Among the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1985, Tears for Fears is responsible for three; Daryl Hall & John Oates, for two. Two of the 1985 TFF songs — “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” — went to No. 1; so did H&O’s “Out of Touch,” a late-1984 release that lingered into 1985. “Touch” and “World” were No. 5 and No. 6, respectively, on the 1985 year-end list.
That’s as good an explanation as any for why the two groups, both featuring duos fronting full bands, are touring together, with a show that comes to Dallas’ American Airlines Center on Tuesday. Because during a couple of phone interviews at the outset of the tour, neither group seemed to know exactly how this came together.
“I don’t know, other than the fact that we’re both duos,” says Roland Orzabal, who fronts TFF along with Curt Smith. “I don’t see us as being similar. [But] you couldn’t get away from [Hall & Oates] in the ’80s, just like you couldn’t get away from us. They seem to have owned MTV, as did we, as did people like Duran Duran.”
Although John Oates, who has been Daryl Hall’s partner in Hall & Oates for more than 40 years, didn’t know exactly how the tour came together, either, he’s familiar — as are many classic-rock and classic-hits acts — with these package deals.
“We’ve toured over the years with so many great artists — Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Todd Rundgren, Chicago, and on and on,” Oates said in a separate phone interview. “Last year it was Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and Trombone Shorty, which was an incredible package. It so happened that Tears for Fears had made a new album, they were ready to go on the road. It just came together that way.”
Bigger than the both of us
So here’s Hall & Oates, with a run of Billboard Top 40 hits stretching from 1976 to 1988, heavily influenced by Motown and Philly soul but with elements of folk and even some avant-garde touches on their early albums. When new-wave music hit in the late ’70s, they adapted some of the synth-pop elements and had some huge years in the early to mid-’80s.
TFF’s Top 40 run was shorter — its biggest hits were from 1985’s “Songs From the Big Chair” and 1989’s “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” although the duo’s 1983 debut, “The Hurting,” generated the alt-pop anthems “Pale Shelter,” “Change” and “Mad World.” Like Hall & Oates, Orzabal and Smith met when they were teens, and had collaborated off and on before developing their more permanent identity.
“You could say I got Curt into music,” Orzabal said. “He was a bedroom singer, so he’d sing along to records in his bedroom. He was singing along to, funnily enough, ‘The Last Days of May’ by Blue Oyster Cult, and he sounded amazing. I was in a three-piece band ... so I asked Curt if he would come up and join the band. I introduced him to, at the tender age of, I think it was 14 or 15, and that was just kind of a school band.”
They went their separate ways, with Orzabal joining a band that had trouble holding on to a bass player. Smith was a bassist, so Orzabal recruited him, teaching him the bass parts to the band’s songs. They were both in a band called Graduate, described by Allmusic.com as a ska-revival band, and when that fell apart, they formed Tears for Fears, a name inspired by Arthur Janov’s primal-scream therapy, whose most famous disciple was John Lennon.
Hall & Oates doesn’t have as much obvious angst in its background; according to Oates’ recently published memoir (co-written with Chris Epting), “Change of Seasons,” the two were already friends with an interest in R&B when, in 1970, Oates returned from a busking trip around Europe to find that he had been locked out of the apartment he shared with Hall’s sister and her boyfriend. He knocked on Hall’s door, with no money and nothing but a guitar and a backpack, and Hall and his then-wife, Bryna, let him crash in one of the rooms. That’s when Hall and Oates began writing songs together.
Although his solo work — steeped in folk, blues and other roots music — reveals a soulful, baritone voice, Oates rarely sang lead vocals on Hall & Oates’ songs, the biggest exceptions arguably being the minor 1980 hit “How Does it Feel To Be Back” and the duo’s cover of the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” He was sometimes unfairly referred to as the second banana in the group.
In 2012, when Oates opened Fort Worth’s Live Oak Music Hall with a solo show — he remembers that crews were still painting the club’s walls — he told the Star-Telegram that he was OK with Hall getting most of the attention. “In the course of our relationship, the songs that Daryl sang tended to be the ones that radio gravitated to,” Oates said back then. “I have a different type of thing. My thing is more emotional, my thing is more intimate.”
Everybody loves a happy ending
Which makes it a little surprising that Oates was the one who wrote a memoir. It’s one that journeys from his childhood to Hall & Oates’ heyday to a late-’80s discovery of a financial disaster that led Oates to practically reinvent himself in the ’90s, when there was a lull in his collaboration with Hall. (Although there was a fallow period in their music, the act has never broken up).
Oates made a conscious decision to tell his story, and while Hall is part of it, he is more of a recurring character in the book than a regular supporting one.
“Over the course of the writing over the past two years, we were together a lot on tour ... and when I finished a piece that had a lot to do with Hall & Oates or a lot to do with him, I’d let him read it. I’d get his feedback,” Oates says. “He’s an avid reader, and if anyone’s going to be a harsh critic, it’s going to be him. He was positive about the whole thing. He joked at certain points and said, ‘Man, I’m glad you’re doing this, because now I don’t have to do it.’ ”
Sometimes if you go to the “music” section of a mass-market bookstore, it seems like practically anyone who has been in a rock group has written a memoir or has been the subject of a biography or tell-all. But Orzabal, who is also an author, has focused on fiction — although his 2014 comic novel, “Sex, Drugs & Opera: There’s Life After Rock ‘n’ Roll,” has a memoir-esque title and more than a little of a “write what you know” air about it.
Despite Tears for Fears’ massive popularity in the ’80s — the hits from “Big Chair,” especially, still get a lot of airplay — it also went through a fallow period in the ’90s, when Smith and Orzabal split over creative differences and Orzabal continued with TFF albums that were more like solo works. The two have since reconciled and are expecting to benefit from playing a bill with Hall & Oates, which has a broader and sometimes older core demographic.
“This whole tour allows us to play to a much bigger audience, and that in itself is going to be very, very interesting, to see who turns up,” Orzabal says. “ But we have played a lot lately in very different circumstances. For instance, we only just start playing festivals. We managed to work our set into a festival set, and a lot of the young people were pleasantly surprised.”
Daryl Hall & John Oates and Tears for Fears
7 p.m. Tuesday
American Airlines Center