2020 Album Draft- Round 5- Pick 5- Music City Mike selects- Hall & Oates- Abandoned Luncheonette.
Admit it. All of us music nerds love to get snobby and boast using the line “I saw them when….” It usually means that we got to see an act in a small club before they moved up to the Enormodome. For me, most of my bragging is about acts I saw at Manhattan’s Bottom Line. This small 400-seater near NYU in Greenwich Village is probably the greatest music club the world has ever known.
Braggingly, it was there that I saw my first shows by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Joe Jackson, Squeeze, The Police and many others. But, then there’s Hall & Oates with whom I can take my bravado one step further. I saw them there in 1975 as an opening act for Leo Sayer!
At the time, I had already fallen for Hall & Oates 1973 sophomore LP, Abandoned Luncheonette, which I had heard quite often on New York City’s WNEW-FM. I also liked Sayer’s latest record so this show was a must for me even back then when I was a poor college student. And though I totally loved Hall & Oates on record, I can’t say that I got off to a perfect start with seeing them live.
Two reasons. The first was personal in that the girl I went to the show with seemed more interested in Daryl Hall than me. Second, while I loved 99% of their show, I really wanted to take Daryl Hall aside and tell him to cut back a bit on the drawn-out vocal gymnastics. I really thought that he overdid it with too much extended freeform vocalizing. I’m am happy to say however that when I saw them again later that year, his singing was much more controlled.
Seeing that this is supposed to be about a record, let’s get right to the fact that there is probably no other album that I own that brings more joy to me than Abandoned Luncheonette . And this is an album whose best-known song is “She’s Gone,” which as its title suggests, does not have a happy subject matter. But to these ears and throat, this soul-based classic is hands down, the greatest song ever to sing along to. In fact, it’s my go-to on the car stereo when I’m trying not to fall asleep during a late-night drive.
“She’s Gone” is such a damn good song that it’s a sin it wasn’t a smash hit for Hall & Oates from day one. After it went nowhere for the duo upon its release in ’73, a couple of cover versions (Tavares and Lou Rawls) fared better, with the Tavares version reaching the top of the Soul charts. A rerelease of the Hall and Oates version in 1976 found greater success getting to #7, and if anything, sold a bunch more copies of the LP taking it to #33.
The joyous feel of this record kicks off with the bouncy “When the Morning Comes” driven by the staccato beat of Hall’s mandolin and Bernard Purdie’s drumming. This is Hall’s song, and back then, before Hall started charging $50 for his autographed CD to Oates’ $10, they shared songs better on their LPs. Oates follows with his two best songs, “Had I Known Better You Then” and “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song).” The former is as about as tender as a love song can get while the latter is a neat pop ditty where we first meet Sara (named after Daryl’s then girlfriend and future collaborator) who the duo will ask to “smile” on a later record.
These songs then lead the way for the pair to collaborate and beautifully harmonize on “She’s Gone.” Legendary Atlantic Records producer, Arif Mardin, showed his genius by producing one of the mostgorgeous musical arrangements of all time. It’s a work of art with all its tiny sonic brushstrokes coming together to paint a true musical masterpiece.
The only problem with this record is that after such an amazing start, it could only be downhill from there. But if you can resist repeating side one and force yourself to turn over to side two, you won’t be disappointed. It’s indeed a much jazzier fare but features some great singing and some of New York City’s top session players at their best. The title track is a fine example of the duo’s ability to work in more of a jazz styling. The second side of the LP is quite a cozy way to wind down this incredible record.
After a long time in between, I have since seen Hall and Oates play live a few times over the past few years and “She’s Gone” and “Las Vegas Turnaround” were both in the set still sounding brilliant. Both Hall and Oates look great despite their years and both are among the thankful few whose voices have not weakened in ability one bit.
At a record store appearance a few years back, I got Oates to sign what I told him was my “desert-island disk,” and he even honored my request and sang a solo “Las Vegas Turnaround.” Maybe someday I can get Daryl to sign my record alongside him. I will even forgive him about that old girlfriend.