Despite the fact that one of its members had a mustache to rival the hedgehoggian facial fur of any '70s porn actor, Hall & Oates were never very sexy. Masterful at the pop hook? Absolutely. Fiendish at getting you to sing along in your 1979 Toyota Tercel? Indeed. Perfect music for hot, steamy sheet rustling? Not so much.
So when the neo-loungists in the Bird and the Bee decided to cover such know-'em-by-hearters as Private Eyes, Rich Girl and Kiss on My List — all found on the sublime Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates, to be released on Tuesday — the first thing the L.A. group did was to swap out dated effects and blue-eyed stiffness for cocktail-party sheen, winking flirtation and a really pretty girl. As Greg Kurstin sets his bank of keyboards on "Retro-Futuristic Randy Robot," the incandescent Inara George, she of the cooing, swooning flawless delivery, performs the songs with a soft, seductive curl of her finger. Maneater, indeed.
What the Bird and the Bee didn't do, however, was change the essential structure of songs that are downright perfect the way they are. Private Eyes is playfully detailed with a slinky synth out of the James Brown songbook. One on One floats in deep space, a bleeping signal from a lonely lunar capsule reaching out for someone, anyone. I Can't Go for That is streamlined and simplified, mainly to clear out for George singing that heaven-kissed chorus: "I'll do anything that you want me to . . ." And in a great twist, Maneater finally features a true femme fatale: Garbage's Shirley Manson on backing vocals.
The Bird and the Bee are signed to the Blue Note label, a bastion of jazz greatness. But here, Kurstin and George are in full-on pop mode, including one original cut, the deliriously fun homage Heard It on the Radio, which includes a hook that sounds as if it were baked in the life-affirming heat of Summer '81. Now who's up for growing a totally rockin' Oatesy 'stache?
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The 40 Playlist
For some twisted reason — and if you happen to be a shrink, feel free to chime in — I've been spending a lot of time lately ruminating on the darkly comic end of Lethal Weapon 2, when Mel Gibson's supercop Martin Riggs gets bulleted quite nicely. As Riggs sprawls on death's door, hacking up blood and one-liners, George Harrison's bittersweet antipop doozy Cheer Down ("If your dog should be dead, I'm going to love you instead") kicks in. I like the movie; I love that final scene. In related news: I turn 40 years old tomorrow. If you're a frequent Sunday visitor to Pop Life, you know that I'm always willing to take a punch line for the team. But I don't feel like cracking "old" jokes today. Nothing against Wilford Brimley gags, mind you. It's just that despite having two young daughters, I don't feel creaky or winded. I feel good and unfairly handsome. Plus anyone who's 50, 60, 70 is no doubt playing me the world's smallest violin. However, I am absolutely fascinated, and darkly, comically so, that March 22, 1970 — when John and Mary Daly welcomed their only child to a small, plain hospital room in Milford, Mass. — has met up with March 22, 2010, so fast. It's strangely galvanizing. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's also totally messed up, and I might crumble in a sobby ball any second. But just as I dig darkly comic finales a la Lethal Weapon 2, I'm strangely enjoying Father Time's rush-job with my own calendar. I'm not saying I'm going to let Papa Clock checkmate me that easily; I'm going to screw with him, hopefully for several decades. But man, it's happening, you know? So in celebration of middle age, here are songs about resilience in the face of inevitable doom. In the words of Bob Dylan, from his song Mississippi — which is just as deliciously apocalyptic as Harrison's brilliant Cheer Down — "Things should start to get interesting, right about now . . ."
1 Minutes to Memories, John Mellencamp
2 Mississippi, Bob Dylan
3 Singin' in the Rain, Gene Kelly
4 All I Can Do Is Write About It, Lynyrd Skynyrd
5 Memo To My Son, Randy Newman
6 God's Gonna Cut You Down, Johnny Cash
7 Champagne Supernova, Oasis
8 Cheer Down, George Harrison
9 Swallowed by the Cracks, David & David
10 Midnight Rider, Willie Nelson
Old man edition