Friday, September 28, 2007


One of my favorite places to fully experience music is during Spinning sessions at my gym, the Sports Center at Toluca Lake—assuming the instructors use some of the tracks I burn for them. Illegal? Technically. But I believe I’ve inspired quite a few iTunes transactions during the five years I’ve been doing this, so get over it.

I started Spinning after a sobering visit to the orthopedist, where I found out that 20 years of daily runs had ground nearly all of the cartilage out of my knees. The doctor told me to switch to low-impact workouts and recommended bicycling. A few months later, with some trepidation, I took my first Spinning class and was gratified by the amount of sweat that poured out of me during the 50 minutes, although the music itself left something to be desired. Soon afterward, I bought myself a pair of bike shoes and started putting together CD compilations of tracks with infectious beats for the trainers. Some of them failed to get the hint or just didn’t hear the stuff I’d come up with as applicable to their approaches, but I was delighted when a couple of them started working my picks into their playlists. I’ll never forget how delighted I was the first time Spoon’s “The Way We get By” from my very first compilation came blasting out of the speakers and the whole class jumped right on the groove.

The most receptive trainer—and the one whose taste most closely paralleled my own—was the youngest, Essie Shure, who’s now 25. Essie has a great ear and a highly developed sense of rhythm, which she uses with the skill of a choreographer to keep the Spinners cranking at the peaks of their effort levels. If you haven’t tried one of these classes—and yes, it does look intimidating when you stick your head into a class and see the sweat flying off them and their legs whizzing impossibly fast on the pedals—you’ll be shocked by how motivating it can be with a good instructor and a compelling song sequence.

The basic idea behind Spinning is the adjusting of a resistance knob in relation to the groove of the track, from sprinting to the equivalent of pedaling up a steep hill, and the more resistance you dial up, the more effort it takes to stay right on top of the groove. The thing is, with an inspiring piece of music, you find yourself putting out a more intense effort than you thought you were capable of. Psychologically, it’s a lot like dancing—you’re so into the groove that you don’t realize how hard you’re working. Indeed, when I look into the mirror on the front wall and see as many as 20 Spinners in five rows of four bikes all completely in synch with a really good song, it reminds me of finding myself in a line of dancers doing the hustle back in the mid-’70s.

One of these days I’m gonna compile a Spinning’s Greatest Hits playlist from my now vast experience—I average six intensive Spins (and one creaky run) a week. But for now, a look at Essie’s playlist from yesterday (to the best of my memory) is a killer example of a playlist that doesn’t quit—think of the following as 800 calories burned in the most brutally pleasurable way possible.

1. Spoon, The Underdog (pre-class warm-up, 3:42)
2. Crowded House, Don’t Stop Now (sprint, 3:54)
3. Feist, My Moon My Man (climb, 3:48)
4. Traveling Wilburys, End of the Line (stand-up jog, 3:30)
5. Arcade Fire, Keep the Car Running (sprint, 3:29)
6. New Radicals, You Get What You Give (climb, 5:02)
7. Royskopp, Remind Me (radio edit) (sprint, 3:38)
8. Kings of Leon, Knocked Up (climb/sprint, 7:10)
9. Shins, Sea Legs (climb, 5:23)
10. Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather (stand-up jog, 3:27)
11. Thom Yorke, Harrowdown Hill (extended) (climb/sprint, 7:03)
12. LCD Soundsystem, Get Innocuous! (sit/stand/squat, 7:12)
13. Prince, A Case of You (cool-down, 3:31)

Thursday, September 13, 2007


In February 2006, near the end of our sponsorship by Sony Connect, Roy and I were joined by the shorter, darker half of Hall & Oates for a three-way chat we referred to at the time as a “tri-a-blog.” Because the powers that be questioned the degree of interest in John’s musical opinions, the virtual conversation got shelved, and our most-trafficked blog, with Fall Out Boy’s articulate Pete Wentz, turned out to be our last. Considering that Hall & Oates drew in excess of 30,000 fans to the Hollywood Bowl over two shows last weekend—making it clear that the powers that be had been dead wrong about the duo’s appeal—Roy and I thought this would be the perfect time to post our exchange with Oates, in the original Music Snobs format, including the related playlist, which follows the back-and-forth. You can also read Roy’s review of H&O’s Bowl performance in the latest edition of Trakin Care of Business on

BIGGER THAN BOTH OF US: In which Bud and Roy induct John Oates into the Music Snobs inner circle, as they tackle such topics as Zen and the art of songwriting, the recipe for great soul music and the yin and yang of Hall & Oates. John also gives his takes on H&O’s legacy, Curtis Mayfield, Nickel Creek, Maroon 5 and John's new discovery, Geoff Byrd.

