“I’m not asking for much / only for time to stop / and history to go unrecorded”
Hall & Oates, Top 40, blue-eyed soul—phenomenons decidedly underrepresented in my collection. Like a true rock snob I only come to this record from the Robert Fripp angle, and sympathetic as I am to the idea of this oddball collaboration, even I can understand why this wasn’t the Daryl Hall product to release on the heels of the #1 “Rich Girl.” Recorded in 1977, RCA sat on it for a couple years before putting it out to an indifferent marketplace (the inner sleeve photo shows Hall gleefully liberating the tapes from a vault). I don’t have the chronology of sessions all sorted out, but in the late 70s Fripp was producing records for singers like Hall, Peter Gabriel and The Roches, and they in turn contributed to his own Exposure (1979) LP. Sacred Songs is a weird and fun one to revisit now, but truthfully, I’m on a big King Crimson kick and am too chicken to try to write about any of their iconic albums.
The title track has a retro, almost pub-rock feel (see also “Perspective” and “Animal Magic” from Fripp’s adjacent sessions with Gabriel), a dignified guitar solo from Fripp and nothing to suggest it wasn’t worthy of radio. At first “Something in 4/4 Time” makes me think of Toto’s “Hold The Line” (recorded later but released first) but maybe it was just something in the AOR air. It’s pleasant power pop to start, but gets a bit stranger as Hall rails against the pressures of making commercial music—even before he could have anticipated the label trouble ahead. I was surprised to learn that early Hall & Oates had some epic-length songs of their own, but the dose of Frippertronics puts “Babs and Babs” in a stratosphere all its own. This is where the presence of the producer begins to be keenly felt, and the bounds of the partnership put to the test. “Urban Landscape” and “NYCNY” appear in different forms on Exposure, and the former casts a Fripp-Eno spell before the latter unleashes a fierce Larks’ Tongues-ish riff. Hall can put on a rock pose when he wants to, but he’s never going to be accused of peeling the paint off the walls like Fripp does with this solo.
Side two’s a bit more conventional, with Hall singing the torch song “The Farther Away I Am” over a Fripp soundscape, and “Why Was It So Easy” is a smoky ballad ripe for AM radio, complete with drippy keyboard. Fripp’s back with some very fine running lines on “Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her,” which resorts to the old gimmick of a song fading out—only to return for more. I could get cynical about this blue-eyed soul stuff, but “Survive” is alternately lovely and a real belter. Hall tends to oversing on this record—possibly to compensate for the absence of his usual partner’s harmonies—but it really only gets to be too much for me on “Without Tears” when he starts stepping on my Frippertronics.
It’s an unexpected record that still doesn’t radically unseat my previous assumptions about the main artist, and Fripp’s involvement is no small part in keeping me listening. Tickled these guys found some grounds for mutual admiration, but old pal Robert has yet to be welcomed over for Live At Daryl’s House. I’d like to think they’d have a cup of tea and proceed to shred some wallpaper.