Daryl Hall and John Oates met in an elevator at Temple University in 1967. They started making music together two years later, released their first album three years after that, and had their first top-10 hit ("Sara Smile") in the summer of 1976, the same summer that Bob and Kim Frizzelle got married. They, too, had met in college. Their love was uncomplicated and intense. She had never dated anyone else. He was convinced she was the love of his life. If they had a girl, she wanted to name her Sara (after "Sara Smile") or Carolina (because of James Taylor). They listened to "Sara Smile" constantly, and they made four babies, but none of them were girls.
I was the second, born in 1980. Babies of cerebral types are sometimes subjected to Mozart when they're still in the womb; my mother had no time for anything except love songs with lyrics like "When I feel I can't go on, you come and hold me/It's you and me forever." Their marriage didn't last forever. It didn't even last 20 years. As a kid, my dad was always at work and my mom was always driving around on California's highways, crying or on the verge of crying, listening to "Sara Smile" or "Rich Girl" or "Kiss on My List" or "Private Eyes" or "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" or "Maneater" or "Out of Touch." Those last six songs were all number-one hits. The other song I remember well is Paul Young's "Every Time You Go Away," which was, I only recently learned, a Hall & Oates cover. In 1984, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, Hall & Oates became "the most successful duo in the history of recorded music."
For my mom, all these songs are associated with pain—"a young girl's fantasy of what love's going to be like," she just said when I called her. "They made me have these romantic ideas. That's the kind of music I really like. Or did. When I used to have romance in my life. Which I don't anymore." For me, those songs are associated with the beach, galoshes, daffodils, and kindergarten. The folds of my brain formed around those songs. It's a phenomenon pretty close to predetermination.
I will never be able to get these songs out of my head. There's a glitch in my brain that constantly scans what people say for references to the adult-contemporary-pop canon of my childhood, and if a friend says, "I'm tired," it's not unheard of for me to reply, no doubt obnoxiously, "I'm tired of play-ay-ing on the team/Oh, it seems I don't get time out anymore/Ooh-ooh-ooh." If someone says, "Here she comes," I will say, "Watch out, boy, she'll chew you up." Whenever I come across the word "wordplay," my mind sings: "You play with words/You play with luh-uh-uhve."
There's nothing I can do about it. Hearing the first couple seconds of "One on One"—a note repeated three times, and then repeated three times again, and then a little scale followed by a higher note repeated three times—gives me the same elementary happiness that a toddler experiences by sliding a triangle-shaped block into a triangle-shaped hole. It fits. It's satisfying. Hall & Oates made a bunch of songs that everyone heard a long time ago, and they've kept their career up by touring—by putting their triangle-shaped songs into our triangle-shaped heads.
To be at a Hall & Oates concert—I saw them at the Paramount the last time they were in town, which was earlier this year—is to watch this happen to a roomful of people at once. Yes, there were a lot of mullets, and yes, there were a lot of Hawaiian button-up short-sleeve shirts. But, to Hall & Oates' credit, their voices are intact and they know what the crowd wants. The crowd wants the hits, and they want them to sound exactly the way they sounded during the Reagan administration.
I heard "One on One" coming from a mile away—that little scale was buried in a transition away from a more recent song (their recent work should never be inflicted on anyone)—and when it arrived, I took weird pleasure in having called it. When the lady in front of me finally realized what song it was, she shot out of her seat, got up onto it, and started dancing. And singing: "And oh, oh, I can feel the magic of your touch, mmm hmm...." I sang, too. How could I not?