Bud: Hey John, I gotta start with something nonmusical: You look EXACTLY like you did 20 years ago, minus the 'stache, of course. What's your secret?
John: Living in Aspen, CO, good genes and a few thousand sit-ups!
Bud: Ab-solutely.
Roy: It is pretty remarkable, but he has to keep up with Daryl... That can't be easy.
John: What you don't know is that I'm getting shorter!
Roy: It's the laws of gravity...
John: I'm done on that subject
Bud: It seems absurd to say this about the top-selling duo of all time, but you guys are underrated. Not by me, though. I've been following along since Abandoned Luncheonette.
Roy: No Grammys in your entire career... That's unbelievable.
John: Well, I guess it depends on who's rating us... We've never been members of the Grammy club, so I guess that's the reason.
Roy: It seems to bother Daryl... Does that lack of recognition bother you at all, John?
John: Four American Music Awards and an induction into the Writers Hall of Fame (of which I'm very proud). Yes it bothers me – not for the awards aspect, but for the respect within our own business.
Bud: The thing is, when you talk about soul singers, you don't need the qualifying adjective in terms of Hall & Oates.
Roy: Your most recent album, Our Kind of Soul, is a real tribute to your own roots and seminal influences.
John: We started as songwriters and evolved as performers, but I think the essence of what we do starts with the songs.
Roy: What makes a great song for you? Both in terms of your influences and the way you started writing…
John: I'm thinking long and hard on this subject as I've just been invited to do a lecture at Berklee about songwriting.
Bud: Really? There's some validation.
John: There are so many components to the process, it’s hard to deal with it in this format. I would say the marriage of words and music, inspiration and connecting with the listener by tapping into a common emotional thread. There's also the magical part, where you create something from nothing, balanced by the craft aspect, which you can develop and hone.
Bud: So in order to become universal, a song has to start out as a personal expression. There are certain emotions a song can evoke more intensely than any other art form. Longing, heartbreak and I suppose joy, for that matter… Libido...
Roy: I know you first met Daryl at a Philly concert of some of those original inspirations... How important was R&B and soul to your early development?
John: Man, we got the historian and the psychologist!!!!
Bud: Ha! We can change places very easily, though.
John: My brain's frying – settle down, boys... Plus it’s two against one!
Roy: Well, history and psychology... I would say both go into writing a song.
John: Very true... Personal songs are an amalgamation of your past and influences combined by one's personal point of view and style of expressing it.
Bud: Can you enumerate any of those influences?
John: I'm always trying to write a song that captures the spirit of the music of my past...the music/songs that made me want to be a musician. Someday I'll write the perfect John Oates song that captures the spirit of Curtis Mayfield.
Roy: What's your favorite Curtis Mayfield song?
John: “People Get Ready” and “Gypsy Woman.” He was a unique R&B performer in that he played guitar and sang ...rare in the ’60s His singing and playing style is very high on my list of influences.
Bud: That's true. There are only a handful – Bobby Womack is another one...
“People Get Ready” is the essence of gospel, and gospel's the root of soul, right?
John: The spiritualism and pop sensibilities blended without diminishing either form.
Roy: What about your affinity to groups like The Spinners, O'Jays, The Emotions and The Stylistics, all of whom you cover on the new album? What did you take from them? And I imagine Motown was another obvious touchstone.
John: There are so many... I was a big fan of Stax/Volt stuff as well. The Philly stuff is in the blood – what I heard on the radio growing up. It has to do with the evolution of doo-wop and those harmonies unique to Philly music
Bud: There were still regional hits in the 1960s... That may be hard for people to understand in the information age.
John: The demise of American regional music is one of the great losses to our popular culture
Bud: It was your incubator, allowing you to combine culture, immediacy and certain preferred technical elements – including vocal harmonies.
John: The regional sound of Philly is a very important part of the tapestry, and perhaps not as well appreciated as Motown, for instance
