Shoulda been major, Part 2
When I was in 3rd grade, I caused something of a scandal in music class when I chose Hall & Oates' "Kiss on My List" as my favorite song. The music teacher asked, so I told her. As I recall, the modal answer that year (I think it was 1980) was "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". Apparently, a song about the devil was nothing to raise an eyebrow about in my suburban Atlanta elementary school (as I recall, Terri Gibb's "Somebody's Knockin'" was huge not too long afterward) but a song about kissing was a shock.
My little blue-eyed soul self was already listening religiously to Motown and Stax by that time and taping Stylistics and Gap Band songs off the radio. I can't tell you for the life of me where all that came from, since neither of my parents were at all fans of R&B or soul music. Nevertheless, it paved the way for future development of my musical tastes, as I turned to hip hop music heavy with samples from those songs I recognized by the mid-80s. In high school, though, the crowd I hung with most of the time were heavy metal and/or prog rock fans and I took to that as well. I was listening to AC/DC, Metallica, Yes, and Pink Floyd in no time. My favorite, though, was King Crimson. I always wanted Robert Fripp and the Bomb Squad to work together. I still listened to R&B and soul music a fair amount, catching up with older stuff I hadn't happened upon when I was younger and keeping up with whatever New Jack Swing was worth listening to.
Want to know where this is going?
It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that I'm a big fan of Daryl Hall's first solo album, Sacred Songs. The first time I heard of this album, I thought it was just an urban legend. There was no way, I reasoned, that Daryl Hall had cut an album in the late 70s with Robert Fripp on board as producer and guitar player. Nevertheless, the evidence was right there on Fripp's 1979 solo work Exposure. Hall is credited on vocals and as co-writer of several songs. Obtaining Sacred Songs became something of an obsession with me, and I eventually found it on LP.
Of course, it finally appeared on CD a few years ago and my wife picked it up for me (since I didn't even know it had come out). The album isn't really as weird as I was expecting before I heard it, and that's a good thing. Sure, I'd have been really intrigued by some kind of bizarre chimera of Hall's Philly soul pastiche and Fripp's experimental electronics and sharp, nimble guitar work, but Sacred Songs sounds like it makes all the sense in the world. Hall isn't nearly as smooth here as he was on most of Hall & Oates' material, hitting notes with imprecision or not at all sometimes, but the effect is a loose, passionate series of performances that balance well with the sometimes ascetic setting of Fripp's production. The songs written for the album aren't nearly as forbidding as one would expect, although there are moments of Frippertronic intercession in the middle of what would otherwise sound like perfectly serviceable, radio-friendly rock or R&B. "Babs and Babs" is an absolute triumph, a nearly 8-minute pop song complete with guitar solo and propulsive beat until an ambient soundscape invades the track like a culture jammer. NYCNY is apparently the first take on a song that reappears on Exposure as NY3.
One of the startling things about the album is how much space Hall gives to Fripp's instrumental interests. He adds only a touch (although it's an effective one) to "The Farther Away I Am" and nothing to "Urban Landscape" (also from Exposure). The ballads are excellent as well; "Why Was It So Easy" and "Without Tears" are among Hall's best work in any setting. I almost hate to single out any tracks, since there's no filler on the album at all.
The CD reissue includes two tracks from Exposure that feature Hall: "You Burn Me Up I'm a Cigarette" and the gorgeous "North Star", which served as the template for "Matte Kudasai" on King Crimson's 1981 return album Discipline.
This won't always be the case, but the title of this series of posts is meant seriously this time. RCA didn't release Sacred Songs until 1980 despite being recorded in '77, fearing it had no commercial potential. I can see several of these tracks making their way to radio, though, in the context of late 70s AOR. There's no telling what would have happened if it had been given a proper, timely release, but I don't think it's ridiculous to suggest that one or two of these songs might have been hits.