College Countdown: The First CMJ Album Chart, 14

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14. Hall & Oates, Along the Red Ledge

The conventional wisdom is that the duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates didn’t hit their commercial stride until the early-nineteen-eighties. That’s hard to argue with, given that they topped the chart with three separate singles in 1981. While they didn’t have the same consistency in the prior decade, they certainly enjoyed significant successes, including their first #1 single, 1977’s “Rich Girl.” The following year, they had enough credibility built up that they were able to stock their album Along the Red Ledge with the likes of George Harrison (on “The Last Time”) and legendarily innovative guitarist Robert Fripp (on “Don’t Blame It on Love”). Along the Red Ledge also represented the first time Hall & Oates recorded with their touring band rather than label-gathered studio musicians. The natural instinct, then, is to see the record as an important statement of artistic identity, presumably the smash hit single from the previous year given them the clout to do exactly what they wanted. If so, {Along the Red Ledge} suggested they didn’t have all that much to offer.

Hall & Oates aren’t necessarily considered a vital part of the rock ‘n’ roll canon, but they do inspire a certain amount of reverence for their combination of blue-eyed soul (which is a cloaked, acceptable way of saying “white guys singing black guy songs”) and often inspired popcraft. There’s a reason beyond radio programmer complacency that they racked up all those #1 singles in the eighties. Along the Red Ledge, however, clearly presents the version of the group that would serve as one of the cornerstones of adult contemporary radio, any and all senses of danger and excitement belt-sanded down to smooth, nonthreatening curved corners. The album opens with “It’s a Laugh,” the sole Top 40 single derived from the record (peaking at a fairly uninspiring #20), a bit of watered-down soul melded with an especially languid version of the disco psychedelia of E.L.O. It’s the perfect opening to the album, in that it exemplifies the tepid equivocation that runs wild across the two sides. Hall & Oates acknowledge the shifting sounds of the disco revolution without fully embracing them.

There’s more soft disco to be found on the album, such as “I Don’t Wanna Lose You.” Indeed, that’s the sort of track that dominates Side One. The second side is noticeably tougher, led by “Alley Katz,” “Don’t Blame It on Love,” and “Serious Music.” Tougher doesn’t automatically mean better, of course. The songs are just as bland and muddled as their my timid kindred, and “Alley Katz” is especially notable for its appallingly bad lyrics: “Alley Katz, Alley Katz, come out and play/ Yowlin’ and howlin’ a social ballet/ Out in the alley it’s strictly lowbrow/ Alley Katz, Alley Katz, make me meow, meow, meow.” The album continues on to the weirdo party rock of “Pleasure Beach” and finally the syrupy closer “August Day.”

Along the Red Ledge wasn’t a huge success for Hall & Oates, though it did sell strongly enough to become their fourth straight gold record. The career nadir (at least before obviously low-selling, obligatory reunion releases several years down the road) was about a year later: the dud X-Static. All that was forgettable, dismissible precursor to enormous success in the eighties, when the duo shrewdly or accidentally (your pick!) become one of the first to ride MTV to stardom, not so much by crafting brilliant videos, but by having any videos whatsoever available for airplay.

Previously…
An Introduction
–26: Darkness on the Edge of Town
–25: Give Thankx
–24: Caravan to Midnight
–23: Next of Kihn
–22: 52nd Street
–21: Crafty Hands
–20: Luxury You Can Afford
–19: Some Girls
–18: Mr. Gone
–17: Stage
–16: Pieces of Eight
–15: Bloody Tourists

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