Bud: Not as celebrated, except by music scholars, I suppose.
John: Philly music has its roots in the fact that it is one of the first "Northern" cities that combined Southern Black culture and Anglo church music (the English). It’s very piano-oriented, and vocal harmonies are a big part.
Bud: I never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense. Like the blues and Chicago around the same time.
John: The music that came up the Mississippi River was guitar/blues-based, and the Chicago sound is a more sophisticated version of that.
Roy: I didn't realize you were such a musicologist, John.
Roy: You do a great cover of The Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child."
John: When D and I met, we were at a "record hop" in W. Philly, and The Five Stairsteps were the headliners. I thought the song was a perfect vehicle for our voices.
Bud: Your approach seems to be to let Daryl step up while you fill in the canvas. I love that combination.
John: Takes more than that for a backstage pass!!! It has to do with our personalities: what you see is what you get... It’s all very natural and not contrived. He is exactly what you see onstage, and so am I.
Bud: I loved that bit he wrote about you in the notes of Our Kind of Soul about "What You See Is What You Get," one of your rare lead vocals. You're the perfect team player.
Roy: You seem so low-key; you let Daryl take the spotlight...
Bud: But he couldn't do what he does without John.
John: It’s the old Zen thing: Can't have a beautiful sunset without the horizon.
Bud: Dude, you rock!
John: OK, now you get the pass!!!
Bud: The yin/yang thing is at the heart of pop artistry. Phil & Don, John & Paul, Mick & Keith.
Roy: You don't ever feel like telling Daryl he's a prima donna?
John: You can't be a lead singer and frontman without an unusually large amount of confidence and flamboyance.
Roy: You are the perfect "second banana." And I don't mean that as an insult, either.
John: Sometimes I just want to climb a mountain and drive my tractor. I'll eat the banana after I reach the summit.
Bud: You're loaded with Zen metaphors.
John: I'm more of a nuts-and-bolts person, and since no one sees what I do behind the scenes, there can always be some questions about things... A duo always seems to evoke that sort of thing.
Roy: What stand out as definitive H&O songs to you?
John: There are many... “She's Gone,” of course...”Sara Smile,” “Maneater”... But there are album tracks that provide even more insight into us as people...way too much to get into here.
Bud: "Open All Night" is a really good album track.
John: Sure...what about “Adult Education”? How's about “Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear the Voices)”? “Change of Season” is one of my personal faves.
Bud: And most people don't know you made "experimental" records like Along the Red Ledge in the mid-’70s.
John: Red Ledge is one of my fave albums...
Roy: What about the string of huge hits in the '80s: "Kiss on My List," "You Make My Dreams," "I Can't Go for That”… Do you feel that was your peak?
John: No, I don't feel the ’80s were our most creative – only our most commercially successful. We were free to experiment in the ’70s. Take a look at the styles we dipped into... Abandoned Luncheonette to War Babies ... Need I say more?!
Bud: There weren't the stylistic barricades then that you see now in pop. When your career is consigned to a one-disc best-of, people completely miss the nuances that make an artist special and deep. You guys need a box set.
John: Ah... Box set coming this year!!!! There are so many songs in the catalog – we're talking over 30 years!!!
Roy: Ya know, John, your attitude is downright refreshing in this era of egos run amok...
Bud: Hey John, he says the same thing to me.
John: Nothing like a ringside seat as Egos Run Amok!!!! Sounds like a "B" movie.
Roy: Do you think the critics punished you for that eclecticism?
John: Critics have to write something to get attention... I mostly listen to musicians when it comes to music.
Bud: At the same time, those '80s nuggets like "I Can't Go for That,” “You Make My Dreams” and “Kiss on My List” are absolutely perfect in their organization as songs and as records. Like soul/pop sonnets.
Roy: How did you hit the zeitgeist at that point?
John: We made well-crafted pop records in the ’80s that reflected the time. Our sound became the sound of radio, and we rode the wave.
Bud: Did that become less gratifying after a while? I suppose it could have become an artistic cul de sac...
