Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Capping a year of stellar reissues (The Beatles, Big Star), Do What You Want Be What You Are gives Hall & Oates the definitive box-set treatment—not to mention some long overdue critical reassessment. Dismissed as lightweight radio fodder during their heyday, the duo’s music has actually aged remarkably well, and anyone seeking a crash course in pop songcraft could scarcely do better than the comprehensive singles collection The Essential Daryl Hall & John Oates from 2005. For those wanting to delve deeper, Do What You Want delivers the goods in spades, expanding the focus to include deep album tracks and excellent-quality live cuts—particularly on Disc 1, which ends a full year before the duo score their first Top 40 hit. That initial success, “Sara Smile,” comes early on Disc 2, placed in proper context alongside other blue-eyed soul gems like “Camellia” and “Back Together Again.”
But the true turning point doesn’t occur until “Wait On Me,” a fantastic, underrated effort where Philly strings give way to angular guitar lines and bright New Wave rhythms. Disc 3 delivers the payoff: It’s a full-on greatest hits playlist of deathless singles—“I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” “You Make My Dreams,” “One On One”—offset with “shoulda been” album tracks like “Head Above Water” and “Go Solo,” not to mention the first proper appearance of the #25 hit “A Nite At The Apollo Live!,” featuring two original Temptations. Even the inevitable drop off on Disc 4 is softened by smart song choices and rarities like a 2003 live take on “Me And Mrs. Jones.” Diehards might quibble over the absence of Hall’s solo singles and a few missing one-off’s (“Jingle Bell Rock,” “Love Train”); for everyone else, Do What You Want is near-perfect, a lovingly packaged and carefully selected survey of Hall & Oates’ multi-layered career.
SIX HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BOX:
1) You're Much Too Soon
For everyone (like myself) who ignored 1974's War Babies, this sparkling track is a revelation.
2) Abandoned Luncheonette (Live at the New Victoria Theatre, 1975)
A highlight from the duo's first album, stretched out to jam-band length in this epic live version from 1975.
Straight-up Philly strings, a John Oates lead vocal, and an Atlanta shoutout! One of the best from the "Silver Album."
4) Head Above Water
Originally scheduled as the lead single—and title track—from H&O's 1981 album, until "Private Eyes" came in at the last minute. Easily a #1 in some parallel universe.
5) Storm Warning (previously unreleased)
A fantastic cover of an old Volcanoes track, left off the Change Of Season record for some baffling reason.
6) Me & Mrs. Jones (Live at John Jay College, 2003)
Anyone still doubting Daryl Hall's credentials as one of the finest white soul singers ever needs to listen to this live take on the Billy Paul classic immediately... if not sooner.