With their buoyant locks, dashing smiles, and radio-friendly pop hits, Hall and Oates were a mainstay of the music world throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Combining blues, pop, R&B, and disco elements, the American duo had hit after hit with tracks like ‘She’s Gone,’ ‘Rich Girl,’ ‘Kiss On My List,’ and ‘I Can’t Go For That’. Today, they are regarded as one of the most successful pop artists in the genre’s history and something of an artefact of ’80s cheese. Who would have thought then, that their first meeting would be under such violent circumstances?
Daryl Hall and John Oates had been in one another’s orbit since they were children, both having grown up in the suburbs of Philidelphia in the ’50s and ’60s. But it wouldn’t be until they graduated high school and went to university that the two would meet.
In the 1960s, they both attended Temple University, where Hall studied music and Oates majored in journalism. At that time, Hall was a member of The Temptones, a successful act that had managed to secure a recording contract with a small label. Oates, however, was part of the Masters, who had just released their first single, ‘I Need Your Love’. In 1967, the two acts were invited to perform at the Adelphi Ballroom on North 52nd Street in Philadelphia, where they were given the opportunity to show their tracks to local DJ, Jerry Bishop. It was impossible to get air-play without Bishop’s blessing, so both acts knew how important this performance was.
Soon, Hall and Oates found themselves in the same back-stage dressing room in the Adelphi, waiting for their moment to take to the stage. But before either of them got the chance, they heard shots ringing out across the dancefloor. Peering out, they saw that a riot had broken out between two rival fraternities, or “Gangs with Greek letters”, as Hall would later refer to them.
From behind the curtain, they could see a cluster of thick-necked frat boys wielding chains, hammers, knives, and guns. Hall recalled the moment they heard someone took fired a bullet into the crowd. “We were all getting ready for the show to start when we heard screams—and then gunshots. It seemed a full-scale riot had erupted out in the theatre, not a shocker given the times. Like a lot of other cities around the country, Philly was a city where racial tensions had begun to boil over.”
Both Hall and Oates knew that it was time to go. The last thing they wanted was to be caught in the middle of a violent race riot. But, because the concert was being held on the upper floor of the Adelphia, it was impossible for anyone backstage to use the exit. Instead, they all had to jam themselves into the same tiny service elevator. Squeezing themselves like sardines into a can, Hall and Oates suddenly found themselves nose to nose. Hall would later remember that first meeting: “I said ‘Oh, well, you didn’t get to go on, either. How ya doin’? You go to Temple University, I go to Temple University. See you later, bye.’ And that was it, that’s how we met.”
But a few weeks later, the two musicians bumped into each other again, this time under less life-threatening circumstances. They joked about their shared near-death experience and explained how each of their doo-wop groups had since disbanded. Eager to continue playing music, Daryl Hall and John Oates agreed that, if the other was up for it, they should try collaborating some time. And thus, a 50-year career was born.