Record Review: Daryl Hall – Sacred Songs

Buddha Records ‎| US | CD | 1999 | 74465-99604-2

Buddha Records ‎| US | CD | 1999 | 74465-99604-2

Daryl Hall: Sacred Songs DLX RM CD [1999]

  1. Sacred Songs
  2. Something In 4/4 Time
  3. Babs And Babs
  4. Urban Landscape
  5. NYCNY
  6. The Farther Away I Am
  7. Why Was It So Easy
  8. Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her
  9. Survive
  10. Without Tears
  11. You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette
  12. North Star

It was some time in 1979 when I chanced to read an interview with Robert Fripp in the pages of Omni Magazine; a you-had-to-be-there science/science fiction/speculation magazine funded by the deep pockets of pornographer Bob Guccione in a bid for respectability and a grab at the late 70s zeitgeist ring. Don’t laugh! It’s also where I first heard about The Human League! Fripp seemed to suffer no fools gladly and I had already been conversant with the early King Crimson music so his debut solo album “Exposure” he was discussing sounded very interesting. I soon bought a copy and have enjoyed it for almost 40 years.

Concurrent with “Exposure” were to be two other albums he produced for other artists: Peter Gabriel’s second album from 1978, which was the first music I’d ever heard from him [“D.I.Y.” and “On The Air” hooked me strongly] and the long suppressed Daryl Hall solo album “Sacred Songs.” This was recorded first and set the tone for the Fripp and Gabriel albums that immediately followed it.The melding of sensibilities even went down to the music, which was shared between albums. Some songs featured on more than one record, and in very different forms each time. The fly in the ointment was that RCA, Hall’s label felt that the end result could potentially damage their cash cow Hall, who had a few respectable radio hits as half of Hall And Oates. So the “Sacred Songs” album was not released until 1980, at which time I swear it was released as a cutout! I never saw a copy without a clipped corner in any store of the time.

While Fripp had conceived of the work as his “MOR Trilogy” I had only ever heard the Gabriel/Fripp corners of the triangle. While I sensed that it was produced by Fripp [how could it be bad?] it was still a Daryl Hall album, and I resisted picking up even the cheap copies of it that abounded. Until last year, when something in my brain snapped and I got on Amazon and ordered it in a fit of pique. By 1999, I had been aware of the CD released by BMG’s revived Buddha subsidiary, so the album had “made the leap” along with two of the Daryl Hall tracks from “Exposure” thoughtfully added as bonus tracks. How was it?

Well, it slots in closely with the sort of vibe that Fripp had created for the second Gabriel album fairly well. These are late 70s pop songs, with commercial intent, sometimes slathered with some quixotic art rock sauce, courtesy of Fripp’s guitar, which in the time period, was heavily into his thrilling “Fripertronic” period. The vaguely “Mott The Hoople” piano rocker that was the opening title cut could have conceivably sat on a Hall And Oates album of the time. Things got more interesting with “Something In 4/4 Time,” and incredibly self-referential tune about the process of writing a commercial pop song; cleverly undercut by the Frippertronic middle eight that came out of nowhere to take the song down a sunny, if psychedelic path for a minute or so, before snapping back to its original form.

That gambit became intensified with the subsequent “Baba And Babs.” The tantalizingly abstract ballad examined two sides of the same protagonist, and the song featured a lengthy excursion into introspective Frippertronics that hijacked the tune just like the previous cut. Only this time, when the original motif resurfaced, it was juxtaposed with a lilting Frippertronic coda that segued into the first recorded, but released second version of Fripp’s instro “Urban Landscape.” Then that number segued into the intense “NYCNY,” an early version of a track that later surfaced on “Exposure” under the “NY3” moniker. The differences here were startling since Hall sings the lyrics that make this a number a fiery example of Fripp in intense rock mode. The version on “Exposure” had a similar music bed, but Hall’s voice [and the lyrics] had been excised for some cut up environmental recordings of a Fripp’s neighbors having a family argument of the most garish variety.

“The Farther Away I Am” was an uneasy melding of Fripp’s lyrical guitar in watercolor mode along with one of my least favorite keyboard sounds ever: Fender Rhodes electric piano playing what I call ‘lullaby piano.” The backing track on this one is so scant and skeletal, that it somehow attains both intimacy and beauty in spite of the piano style that I normally hate. The rest of “side two” consisted of longer pieces [5-7 minute length] that veered closer to perhaps what might be expected of a Daryl Hall solo album, though the intense and driven “Survive” did feature some ramping up of intensity atypical to the Hall + Oates style during its almost seven minute length.

