Friday, November 3, 2023

This Day in Rock History (Hall and Oates Take Step Forward With ‘Abandoned Luncheonette’)

Nov. 2, 1973— Abandoned Luncheonette, released by Atlantic Records, epitomized the larger career arc of Daryl Hall and John Oates: slowly building momentum until a confluence of factors brought a commercial breakthrough.

The two singer-songwriters, who would go on to become the number-one duo in rock ‘n’ roll history, were not strictly an Eighties phenomenon, despite what their ubiquity in silly MTV videos might lead one to believe. They signed their first contract with Atlantic in 1970, and released their first LP, Whole Oats, two years later.

Hall and Oates didn’t let their initial paltry sales discourage them. Instead, in the spring of 1973 they returned to the studio, only this time they moved to New York City, which allowed them to collaborate more closely with Whole Oats producer Arif Mardin.

The relocation not only got the pair thinking more intently how to achieve the sounds they wanted from other musicians in the confined space of a studio, but exposed them to multiple musical genres in the world’s greatest metropolis.

At first, it appeared that Abandoned Luncheonette wouldn’t do much better than its predecessor. Upon initial release, the lead single, “She’s Gone,” only peaked at #60 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

But when a cover version by Tavares hit the top of the R&B chart, Atlantic re-released it three years later, and the original climbed into the top 10 on the pop list.

While “She’s Gone” was the eventual breakout hit, other songs on the album’s first side have remained also fan favorites for the last 50 years. 

Mine include “Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song),” inspired by Oates’ introductory conversation with the woman who became Hall’s longtime girlfriend and muse, Sara Allen, and “When The Morning Comes,” featuring special contributions from Hall on mandolin and Chris Bond on mellotron.

The album as a whole took longer to take off, but 29 years after it came out, it finally was certified platinum, with a million copies sold. Charlie Ricci’s recent post on the blog “Something Else Reviews” uses the term “acoustic soul” (i.e., folk music with the R&B-inflected Philly harmonies the pair had grown up with) to describe the sound they achieved.

I have a higher opinion of Hall and Oates’ Eighties work than Ricci does (and, as I explained in a blog post from three years ago, I particularly value the multi-hit, multiplatinum Voices). But I agree fully with his assessment of Abandoned Luncheonette as "one of the best albums of the classic-rock era."

In his 2017 memoir Change of Seasons, Oates remembered it fondly as the album “I always go back when I need to remember how things should be done. The collection that still resonates through every bone in my body. A musical moment that became such a personal benchmark, that to this day I measure everything against it.”

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