‘Think I’ll Spend Eternity In The City . . .’

I dance in the kitchen. Not well, but I dance.

With the mp3 player plugged into the CD player atop a small cabinet, I shuffle and weave, play air piano and guitar, and I cue unseen drummers, violin players and horn sections. And I do all this while removing and shelving clean dishes from the dishwasher and then replacing them with the dishes yet to be washed.

The tunes on the mp3 player continue to be the 228 that were in last year’s Ultimate Jukebox, augmented by another hundred or so records or album sides. Some of the tracks aren’t truly suited for dancing: The second side of Shawn Phillips’ Second Contribution popped up the other afternoon and instead of whirling through the gyrations I call dance, I stood in one spot for a few minutes with my eyes closed, absorbing Phillips’ dense creation while holding an empty Mason quart jar.

There are a few tunes on the player that call for gentle motion, soft songs sometimes laden with memories as varied as midnight alone in a city filled with strangers or the fluttering of a seventh-grade heart during the first slow dance ever. But most of the tracks in the player get me moving from one end of the small kitchen to the other, with wooden spoons filling in for a conductor’s baton (think “MacArthur Park”) and a measuring cup being a make-shift substitute for an air chimes mallet (the instrumental break on “Photograph”).

And as I made my way across the floor the other day, I boogied and shuffled to the call and response of Daryl Hall and John Oates – “She’s gone!” “She’s gone!” “She’s gone!” “She’s gone!” – and I wondered why none of the duo’s other singles have ever made me want to dance. Not only do they not make me want to dance, they don’t even make me want to hear them again.

That reaction puts me in a significant minority. Between 1976 – when “Sara Smile” went to No. 4 and a second release of “She’s Gone” went to No. 7 – and 2005, when their version of “Ooh Child” went to No. 19 on the Adult Contemporary chart, Hall & Oates were a powerhouse: thirty-four records in the Billboard Hot 100, sixteen of them in the Top Ten and six making it to No. 1. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles ranks Hall & Oates as the fourth most successful act of the 1980s (behind Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna) and the thirty-fifth most successful of all time.

And I missed it and still don’t get it. None of the singles that came along in the late 1970s and through the 1980s gave me any reason at all to go buy an album. I certainly heard all of the hits, or at least most of them: The listing in Top Pop Singles shows nothing from the Top Ten that’s unfamiliar, and if some of the stuff that placed a little lower is hazy in memory, well, there were a few years in there when I wasn’t listening to pop radio at all. My point is that I know what Hall & Oates recorded and released, and while none of their singles ever made me switch to another station in annoyance, neither did any of them – save “She’s Gone” – ever grab hold of my ear and say: “Listen to this!”

I’ve tried to be careful here and make reference to the duo’s singles, because there are a few tracks hidden on Hall & Oates’ first second album, Abandoned Luncheonette, that I enjoy greatly, most notably “Had I Known You Better Then” and “I´m Just A Kid (Don´t Make Me Feel Like A Man).” The album was produced by Atlantic’s Arif Mardin and came out in 1973, with “She’s Gone” being released as a single in early 1974 and getting only to No. 80. The duo moved on to RCA Victor, with the success there in early 1976 of “Sara Smile” prompting Atlantic’s summertime re-release of “She’s Gone.” There was one more Atlantic release on the charts: “It’s Uncanny” went to No. 80 in the summer of 1977.

So “She’s Gone” remains among my favorite records, and as well as pondering my reaction to the rest of Hall & Oates’ work this week, I went looking for covers. And that required some digging: All-Music Guide tells me that there are 1,021 CDs that include a tune called “She’s Gone.” But many of those tracks are Hall & Oates’ original – which, I should note, the two singers wrote – on various collections and compilations. Many others are different songs of the same title, notably by Hound Dog Taylor, the Isley Brothers, Duke Ellington, the Gosdin Brothers, Marvin Rainwater and Black Sabbath. So there were a lot of dead ends.

But there are a few covers of the Hall & Oates tune out there. I’ve found three so far: Tavares covered the tune and released it as a single that went to No. 50 in 1974. I find that version a little bland. Dee Dee Bridgewater retitled the song “He’s Gone” and included it on her self-titled 1976 debut, and I like her take on the tune quite a bit. But my favorite among the covers I’ve found so far come from Lou Rawls, who made the song the title track of his 1974 album, She’s Gone.

Album order corrected since first posting.

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6 Responses to “‘Think I’ll Spend Eternity In The City . . .’”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    I am *so* looking forward to finding some whiteray & the Mason Jar Orchestra gems on YouTube!

    You’re not the only person who doesn’t feel much passion for the post-Atlantic-era Hall & Oates singles. For my money, Atlantic was where they cut their best stuff, including the “Goodnight And Good Morning” and “I’m Sorry” 45s from their first LP.

    Following the less-than-spectacular 1974 chart run of “She’s Gone,” Atlantic seemed to lose interest in the act, lending little promotional support to the sublime “When The Morning Comes” single. Lord knows why the label didn’t give it a second try in the wake of the belated success of “She’s Gone.”

  2. Paco Malo says:

    On the topic of improvising instruments at hand, there is nothing like driving while listening to “Country Honk” from the Stones’ classic “Let it Bleed” album. I’ve got the timing of the car horn beeps on the track down perfectly. Always brings a smile to my face when I hit it perfectly.

    Great post, man.

  3. […] wrote a while back about my solitary dancing in the kitchen, and I’ve noticed since then that no song that I currently have on my mp3 player […]

  4. […] up the other week on the mp3 player in the kitchen, I found myself doing one of my unorthodox kitchen dances, using a soup ladle as a mallet for air chimes when the real chimes come in at the forty-nine […]

  5. […] time back, as a way to ease into a discussion of Hall & Oates, I wrote about my kitchen […]

  6. […] And that dance chart action is presumably the reason there are several videos of “Wow” available at YouTube. It’s nothing special to listen to, but I can hear how it would have been popular on the dance floor. (Maybe I should test it out in the kitchen.) […]

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