Prior to releasing their debut album Whole Oats, Daryl Hall and John Oates had sketched out some demos, originally released as the Past Times Behind collection (since reissued under a variety of titles). Those recordings found them earnest and tentative, in the throes of their folk-rock phase, and they led to Atlantic signing the duo, putting them under the tutelage of producer Arif Mardin, who had previously helmed records by the Rascals and Dusty Springfield's landmark Dusty in Memphis. Mardin helped open up the duo's sound, retaining the preciousness that marked their ballads but subtly layering sounds on the livelier numbers and encouraging these two veterans of Philly soul groups to play up their R&B influence. At its core, Whole Oats is still quite precious, often a little too delicate for its own good, but about half of the album works and works rather brilliantly. Two carryovers from Past Times Behind, "Fall in Philadelphia" and "Goodnight and Goodmorning," illustrate the skill of Mardin's production and how it highlights the duo's strengths. "Fall in Philadelphia" is given a soul makeover, with some funky guitar and horns plus a stylish vibraphone line, yet it retains the folky, melancholic undertow of the original, while "Goodnight and Goodmorning" is given an epic production, sailing along on its strings and achieving an understated beauty. In Mardin's hands, both turn into minor classics, and there are a few other songs that are equally as successful, most notably the opener "I'm Sorry" and the melancholy closer "Lilly (Are You Happy)," two terrific fusions of Hall & Oates' R&B roots, singer/songwriter aspirations, and Mardin's ear for modern pop/rock and soul. If the rest of the album was as strong as these four songs, Whole Oats would have been a crackerjack debut, but they're the highlights on what is essentially a promising debut. The first side has some nice moments -- the lightly skipping "All Our Love," Hall's quiet, introspective "Waterfall" -- but the second side gets stuck in a series of sleepy ballads that derails whatever momentum the album gained. Nevertheless, a little over of half of the record works, and four cuts are early classics, which is more than enough to make Whole Oats a strong debut.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine