INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo DECEMBER 2014 - by Paul Lester
DARYL HALL: SACRED SONGS
This month's lost gem taken home and hoarded for years by posterity's guilty postman: when a pop-soul voice and avant-guitar voyager collided.
It's strange to think that a member of Hall & Oates - the biggest-selling pop duo of all time - released an under-the-radar album. But then, it's not easy to imagine the blond soul crooner of She's Gone and Maneater collaborating on an album with the brains behind Larks' Tongues In Aspic.
This is what happened when, in 1977, Daryl Hall teamed up with Robert Fripp in New York for Sacred Songs, a record that marked the King Crimson man's return to rock duty after a three-year "retreat" and made him wish he'd stayed away. "Do you know how many scars I have?" asks Fripp today, still burned by the experience. "I'm sliced from top to bottom."
In truth, Sacred Songs wasn't Hall's first venture on the wild side. Hall & Oates had supported David Bowie on his Ziggy Stardust tour of the States in 1972; two years later, he and John Oates followed up the melliuous soul-gazing of Abandoned Luncheonette with War Babies, all synth noise and shrieking terror, produced by Todd Rundgren. "I think that was mostly us being kids, just wanting to fuck with everybody," says Hall.
It was also around this time that the Philadelphian began delving into mysticism and the works of Aleister Crowley. Fripp recalls Hall visiting him at his cottage in Dorset and gravitating towards a certain category of literature. "He was interested in my library, which included the occult."
Fripp, troubled by his view that the music world was "utterly insane", had sought refuge in theteachings of G.I. Gurdjieffand his British disciple,J.G. Bennett, in 1975. He endured a year of admittedly mood-improving physical and mental hardship at the International Society for Continuous Education at Sherborne House, in Gloucestershire: in July 1976, he left, "anticipating never, everreturning tothe musicindustry".
He seemed to change his mind, though, after being invited to play guitar in Toronto on Peter Gabriel's debut solo album. His celebrated appearance on Bowie's "Heroes" followed, and soon Fripp was bringing his full arsenal - including the "Frippertronics" tape-loop system first deployed on 1973's Eno collaboration (No Pussyfooting) - to bear on Sacred Songs.
Hall, feeling constrained by Hall & Oates, appreciated the atmosphere of freewheeling creativity. "I'm interested in experimental music, and I always wanted to combine that with my natural Philadelphia roots," he declare. "Despite our different backgrounds, Robert and I were coming from the same place. I really enjoyed working with him. He's not a serious, solemn person. He has a great sense of humour,and we laughed a lot."
What resulted was a successful fusion of Hall's soul songwriting and Fripp's exploratory techniques. Although Hall had been dismissive ofHall & Oates' output of the time, the title track, and album opener, was straight pop boogie that would have fit on H&O's Beauty On A Backstreet (also '77). Something In 4/4 Time featured equal parts Fripp guitar artistry and Hall pyrotechnics. The near-eight-minute Babs And Babs most neatly represented the partnership, with four minutes of commercial Hall followed by four minutes of Frippertronics. And if Hall had Crowley on his mind, you'd hardly know, notwithstanding closer Without Tears being based on The Great Beast's posthumous l954 grimoire, Magick Without Tears. It hints at Hall attempting to reveal his innermost thoughts: "If there's one thing I've learned / Through the years / It's how to pour my heart out," he admits, without really doing just that.
Unfortunately, Hall & Oates manager Tommy Mottola was less impressed. Behind-scenes disputes - Mottola was arguing for it to be labelled a Hall & Fripp record - meant that Sacred Songs stayed in the vaults for three years (a spectral image of Hall stealing the mastertapes appears on the inner sleeve). This nixed Fripp's plan for it to be part of a so-called "MOR Trilogy" along with Peter Gabriel II (which he produced) and his own 1979 album, Exposure. Hall was originally the featured vocalist on the latter, but record company insistence that he receive equal billing, and fears the unorthodox music might alienate his pop audience, led to Hall's contributions being re-recorded by Peter Hammill and Terre Roche.
Fripp was devastated, both for Hall - had it appeared as planned in 1977, he believes Sacred Songs would have repositioned him as the young American peer of Bowie, Eno (who plays synth on the album) and Gabriel - and himself. For his part, Hall reflects, "Robert wanted me to stop Hall & Oates and just work with him permanently. And that was something I wasn't prepared to do."
Still, Sacred Songss remains a highpoint of both artists' careers, albeit an atypical - one. "It was an anomaly, yes," agrees Fripp, who later declared Hall "the best singer I've ever worked with". "But all the pivotal albums that we look back on as influential were anomalies."
TRACKS Sacred Song / Something In 4/4 Time / Babs And Babs / Urban Landscape / NYCNY / The Farther Away I Am / Why Was It So Easy / Don't Leave Me Alone With Her / Survive / Without Tears
PERSONNEL Daryl Hall (vocals, keyboards, synthesizer, mandar) / Robert Fripp (guitars, Frippertronics) / Roger Pope (drums) / Kenny Passarelli (bass) / Caleb Quaye (guitar) / Charlie De Chant (saxophone) / Brian Eno (synth) / Phil Collins (drums) / Tony Levin (bass) / others
PRODUCER Robert Fripp
RECORDED The Hit Factory, New York
CHART Number 58 (US)