The closing “Without Tears” was something gossamer and brief to close the album on a note similar to “The Farther Away I Am,” which had opened the side. This time the piano was less cloying and the barest hint of Frippertronic guitar was barely there as Hall took command with his jazz-inflected vocals.  The program was capped with the two songs from “Exposure,” the first of which was “You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette.” When I bought “Exposure” I got a big kick out of the weird spectacle of Hall singing verbose and obtuse Fripp lyrics in the prickliest sort of art rock setting imaginable. I still do. “North Star” was a tender ballad that showcased Hall’s command of phrasing. I though highly of it until the 2006 DLX RM of “Exposure” that finally revealed Hall’s singing of “Mary” for the first time. Instead of Terre Roche’s annoying phrasing, Hall’s performance on the number was as tender and loving a performance that I’ve ever heard. Spine tingling stuff, so some of the gloss has been scrubbed in retrospect from “North Star” for me.

I more or less enjoyed “Sacred Songs.” It kind of reminded me of the sort of albums that another blue-eyed soul singer, Robert Palmer, was crafting at exactly the same time period. Palmer’s “Clues” album embraced New Wave admirably while keeping a toe still in the mainstream rock pool; a trait certainly shared with “Sacred Songs.” The liner notes here by Jeremy Holiday and Fripp himself shed some interesting light on the politics of the time which so heavily impacted the release of the record. I find it fascinating that thirty years later, the album was probably released on CD to exploit interest in it from the perspective of Robert Fripp fans like myself.

– 30 –

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20 Responses to Record Review: Daryl Hall – Sacred Songs

  1. Gavin says:

    Absolutely one of my favourite albums OF ALL TIME!
    Fripps playing and contributions are astounding within his canon and though I’m not a fan of or particularly familiar with Halls other work,this album reaches places for me very few other records do.
    I had the vinyl, then was thrilled to buy the cd when it was finally released.Like you,I love the deluxe Exposure and the various versions as well.
    It’s a real shame that this album has never achieved the kudos or wider acclaim I believe it deserves.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – It’s at times like this that I wish I could easily pop overseas for a weekend in Wales where we could ramble on at length about the round, spinning things that we cherish so. It’s rare to find individuals who cherish Robert Fripp and Visage with equal ardor. Like you, I’m happy to have Daryl Hall singing as long as Fripp had his hand on the controls. It boggles my mind that a performance as achingly tender and nuanced as Hall’s reading of “Mary” on the DLX RM of “Exposure” had to wait 27 years to reach my ears! It’s easily one of the finest vocal performances of all time.

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  2. Tim says:

    OMNI doesn’t bother me at all as a source of pop culture reviews. I’ve said it here before, the early run of Heavy Metal has some fantastic pieces about movies and music that were new at the time in terms of appreciating what deserved it and taking to task the overhyped bunkum of their day,

    Like

    • JT says:

      Yes, Omni and Heavy Metal were both great in their late-1970s heydays. Both had some nice content (including music reviews of stuff that the mainstream press wouldn’t touch, unless we count the Trouser Press), and both were visual treats too.

      Like

  3. Echorich says:

    Sacred Songs in a giant album. For Daryl Hall to chance his well sorted career on a solo album of Art/Glam/New Wave produced by Fripp, a man who travelled the musical road on path he cut out of the woods himself, was gutsy to say the least.
    But Sacred Songs delivers start to finish. Hall new his greatest contribution was as a singer and lyricist. Fripp provided the musical direction. Hall found, in Fripp, the outlet to be more than. I remember back when I bought the album (something very few of my friends from back then would have been made aware of because, uh, it WAS Daryl Hall) thinking that some of the tracks had the same energy and feel of Berlin Era Bowie. Listening back today, I think that impression still stands.
    My favorite tracks on Sacred Song have to be – Sacred Songs and its Boogie/Glam, Something In 4/4 Time – walking the fine line between 70’s pop and proto New Wave and Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her which brings Hall + Fripp in total sync.
    That Mary didn’t make it on either album with Hall on vocals was just scandalous. I’ve never cared for Terri Roche’s vocals from Exposure.

