(Legal) Career Killers: Hall & Oates and an Injunction

by Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

Daryl Hall raised a lot of eyebrows when he filed a lawsuit under seal against his longtime bandmate John Oates last November. According to the court docket, Hall could not go for something that Oates had done and requested a temporary restraining order against him (the judge made his dream come true and granted it), but not much else was known about the case at the time because of the whole “under seal” thing.

Like any juicy story, the details couldn’t stay secret for very long (especially with so many not-so-private eyes watching — okay, that’s the last one).

According to reports, Oates entered into an agreement with Primary Wave Music to sell his share of the band’s business entity, Whole Oates Enterprises (WOE) LLP. Hall took Oates to private arbitration to stop the sale, but alleged that Oates was planning on selling his share before an arbitrator could be picked, hence necessitating the lawsuit and restraining order. Hall also accused Oates of giving Primary Wave access to their business agreement in violation of a contractual obligation to keep it confidential.

“I believe that John Oates timed the ‘Unauthorized Transaction’ to create the most harm to me,” Hall said in relation to Oates’ proposed sale in his motion for a temporary restraining order. “Respectfully, he must be stopped from this latest wrongdoing and his malicious conduct reined in once and for all.” Oates, for his part, responded that he was disappointed that Hall chose to “make inflammatory, outlandish and inaccurate statements about me.”

There’s nothing like a feud between members of musical duos. Simon & Garfunkel had a nasty, bitter falling out that resulted in their breakup and continues to linger to this day. Tears for Fears split and didn’t speak to each other for 9 years. The Everly Brothers didn’t let family ties get in the way of their constant squabbling, while married duos like Delaney & Bonnie, Sonny & Cher and Ike & Tina Turner saw both their personal and professional relationships fall apart.

In a way, it makes sense. After all, when you’re in a duo, you’re constantly being compared to the other person and there’s only one other person to fight with when things don’t go well. If one person is seen as the star, then the other one might get jealous or envious. Additionally, there may be some resentment involved if the work isn’t distributed equally — for instance, Paul Simon, the songwriter, had long felt as if he didn’t need Art Garfunkel, the singer and heartthrob, and had tried to go solo on more than one occasion.

Hall & Oates had always seemed like the exception — a rare instance where members of a duo were not just good musical and creative partners but friends, too. Maybe their similarities (intense pride in their hometown of Philadelphia, love of Motown and soul music, chips on their shoulders that resulted in Rolling Stone calling them the “Self Righteous Brothers” in a 1985 profile) far outweighed their differences (Hall is tall, handsome, outgoing and a better singer while Oates is short and more comfortable singing harmonies and playing guitar). Maybe it was because they were never embraced critically (they didn’t even make Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of greatest duos of all time) and had to fend off accusations of cultural appropriation, so they forged an “us-against-the-world” mentality.

My favorite Hall & Oates cameo

Either way, whatever they had was pure magic. And big business, too. The Recording Industry Association of America named them the most successful rock duo of all time, having outsold the likes of the Righteous and Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, The Carpenters and Steely Dan. Not counting compilations, Hall & Oates have five RIAA-certified gold and six platinum albums to their name. Meanwhile, they especially dominated on the singles chart, amassing 29 Billboard Top 40 Singles, including six #1s (“Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” “Maneater,” “Out of Touch“).

“John and I never fight,” Hall said in a February 2020 interview with the NY Post. “We’ve never had a real fight since we’ve known each other — and that’s since we were kids, teenagers. We just know to deal with each other. That’s why we’re still together.”

Oates added: “The fact that Daryl and I are still friends, that he and I still get along — it’s a miracle. But we do.”

Tellingly, the two had asked for separate interviews with the Post. Then again, friends don’t have to do absolutely everything together right? Maybe they had scheduling issues? Or maybe, since this happened right before COVID shut everything down, they were getting a jump on that whole social-distancing thing?

Either way, both have said in subsequent interviews that everything changed after the pandemic. Before COVID, Hall and Oates were planning on going into the studio and recording a new album together, their first since 2006’s Home for Christmas.

After a couple of years of seclusion and isolation, Hall and Oates seemed like they no longer wanted anything to do with each other. Hall did some interviews where he seemed to be setting the stage for a solo career. He told The Los Angeles Times in March 2022 he didn’t like being in a duo and wasn’t sure if he’d work Oates again.

