‘I once had a huge argument with Madonna,’ says John Oates, 69, gazing out of his bedroom window in Nashville. ‘This was in New York City in the early Eighties and it got quite animated. Not exactly a fight, but two worlds colliding, put it that way.
‘What caused it was that she embraced the visual side of her art as part and parcel of what she was – the beginning of her career coincided with the birth of MTV and it was a match made in heaven. That was fine, but we saw Hall and Oates videos as a convenient promotional tool. Primarily, we were about the music.
‘So Madonna and I got into this contentious discussion. From her perspective, she was completely right but, from our point of view, I was too because our videos sucked.’
Daryl Hall and John Oates are the most commercially successful duo in the history of recorded music
He chuckles with the air of a man who has sold more than 40 million albums.
Today, even Madonna would have to agree, Hall and Oates have become inspirational players. This month, in a rare British show, they’ll headline BluesFest at London’s O2 Arena, alongside fellow US legends Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and Chic.
Daryl Hall and John Oates are the most commercially successful duo in the history of recorded music, outselling Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. Their timeless hits I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do), Maneater, Rich Girl, Kiss On My List, Out Of Touch and Private Eyes all topped the US charts.
Musically, they took the cornerstones of black Sixties American music, Philadelphia soul, Motown, Memphis Stax and blended it with modern rock and a designer production sheen. In Hall, 71, they have one of the great soul voices.
They owned the Eighties, memorably appearing in hometown Philadelphia at Live Aid in 1985, where the pair performed in their own right, then doubled as Mick Jagger and Tina Turner’s backing band. ‘It was an amazing, groundbreaking occasion,’ Oates recalls. ‘It was a mere bonus when Mick ripped Tina’s skirt off.’
But all were upstaged by Hall’s magnificent mullet, which was bigger even than Bono’s. ‘Everybody makes mistakes, man,’ Hall cries. ‘It was like a costume show. I don’t really give a s*** about fashion, but what were we wearing? It was a hideous time for style.’
Oates notes that the leather trousers he wore were also unforgivable. ‘You can count on me never wearing them again,’ he promises.
While fans adored Hall and Oates, critics weren’t always kind: they were dubbed ‘the Self-Righteous Brothers’ in the States, while in the unpleasantly non-PC Seventies, the UK press worried that they were ‘a couple of greasy pansies’, implying that the pair, who were given to wearing eye shadow, might be lovers.
In truth, Hall and Oates were enthusiastically heterosexual. ‘Even if I was gay, John was never my type,’ Hall deadpans, while Oates says they were ‘plagued by girls’.
‘I like women,’ he sighs. ‘I even had a few English girlfriends.’
Hall had an English wife, Amanda Aspinall, until 2015. He’s been in three long-term relationships and has a son, Darren, who is 33.
Oates was ‘unfortunately married in the Eighties’, but remarried and has been with his current wife, Aimee, for 25 years, with whom he also has a son, Tanner, 21.
A generation of musicians their sons’ ages is discovering and embracing their hits. In the past decade, Hall has seen his online series Live From Daryl’s House become a TV hit. In it he jams with guest musicians at his home in upstate New York. So far, guests have ranged from Smokey Robinson to ZZ Top, and included Brits KT Tunstall and Dave Stewart.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the captains of so-called ‘Yacht Rock’. In 1987, due to almighty accounting irregularities, the all-conquering couple were informed that they were virtually broke, despite sold-out tours and record-breaking album sales. Oates was forced to sell his four homes, plane and classic-car collection.
While fans adored Hall and Oates, critics weren’t always kind: they were dubbed ‘the Self-Righteous Brothers’ in the States
It would be remiss to leave Hall and Oates without asking if a day ever passes without some wag saying ‘no can do’ to the duo.
‘It happens,’ Oates laughs drily. ‘The strange thing is, I even find myself saying it. You would think, after all this time, that I wouldn’t “go for that”.’
Hall & Oates perform at the O2 in London on Oct 28 as part of this year’s BluesFest. bluesfest.co.uk