Daryl Hall: Something in 4/4 Time
Robert Fripp has stated that Daryl Hall had the best set of pipes of anyone he had ever worked with. This from a guy who has worked with Bowie, The Roches, Greg Lake and John Wetton, not to mention Peter Gabriel, Jon Anderson and Adrian Belew. That Fripp and Hall collaborated, though, seems pretty bizarre, especially back in 1977. Maybe overselling it a bit, Allmusic refers to it as “what must be the most bizarre coupling ever.” Hall was best known as a blue-eyed soul pop hitmaker, coming off of “Sara Smile,” “She’s Gone” and “Rich Girl.” Fripp was recognized as the mastermind of King Crimson, inventor of the oddly compelling Frippertronics tape loop sound, collaborator with the artsy Brian Eno and provider of edgy guitar for the likes of Gabriel and Bowie.
And yet, the two musicians apparently clicked. Hall, looking to expand his horizons, and Fripp, impressed by Hall’s voice, decided to work together. Fripp envisioned a trilogy—a solo album featuring Hall (and others) on vocals (which became Exposure), an album with Gabriel (which became his second album, better known as Scratch) and Hall’s album, Sacred Songs. Hall’s record company, though, was incredibly leery of the whole thing, concerned that he was embarked on a career destroying jaunt toward the uncommercial avant-garde. So ultimately the record company behaved stereotypically, blocking Fripp from using Hall’s vocals on more than two songs on Exposure (Fripp was forced to re-record the songs with Peter Hammill and Terre Roche), and locking Sacred Songs in the vault for three years. They pretty much did everything short of twirling their mustaches and laughing evilly.
While Sacred Songs languished unreleased, karma intervened, and Hall and Oates’ releases during this time were generally unsuccessful. Hall and Fripp began to leak the tapes of Sacred Songs, which resulted in a campaign to have it released, and when it was, in 1980, it actually sold reasonably well. And the critical response was rapturous.
So, what’s the deal with the album? Despite my skepticism about Hall, listening to Sacred Songs back in 1980, I recall being blown away by Hall’s voice, and finding that the unusual collaboration really worked. I had been conditioned, I guess, by my love for The Roches' debut album, another unexpected collaboration between the folky Roche sisters and Fripp. Fripp, as producer, had pulled performances from Hall that added a bit of edge and immediacy that his more overproduced and slick hits were missing. And Fripp’s interesting guitar parts somehow meshed with the overdubbed contributions from Hall’s regular band. But the album is still, for the most part, a pop album, but an intelligent one (albeit one with the occasional Frippertronic interlude).
“Something in 4/4 Time” has always seemed like the spiritual heart of the album. It starts off sounding pretty poppy, a jaunty tune with a nice piano part. Hall’s voice sounds pretty much as you remember from top-40 radio, but maybe with more of an edge. And you realize that he is singing about being forced to write easily digestible songs for the masses. Then the pop stops, and Fripp jumps in with a signature sinuous guitar solo, before the pop returns, and Hall’s voice soars into falsetto. It is the whole Sacred Songs experience in four and a half minutes.
Times and tastes change, and some later CD re-releases of Sacred Songs included Hall’s two lead vocals from Exposure. And in 2006, Fripp released an expanded version of his solo work, and was able to release the original Hall vocals. Here’s the Hall version of “New York, New York, New York,” and his vocals are remarkable. Supple, but urgent, and superior to the found vocals used in the initial release (titled “NY3”).
There apparently was some discussion of Fripp and Hall starting a band together, and it is intriguing to think of what the 1980’s version of King Crimson might have sounded like fronted by the soulful Hall, instead of the more David Byrne-ish Adrian Belew, but that never happened. The "New York" song, though, did include Fripp and future Crimson bass player Tony Levin, so if Bill Bruford had been on drums instead of Narada Michael Walden, we would have gotten a hint. Instead, Hall went back to Oates (and covered Mike Oldfield’s "Family Man"). Fripp went off to reform King Crimson, and do a bunch of other guitar-related things, until his recent announced retirement from the music industry over his frustration with the business end of things.
Recently, Hall has been hosting a show on the web and VH1/Palladia called Live from Daryl’s House featuring guests from across the musical spectrum, with live performances, including this recent (Fripp-less) performance of “Babs and Babs” from Sacred Songs.