The tranquil world of Hall & Oates was rocked this week by news that the longtime duo are in the midst of a nasty legal battle. The exact details are sealed, but we do know that Daryl Hall was granted a temporary restraining order against John Oates. There’s also a trademark dispute of some sort. (Representatives for both artists have not returned e-mails from Rolling Stone seeking comment.)
This is shocking on several levels. Hall & Oates are one of the few duos in music history that seemingly always got along. They are very different people, but have a friendship that goes back 50 years, a strong creative partnership that has produced 29 Top 40 hits, and a license to print money whenever they feel like touring. They are both now in their mid-seventies, so nobody imagined we’d see headlines like this so late in their career.
Looking back at the past year, however, there were signs that the partnership might be fraying. Hall & Oates were touring juggernauts throughout the last few decades, never taking a single year off, but they played a mere seven shows in 2022 and didn’t make a single appearance together this year. When Hall went on Bill Maher’s Club Random podcast last year, he took some surprising shots at Oates.
“John and I are brothers, but we are not creative brothers,” he said. “We are business partners. We made records called Hall & Oates together, but we’ve always been very separate, and that’s a really important thing for me.”
When Rolling Stone spoke with both of them ahead of their planned 2020 tour with Squeeze, which was ultimately delayed due to Covid, there were no signs of tension and they talked excitedly about plans for a new album. “Daryl has shifted his focus to Hall & Oates, which is great,” Oates said. “I’m going to jump on board, for sure, but it’s in the early, preliminary days of it.”
Hall did say he was going to work on the music without Oates at first, but he framed it in a different way than he did on Maher’s podcast. “We don’t write together very much, never did really,” he said. “We went separate ways creatively. We needed to have that space apart, in that respect, even though we never stopped playing together, but now it just feels … I don’t know how to describe it. When it feels right, it feels right.”
Later in the interview, we asked Hall how they remained harmonious all these years and avoided the bitter fate of most other duos in rock history. “The difference is that we aren’t a duo,” Hall said. “We aren’t Simon and Garfunkel. We are two people that run a band. It’s more like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.”
Jagger and Richards, of course, had some pretty gnarly disagreements over the years. But they never broke up the band, and one certainly never went to court to get a restraining order against the other.
Hall & Oates’ most recent show took place Oct. 22, 2002, in Laughlin, Nevada. It was a standard set centered around big hits like “Maneater,” “Sara Smile,” “Out of Touch,” and “Rich Girl.” Here’s fan-shot video of “She’s Gone” — from what could end up being their final concert.
Over the past few months, Oates has played solo shows, and Hall has hit the road with Todd Rundgren. They played an encore set together, so Hall & Rundgren could be a thing going forward. As far as Hall & Oates, we’ll have to wait and see what’s in the legal documents once they are unsealed.