John: Living in NYC during that time gave us an edge to tap into the common consciousness of the era… By mid-’85 we had done about all one could do... We needed to step out to survive
Roy: Are you disappointed the group seems to have been marginalized by critics into an "oldies/blue-eyed soul” outfit?
John: Obviously you haven't seen us perform lately... The fact that we've never really stopped touring has kept us vital and on our game. We've never drifted into the nostalgia category. Most people say we're a lot better now than we ever were... Not to mention the fact that we seem to draw a new audience of fans who come in curious and leave believers.
Bud: And why not? You have that massive body of work and you've matured as artists.
Roy: I saw the show at the Greek, and you guys were fantastic. The band rocked, and the crowd was into it... I'm just talking about the general perspective.
Bud: Look, people who know what makes up musical artistry can just look at the work and see that it succeeds on so many levels.
Roy: Do you listen to new music?
John: Yes, I listen for songs regardless of the style... One of my fave albums this year is Nickel Creek’s Why Should the Fire Die? Everything about that record is a masterpiece...the playing, singing and recording are perfect. Their musicianship is kinda scary!!!!
Bud: Those three are musicians' musicians.
Roy: They're kind of on the roots-country side, right?
Bud: But consider the parallel, Roy – harmony singing.
Roy: The similarities of all great music.
John: I'm working with a new artist – Geoff Byrd – and he is the real thing!
Bud: I just checked him out on Well-crafted and well-sung. What's your involvement? Guy's from Portland, OR, I see.
John: Wait till you hear his new stuff, some of which I've co-written with him and my buddy Jed Leiber. Geoff opened the show for us in L.A. last summer, and I was taken with his voice... Turns out H&O are a big influence, and we started to write together.
Bud: Where is the new material taking him? The tracks I sampled don’t seem particularly soul-oriented.
John: Soul is a state of mind, not a musical style… He is what the music business needs: a committed, talented artist who can develop and become someone who can have a long career.
Bud: Too bad the music business forgot about that stuff.
Roy: What about Maroon 5? They seem closest to a Hall & Oates for the 21st century.
Bud: Except it's Adam Levine's show. But they are overtly soul-influenced.
John: Yes, their pop stuff is very "today." They've got their finger on the pulse of their audience.
Bud: Daryl also writes in the notes to Our Kind of Soul that in the '90s, because you stopped for a while, you were able to step outside of yourselves, look at yourselves objectively and figure out what you do that's unique.
John: True...not to mention I was able to "get a life" outside of my career...have a child, get married, build a house... Those experiences allowed me to survive. My music is richer for it. Now my career is only part of my life, not all of it.
Bud: You mean there's more to life than groupies and blow?
Roy: Can't be, Bud.
Bud: Can you elaborate on what makes you unique…in 25 words or less? Kidding.
John: We are part of the sound of Philadelphia infused with a lifetime of travel around the world and the personal point of view of two guys who read a lot.
Roy: Quick take, John... Hip-hop... Was it the ruin or salvation of soul music?
John: Hip-hop expressed the world it comes from – just another limb on the tree of rock.
Bud: My turn. Who's the greatest male soul singer ever: Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder or Al Green?
John: Remember, soul is not the domain of race. How can I answer that?? Too many kings, too many castles…not enough crowns.
Bud: OK. John Lennon or Bob Dylan?
John: Dylennon.
Bud: Nice save.
John: Thanx. I've done a lot of interviews!!!
Roy: Ya know, Oates is less a Music Snob than a Zen Archer....
Bud: Bull’s-eye.
John: Maybe more a Zen Swimmer trying to keep his head above water.
Roy: You and we both, sir.
Bud: Looks like psychology trumps history today...
John: Thank God I took typing in 11th grade… Dinner is on the stove and my son just got a Lego with 3104 pieces!!! So maybe we need to wind this down.
Roy: John, a pleasure.... You are an honorary Music Snob, but in your case, that doesn't even begin to convey your point of view.
John: I've always known I was a Music Snob, but now it’s official. Thanx for including me in this mayhem – now I gotta rest my fingers. I need a glass of wine and some eye drops!!!

