Home Read Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Daryl Hall | Sacred Songs

Area Resident’s Classic Album Review: Daryl Hall | Sacred Songs

The pop singer enlists guitar hero Robert Fripp for this groundbreaking solo release.

It’s fun when musicians from varied backgrounds end up on one record.

Apart from Sacred Songs by Daryl Hall, I can’t think of many records which offer this with as much critical success. The 1980 album came out when Hall & Oates were a well-established blue-eyed soul act, but just before they got really, really huge. Their first top-10 album Private Eyes came out the following year.

In actual fact, Sacred Songs was recorded in 1977 — during a lean period for the duo, but one which also saw them score a major hit with Rich Girl. So, their label decided to see what would happen if they let Hall record a solo album. Maybe he’d be another Kenny Loggins, Paul Simon, Cher or Tina Turner: Duo artists who had great solo success.

Here’s where it gets interesting — Hall went to work on an album with Robert Fripp of King Crimson and three-fifths of Elton John’s backing band. Roger Pope, Kenny Passarelli and Caleb Quaye had contributed drums, bass and guitars respectively to Elton’s last two albums, Rock Of The Westies and Blue Moves. Fripp — fresh from having just done the unforgettable guitar work on David Bowie’s Heroes — wrote one of the songs and co-wrote another. This album is about as far from Maneater as you can get, while still having Hall involved. That’s not a bad thing if you ask me, but the record label was not best pleased. That’s why the album didn’t get released until three years later. “I don’t hear a single!”

Yeah, but what do you hear? — the incredible voice of Hall, his sense of melody and renewed artistic freedom, the unique tone, creativity and lyrical explosiveness of Fripp’s guitar, songwriting and varied Frippertronics — backed by the tight, steady and affable Elton John Band who know how to do as they’re told. When Fripp made his acclaimed solo record Exposure two years later, he got Hall involved with it — a partnership which seems, in retrospect, to be the groundwork for the next phase of King Crimson featuring Adrian Belew. Fripp also took on the role of producer on Sacred Songs. For me, this record, Exposure and its followup God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners make up a trilogy. If you like, you can also throw in Peter Gabriel’s first two solo albums, which Fripp also contributed to in a major way during this time.

Sacred Songs opens with the title track, which probably posed no issues for John’s trio. That’s who it sounds most like — a poppy, piano-led boogie complete with a sax solo. Fripp was no stranger to reed instruments during his earlier Crimson years, but not like this. It makes me smile to imagine him playing the little ripper of a solo in this. That is, if it is Fripp and not Quaye. It’s a great pop song. Something In 4/4 Time picks up where the opener leaves off. It’s more of the same, with a much better chorus and a fantastic bridge with tight Ob-la-di-ob-la-da backing vocals. But, the best part is the undeniable first reveal of Fripp around 1:45 in. The pop/Crimson mashup really, really works.

The epic Babs And Babs is next — all seven-plus minutes of it. The closest thing Fripp would have been involved in was Excuse Me by Gabriel. It’s a difficult song to categorize. Mid-tempo, it has elements of Hall & Oates, Billy Joel and late ’70s Frank Zappa. There’s an extended solo leading up to the halfway point, where suddenly the song drops into Frippertronics and becomes sparse in a Krautrock way before coming back in with another verse. The last few minutes after the verse is filled with a cool Frippertronics synth cycle overtop of the rhythm section groove. This continues right into, and becomes, Urban Landscape — Fripp’s sole solo writing credit on the album. It’s a deluxe Eno-like ambient segue.

Then, boom! On comes NYCNY which sounds like 1980s Crimson, perhaps even a more thinly produced offering from Thrak. It’s almost proto-punk. This is the song I put on for friends who have never heard of this album before. It’s a 5/5 track, especially when Hall starts yelling and Fripp leads the band through Schizoid Man-like changes, walk-ups and walk-downs followed by a fierce discordant solo and little faux record skips ahead of a sudden ending. Oh, but it’s so cool. A Fripp-Hall co-write.

Side 2 begins stunningly beautifully with a gorgeous two-layer movement of Hall’s Rhodes and an Eno-esque synth which seems to sprout Fripp’s guitar like a bloom. The Farther Away I Am is a LOT like a Belew ballad, except more tender and spacious. It’s perfect. My favourite on the record.

This is followed by the ballad Why Was That So Easy, perhaps the most Hall & Oates song on here, or at least the one most easily transitioned to a Hall & Oates album. Just as you think the song is about to really start sucking, it has some really nice touches melody-wise. It’s a bit lame, but not cheesy. Well, a little cheesy. It doesn’t have saxophone even though it constantly feels like one could break out at any moment. Instead, it has a very cool guitar & Rhodes arpeggio breakdown. Not the album’s best bit.

Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her is next, a huge improvement. If you grabbed a handful of dough from The Cars, early KISS and The Knack, this is the cookie you’d bake. This is the kind of deep cut which makes people seek out deep cuts. It’s excellent and has a bloody awesome guitar solo. Oh, and here’s something: Elton has nothing on Hall’s piano playing in the outro.

The penultimate song is Survive, a very ’70s pop song — kinda yachty, but with really nice touches of cello and synth pads. This is a ballad. Not my favourite, but better than Why Was That So Easy. The bridge is goddamned great, though … The Rolling Stones with Elton-type piano and Bo Diddley tambourine.

It all wraps with Without Tears, a Hall soul crooner ballad. A little showboaty, but I did that it’s just piano and vocal. Except maybe that the piano is a tad on the Clayderman side. There’s just enough synth pad in it for you to remember who’s involved and what they (Fripp) represent.

Even though it’s not a masterpiece, this is album which does nothing but enrich the reputations and the future songwriting of everyone involved.



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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.