“Around 1974, I graduated into the occult, and spent a solid six or seven years immersed in the Kabala and the Chaldean, Celtic, and Druidic traditions … I also became fascinated with Aleister Crowley, the nineteenth-century magician who shared these beliefs.” (Penthouse Magazine, March, 1987, pp. 60,62) - Daryl Hall
“Do What You Want, Be What You Are” is a song that I didn’t hear until I was maybe a junior or senior in college. However, listening to Daryl Hall & John Oates with my parents is one of my earliest musical memories. They didn’t have Bigger Than Both of Us, but the moment I heard this song, I fell hard. I watch this clip of a live show at least once a month because Daryl Hall puts on such an insane performance. I once quipped that, when the technology is available, I will literally have sex with this song. I don’t care who knows it. That’s a statement I will stand by.
Daryl Hall sounds so incredible on this track. His voice has the perfect mix of passion, conviction, and sensuality. The guitar track does that staccato hit on beats two and four to emphasize the backbeat. It’s so simple, but so effective. Listen for how the strings lead into the chorus and then just hold onto their unison note while slowly fading out as Hall sings “Do what you want to do” repeatedly. It preps you for the way the group vocals come in right after that, starting in unison and then opening up to a thick harmony on “But be what you are.”
It takes so much work to keep up the rhythmic intensity on a tune as slow as this one so you can’t forget about the drums on a track like this. You would never really think about it unless you were actually trying to play it in which case you would start to rush the hell out of it. The bass locks in so tightly with the kick drum, which helps keep that sense of time back where it should be.
Hall & Oates got labeled pretty early on as blue-eyed soul artists. If you think about it at all, the term “Blue-eyed soul” is absolutely ridiculous as it pretty much only exists to refer to white artists doing R&B. Can you imagine a similar term referring to, say, Hispanic artists playing metal? Black artists playing country? No way. Shit wouldn’t fly.
In 1979, Hall & Oates were starting to flirt more with the idea of just being a straight-forward pop band with R&B influences rather than an R&B band with pop tendencies. They released X-Static with that idea in mind and “Wait For Me” is a perfect example of where they were heading.
X-Static was their fist album with G.E. Smith, a man who became a staple of their live shows during those years as well as the bandleader for Saturday Night Live from 1985-1995. Anybody watching during those years of SNL will remember his over-the-top playing style very well. His style courses through the veins of “Wait For Me.”
“Wait For Me” is a spectacular song built from a place Hall & Oates had rarely gone before. At its core, “Wait For Me” is a straight-forward pop song but the guitar work is a bit heavier than their earlier work. There’s even some Thin Lizzy-esque harmonized guitar parts. The way the bass moves down chromatically right before the chorus is so great. The bridge that begins right after the second chorus is masterfully crafted. It builds tension slowly, starting off with just some solo “la-la” vocals, then it adds harmony under that, then it adds the guitar in harmony with the lead vocal again. The core of what makes music interesting is creating tension and then resolving it in a satisfying way and the bride of this tune does that perfectly.
With the release of Voices less than one year later, Hall & Oates became the biggest pop group in the world and began their most prolific period but the X-Static album is what started them in that direction and “Wait For Me” was really the turning point.
Growing up I would buy a record and never know what the hell they looked like until I saw them play live or something. Now they want to know what you had for breakfast. Tonight, we’re having banh mi for dinner.