Bud: I'll drink to that! And blink to that.


Daryl Hall & John Oates
I’ll Be Around
(Our Kind of Soul)
“A real tribute to [their] own roots and seminal influences.” – Roy

Daryl Hall & John Oates
What You See Is What You Get
(Our Kind of Soul)
“One of [John’s] rare lead vocals… The perfect team player.” – Bud

Daryl Hall & John Oates
When the Morning Comes
(The Atlantic Collection)
“I’ve been following along since Abandoned Luncheonette.” – Bud

Curtis Mayfield
Gypsy Woman
(20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions)
“Someday I'll write the perfect John Oates song that captures the spirit of Curtis Mayfield.” – John

Curtis Mayfield
People Get Ready
(20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions)
“The spiritualism and pop sensibilities blended without diminishing either form.” – John

The Five Stairsteps
O-o-h Child
(The First Family of Soul: The Best of the Five Stairsteps)
“When D and I met, we were at a ‘record hop’ in W. Philly, and the Five Stairsteps were the headliners. I thought the song was a perfect vehicle for our voices.” – John

Daryl Hall and John Oates
Adult Education
(Rock ’N Soul, Part 1)
“There are album tracks that provide even more insight into us as people.” – John

Daryl Hall & John Oates
It’s a Laugh
(Along the Red Ledge)
“Most people don't know you made ‘experimental’ records like Along the Red Ledge in the mid-’70s.” – Bud

Daryl Hall & John Oates
I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)
(The Very Best of Daryl Hall/John Oates)
“Absolutely perfect in [its] organization as song and record.” – Bud
“Our sound became the sound of radio, and we rode the wave” – John

Daryl Hall & John Oates
Kiss on My List
(The Very Best of Daryl Hall/John Oates)
“I don't feel the ’80s were our most creative – only our most commercially successful.” – John

Maroon 5
Sunday Morning
(Songs About Jane)
“A Hall & Oates for the 21st century” – Roy
“They've got their finger on the pulse of their audience.” – John

Sunday, September 9, 2007


It felt like Peggy and I had entered some parallel universe Friday night. The strange sensation kicked in as we drove over the hill from Studio City to the Greek Theatre, where the Kings of Leon were headlining, and found ourselves in a traffic jam on the Hollywood Freeway because of all the cars heading to the Hollywood Bowl to see (are you ready?) Hall & Oates, on the first of two nights with the Spinners. Now, if someone had told me a year ago that 30,000-plus people would pay to see an act that hasn’t had a hit in a quarter century, and that another 5,000 or more would flock to the Greek to see a young band that’s seemingly barely on the radar in L.A., I would’ve dismissed the scenario as a pipe dream. Happily, it turns out there are enough music lovers in Tinseltown drawn to the holy trinity of good songs/good singin’/good playin’ to nearly fill the city’s two biggest outdoor venues.

As a Hall & Oates fan since Abandoned Luncheonette in 1973, I’d be stunned if the Bowl crowd was anything less than gaga over the sounds and style of the impeccable Philly soul men (looking forward to reading Roy’s assessment of the show in the next edition of Trakin Care of Business on But I’m here to tell you that the fans who came to see the Kings of Leon went absolutely bonkers over them, standing (or more accurately boogalooing) throughout the entire near-two-hour set and putting up the sort of roar you hear from a full stadium at a college football game. How did they even know about this band? The only place you can hear them on L.A. terrestrial radio is on KCRW…but then, terrestrial radio isn’t how people discover music anymore, as Friday night’s turnout so amply demonstrated.

The Greek offered a killer ahead-of-the-curve bill, as the Followill boys brought along young Atlanta-based neoimpressionists the Manchester Orchestra (missed ’em, unfortunately) and L.A.’s own Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who were at their mesmerizing, lurking-in-the-shadows best as they led the crowd through the gloaming and into the night.

The place went nuts when KOL hit the stage, starting even before the struck the chunky chords of the opening number, the characteristically refracted, poetically titled stadium rocker “Black Thumbnail”—and I was shocked when the goateed dude next to me (who looked like Murray in Flight of the Conchords) started singing in word for word at the top of his lungs, even nailing Caleb’s utterly unprecedented vocal character, at once conversational and incantatory, with its roil of phlegm, pine tar and raw silk, sliding upward at the ends of lines, Valley-girl-like, in a real-time metaphor of yearning.

