luncheonette were re-released and became hits all over again.
Hall and Oates, as you know, hit number one on the Hot 100 Singles list in Billboard in 1977 with “Rich Girl”. Then, the hits quit being so big, as they ended the Seventies with songs peaking in the Top 20 but no better. But, once the calendar flipped over to the new decade of the Eighties, the band got white-hot. From 1980 through 1985, the duo experienced a hot streak that few other artists have ever seen. By 1986, Daryl Hall and John Oates were now wearing the crown of the most successful duo of the rock era, but they were also “fried.” They decided it was time to take a small break in order to recharge their creative batteries. John Oates did some production work and raced race cars, while Daryl Hall decided to record his second solo album. If you remember, Hall released his highly experimental rock album, Sacred Songs, produced by King Crimson leader Robert Fripp as an audition for Hall to join a new incarnation of the dark art-rock band, way back in 1980, even though the album had been on the shelf since 1978.
In 1986, Daryl Hall dropped his second solo studio album, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine. The album begins with what is arguably Daryl Hall’s finest single, “Dreamtime.” To my ears, Hall has sunk all of his rock music influences into one terrific pop song. Throughout the glorious four minutes and forty-four seconds, you get to hear many Beatle influences, from Eighties-drenched Sgt. Pepper nods to the driving Ringo-esque drumming by Tony Beard, to little Bob Dylan lyrical courtesies (“man with movie star eyes” immediately jumped out at me) throughout the song, to the Electric Light Orchestra-like touches of keyboards courtesy of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, who added some other-worldly guitars as well. The whole thing comes off as a Brian Wilson-like Wall of Eighties’ Sound over an Eighties era Hall & Oates dance beat.
Now, after such a glorious single to kick off an album, few artists would be able to re-gather themselves enough to keep the quality of the material of the rest of the album close to that opener. Yet, Daryl Hall, who had been inching closer and closer to writing complete enough songs to fill a Hall & Oates album, rose to the occasion, which makes me wonder how some of the songs on 3 Hearts never ended up on a duo album. The duo’s loss was solo Daryl’s gain, as the rest of the album sounds as if it were an actual duo album. Whatever was happening at the time, this album represents the final gasp of terrific songs written by Daryl, with and without co-writers.
Other songs that stand out as possible hits have always been “Only a Vision” and “I Wasn’t Born Yesterday,” which are the typical H&O mid-tempo rock & soul songs the duo is known for, while “Someone Like You” is the typical big H&O ballad for which the band had become known for since the dawning of the Eighties. After those first four songs, I had always been confident that Hall was creating his masterpiece, only to be disappointed by the quality drop off the rest of the way.
Side One closes with a stereotypical Eighties-sounding pop-rock-dance-hip hop mix, as much of the post-Artists United Against Apartheid song predicted. In other words, this is not so much a song as it is a collage of songs written by Hall; Eurythmic Stewart; Hall & Oates bassist, the late Tom “T-Bone” Wolk; and Eighties superstar producer/engineer Arthur Baker, who was making a name on remixes of various hip hop hits, called “Next Step.” And, that song is only interesting for who is all listed on the writers’ credits, while the rest of the album are all tired Daryl Hall songs that could have used some John Oates, Sara Allen or Jana Allen ingredients added to the songwriting recipe.
Once again, Daryl Hall did create a good album that continued to straddle the main influential sounds of the Eighties’ rock, pop and soul that his duo had perfected long ago. Still, 3 Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine is a great solo album and follow-up to Daryl’s fantastic Sacred Songs. This album is worth digging through your collection to rediscover, or to travel to your local independent record store to find in order to add to your collection. This one is a keeper.