When Daryl Hall and John Oates—better known and heard as Hall & Oates—released How Does It Feel to Be Back? from their current smash LP Voices, the title could easily have suggested the commercial as much as the romantic resuscitation of the lyric. The single bobbed into the Top 20, the kind of oats they originally hauled in the mid-'70s with No. 1 hits like Sara Smile, Rich Girl and She's Gone. But then they too seemed to be gone by late decade: Hall's outré and affected stage antics and Oates' ornery macho guitarmanship sank slowly in the Sargasso Sea of New Wave.
But now their Voices are melding again on the radio, proving Hall & Oates the most durable blue-eyed soul duo since the Righteous Brothers. Indeed, the follow-up smash after Back was the Righteous' 1964 classic You've Lost That Lovin' Feel in', and Kiss on My List puckered up to the top spot on the charts last month. Meanwhile their 16-city tour is propelling yet another H&O hit, You Make My Dreams.
So when many other duos have busted up prematurely, Hall & Oates have resurrected the most prosperous pairing since Simon and Garfunkel; the key to their survival would seem to be a similar Paul 'n' Artie meshing of contrasting styles and temperaments. Hall, 32, is the fair-haired, lanky and loquacious half; Oates, 32, the 5'4" swarthy, taciturn one. But they toil to share mikes, lights and credit. "I always thought the duos I heard as a kid were corny," says Daryl. "We are more like co-soloists."
Not all the time. Daryl blames their troubled late '70s in part on "strong-willed producers with their own vision." "The result," says Oates, was "constant battles." Hall accounts for his own decision to split for Sacred Songs—a 1977 solo project with Robert Fripp—as "needing to do it for myself." When the album's release was held back by RCA (until 1980), H&O continued to hang Top 10 together instead of apart.
If rumors of an artistic rift didn't help the pair, neither did the repackaged slickness of their earlier look. On one album cover they were painted by Mick and Bianca's makeup maven, Pierre LaRoche. The androgynous posings inevitably sparked rumors that they were live-in gay lovers. Retorts Hall: "Traditionally, duos get accused of lots of things. We just shrugged it off."
Daryl and John are, in fact, both Village people, living minutes apart near Manhattan's Bleecker Street—and with stunning longtime girlfriends. Daryl's roomie is Sara "Sandy" Allen, a former stewardess with whom he has flown solo for nine years, since the breakup of his short-lived marriage. Sara, the inspiration for their hit Sara Smile, directed the album art on Voices, and her younger sister Janna co-wrote Kiss on My List. But there are no immediate marriage plans. "It's kinda nice," she says, "to be 28 and still call someone your boyfriend."
John shares his digs with 21-year-old Nancy Hunter, a Ford model he met when she was still a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "I thought she was a Swedish girl and she thought I was an Italian midget," he cracks. When their often-conflicting schedules allow, they travel to places like England and France, where John indulges his other offstage passion: auto racing. He attended the elite U.K. drivers' school at Brands Hatch and negotiates Gotham's potholes in a black 1981 Saab Turbo. "I like the control of racing, and testing myself," he explains.
Both Hall and Oates are Pennsylvanians. Oates moved with his family at 4 from New York to North Wales, Pa. His parents worked for a pharmaceutical company. Music lessons on guitar helped him land his first paid gig, at a neighborhood ice cream parlor, in the sixth grade. Daryl was raised in John O'Hara territory, Pottstown, Pa., by a father in the industrial pattern-making business and a mother who once sang professionally. "I could harmonize before I could talk," he boasts.
Both have younger sisters, were weaned on Philly R & B, played in high school groups and, after graduation, headed for Philadelphia. While attending Temple University, each dabbled in the fertile local music scene. Daryl (a music student) sang in a bleached version of the Temptations called the Temptones and played for the famed soul-pop Sigma Sound hit factory. John studied journalism and played with a popular local bar band called the Masters. The two finally met at a club in 1967. "We hung out together and eventually started writing as a team," recalls Daryl. Their artistic partnership led in 1971 to their debut LP, Whole Oats.
After an album-a-year grind that's left them exhausted but still together, Oates credits the "openness of the relationship" with preserving it. "It's incredible," he says, "how we write about the same feelings, ideas and directions." Indeed, at least one fan found such closeness all too convincing. Coming backstage one night after a show, he looked around and asked, "Okay, which one of you guys is Holland Oates?"
The blue-eyed soulmates survived their first decade—barely.