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    • Tim says:

      There’s some fine reinterpretations of “Exposure” once Robert Fripp hooks up with David Sylvian.

      Like

      • Echorich says:

        Right on Tim! They can be heard from Gone To Earth through The First Day. The version of Exposure they performed on The Road To Graceland/Damage tour was great!

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        • tim says:

          Damage is one of the best things that Sylvian has ever written in my opinion – I’ve actually crafted a home-made mix of that one that mashes in some of the more “Deep Forest’-ish mixes of Tori Amos’ “God.”
          And to be totally Rob Gordan here, “Gone to Earth” would be part of my list if I was going to a desert island and could only bring ten albums. I’ve been totally in love with that album from the first listen.

          Like

          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – I’ll never forget buying “Gone To Earth” and discovering that there was an album featuring both Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson; an embarrassment of guitar playing firepower for a single album… But what an album!

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Echorich/Tim – Gloryoski! You gents remind me that “Exposure” had a further mutation with the Sylvian and Fripp tour! Curse me for the novice! I wish that the Japanese laserdisc I have of that tour would make it to DVD. The LD was showing signs of oxidation [a.k.a. “laser rot”] within 6 months of purchase – a rare shameful event for a JPN manufactured disc. Usually it was a fate for domestically manufactured discs. But at least I still can listen to the audio on the CD of “Damage.”

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          • tim says:

            I’m sorry to hear that, I had the same LD and it held up quite stoutly for me over many years until I made a dvd copy of it during a purge where I tried to minimize the laser disc footprint in my household.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Hall + Oates had their points where they crossed over into the New Wave. John Oates when collaborating with Iva Davies of Icehouse and Daryl Hall with “Sacred Songs.” They had a touch of the underground when collaborating with Arthur Baker as well, though by that time, hell, so was -Bruce Soringsteen- so maybe that event had little cachet left. Coupled with the band’s star turn on SCTV [“Chariots Of Eggs”] Hall + Oates managed to offer me glimmers of left field verve amid the pop blockbusters of their imperial period. I had a friend who referred to the duo as “the acceptable face of the mainstream.” While I would have retained that status for, let’s say… INXS, I sort of see her point. The CR-78 R+B class of “I Can’t Go For That” was the first harbinger that these guys were evolving beyond “Rich Girl.” I cede your point with “Sacred Songs” having a touch of the Bowie mojo, but I’d point to the second Peter Gabriel album as being one of a matched pair with “Sacred Songs.” Not surprising as it was Fripp’s intention.

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  4. Tim says:

    Over on Amazon someone is selling an 8 TRACK tape of Exposure, the listing is complete with a photo.

    I never knew that there was good music on 8 track….and I felt really, really old looking at that photo.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – There were a scant few 8-tracks of note as the New Wave era overlapped with the tail end of the 8-track era. I once owned an 8-track of Kraftwerk’s “Ralf + Florian” album. A paradoxical object, for certain! I’ll bet that most extant “interesting” 8-tracks were record club editions. Labels manufactured 8-tracks generally that fit the buyer demographic; lotsa country and hard rock, but record clubs [remember them?] made many more titles available on the format to serve their user base. As such, there are 8-tracks of many titles undoubtedly, that sport record club indicia.

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      • Tim says:

        My late brother and I had quite a few 8 Tracks, we also had the cool Panasonic player that looked like a TNT detonator/plunger. The last 8 track that I bought was the Star Wars soundtrack. The accountant who does my taxes is a bit of a hoarder and one wall in her waiting room is all the 8 Tracks that she’s amassed over the years.

        Back to the Panasonic player, I really want to find one and try to turn it into an external HD enclosure.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Anyone our age would remember the Panasonic 8-track! One might say it was The Bomb! My first [Sears all-in-one] stereo had 8-track and cassette recorders! I still had it as long as the late 80s, by which time I would dub CDs onto 8-track for cruising in my friend’s van!

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        • Echorich says:

          Yup, had the Dynomite Panasonic 8-track player. I owned Hall & Oates Bigger Than The Both Of Us, Aladdin Sane, T-Rex’s Electric Warrior as well as ELO’s New World Record on 8-Track. 8-Tracks had a very short lifespan among my music collection because the first time I heard a song cut into two parts by a track change, well, I was done.

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