As my ear adjusted to the surreal moment, I realized there were thousands of would-be Calebs forming a massive, chanting chorus that covered the hillside—and they’d keep it up through the whole show. Inspired by the enraptured response, KOL ratcheted up the exhilarating urgency that permeated everything the played, offering living proof of what their longtime producer, Ethan Johns had described to me a few months ago as “spiritual elevation.”

Interesting, the newest songs—they played all but two tracks from Because of the Times (my album of the year, in a runaway—and it’s been a really good year), on which they’ve perfected the unique ricocheting rhythms that emanate from their genetically synchronized racing pulses and their musical teeth-cutting at countless Pentecostal services—brought an increased intensity to the selections from the first two albums. The groove starts with oldest brother Nathan, 28, who locates and messes with all sorts of rhythmic counterpoints on every part of his kit, and extends to youngest brother Jared, 21, whose own rhythmic inventiveness seems to mesh with Nathan’s like Velcro while seeming wholly his own. Cousin Matthew transforms lead guitar into a rhythm instrument, slicing through the carnivorous grooves as if his Gibson were a Ginsu knife.

The template is perfectly set in the album’s astounding seven-minute opener, “Knocked Up,” which features the most striking use of space in a rock song since Jimmy Miller was producing the Stones—all the better to silhouette the interlocked elements, including a wordless background chant that starts as a kind of spur-of-the-moment aside and blossoms into a thrilling expression of us-against-the-world brotherhood. Naturally, they saved “Knocked Up” for the first encore, and people started singing Oh-ooh-whoa-WHOA-oh as soon as the band kicked into the song’s tantalizing, trench-deep groove. Talk about goosebumps.

That “Knocked Up” rhythmic sauce enlivened other songs in the set, particularly the ferociously funky “My Party,” with its addictively gleeful refrain, “Ooh, she’s at my party,” and the swaggering “Fans,” which starts out with the similarly delectable line, “Homegrown…rock to the rhythm and bop to the beat of the radio.” The way Caleb fired it off Friday night, it sounded like both a credo and a promise.

I fell in love with them back in January, not at a show—this was my first KOL performance—but during an interview with all four of them in a Nashville restaurant. In person they’re just as irresistible as they are onstage—26-year-old Caleb dead-earnest but loaded with spontaneous punchlines his speaking voice identical to his singing voice; Nathan the ringleader, dry and intense; Jared with his cover-boy looks, guileless and passionate; and cousin Matthew, 23, seemingly lost in thought, opening his mouth only when he has something particular to say. These guys and that album they’d made—well, they had me hook, line and sinker. This was a show I had no intention of missing, and it didn’t surprise me that it was everything I’d hoped for. What surprised me was that I was surrounded by believers every bit as ardent as I am, and that was an immensely gratifying surprise. Taste is alive—hallelujah.

They didn’t do anything but play—no patter, no posing, just takin’ care of business. And, like Radiohead live, they were all the more cool for their laser-like focus on the matter at hand. The closest thing to theatricality was Nathan blowing bubbles between swigs of beer, the pink globes he kept inflating framed by his shoulder-length dark hair. Watching them, I was reminded one point Caleb had made with unmistakable pride during the Nashville conversation. “We’ve quit tryin’ to be fuckin’ cool,” he told me. “This is gonna sound really cocky, but at this point, we know we’re cool. I don’t mean that in a negative way; we’re comfortable in our skin, and we realize we’re cool enough now where we don’t try to be as cool as the other bands. Fuck it—we just try to go for it.”

Yesterday, Peggy was telling one of her friends about the show. “I loved them—everybody loved them,” she said. “And they’re all so cute. It was almost like seeing the Rolling Stones.”

During my phoner with Ethan, he made a provocative assertion. “This is gonna sound a little absurd,” he told me, “but I do think that they’re the best rock & roll band playing at the moment. I don’t think there’s anyone out there that holds a candle to these guys—they’re mind-blowing.”

Now I get it, Ethan—I totally get it.