“It’s very annoying to be a duo, because people always say, ‘Oh, you’re the tall one, you’re the short one. You’re the one that sings, you’re the one that doesn’t sing.’ You’re always compared to the other person. It works with comedy entities, like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, but with music, it’s f – – ked up, actually,” he said, adding that it was “emasculating” to be constantly compared to someone else.

A few months later, on Bill Maher’s podcast, Hall implied he was more responsible for the duo’s artistic output and downplayed his longtime partnership with Oates. “You think John Oates is my partner? He’s my business partner. He’s not my creative partner,” Hall said to Maher. “John and I are brothers, but we are not creative brothers.”

Those quotes were actually tame compared to some other things he’s said over the years. In 2007, Hall told Pitchfork: “We are not an equal duo, and never have been. I’m 90% and he’s 10%, and that’s the way it is. And he’d say the same thing. He has plenty of ideas, he’s a finisher, he’s a good musician, he is an attention-to-detail person. He is overshadowed by me because I’m such a strong vocal personality.”

Oates, for his part, has refrained from criticizing Hall directly. But in March 2023, he made it clear that he had moved on and ruled out touring with Hall again — although his tone was less resentful and more about experiencing life outside of the band and doing things he hadn’t been able to do over the previous 50 years. “I think we both have grown apart professionally and personally,” he said. “I think we both want to do something else.”

Oates’ statement about not touring with Hall again wasn’t an offhand comment. According to Hall’s motion for a restraining order, Oates began demanding in 2022 that both the band’s touring entity and publishing partnership be dissolved. “I was willing to entertain this as part of a global divorce, and raised the dissolution of WOE,” Hall stated in his motion. “In connection with WOE, throughout this process and time frame, John Oates was very combative and protective with respect to WOE, and consistently conveyed his desire to keep his ownership and that partnership intact and operative– there was never a hint that he would try to ambush me with a sale.”

The other interesting kernel in Hall’s motion pertained to Primary Wave. The company already owns part of Hall & Oates’ back catalogue. In 2007, they made a deal for a percentage of their publishing rights. Later that year, they purchased the copyright and music publishing rights to the duo’s songs that were co-written by Sara (Hall’s ex-girlfriend and inspiration for “Sara Smile“) and Janna Allen in 2007, including “Kiss on My List,” “Maneater,” “Private Eyes,” “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and “You Make My Dreams.” 

Hall’s views on Primary Wave have ebbed and flowed since then. When the sale was announced in 2007, Hall seemed enthusiastic, saying: “I didn’t feel my catalog was being addressed properly by [previous company] BMG,” he said at the time. “Most publishing companies are administrative rather than creative in nature. Larry’s [Mestel – founder of Primary Wave] got a lot of creative ideas about what to do with my material.”

By 2021, he seemed to have done a 180, complaining that his publishing had been sold off and he didn’t get the money. “I have a bit of my publishing, but a lot of bad business was done in the early days – I’m a real rock and roll story when it comes to that kind of thing,” he said. “Never sell your publishing — maybe if you’re, you know, 80 years old and you decided to retire, then you can sell your publishing, but I wouldn’t even suggest it then, I don’t believe in that concept. It’s all you have is that.”

In his motion for a restraining order, he was even more blunt about his feelings towards Primary Wave. “I have no intention of becoming partners with Primary Wave, and the Oates Trust cannot be permitted to thrust a new partner upon me in this outrageous fashion,” he said. “There is no amount of money that could compensate me for being forced to partner with an entity that I did not agree to partner with, and whose business model does not comport with my views regarding the WOE assets. The harm is unimaginable.”

Assuming he is sincere about not wanting to be in Hall & Primary Wave, then this lawsuit could very well be the nail in the coffin for the venerated rock duo. In Oates’ response to Hall’s motion for a restraining order, he seemed fed up with constantly being in Hall’s shadow and not getting credit for being a full partner in their joint endeavor. “Over the years, Daryl has consistently and publicly been adamant about being perceived as an individual rather than as part of a duo or group. Thus he has insisted on our being known as ‘Daryl Hall and John Oates,’ rather than the more commonly known ‘Hall & Oates,'” Oates said. “On this point I agree. I now must act with truthfulness and make decisions that are right for myself, my family and my artistic future.”

You can certainly see why he might be frustrated. Hall has always seen as the star of the group while Oates was second banana. Maybe he got tired of all the “Garfunkel and Oates” jokes or the unfair comparisons to Andrew Ridgeley.

Here to sing their #2 hit, “Born to Runner-Up.” (Image via Frinkiac)

Or maybe this has nothing to do with resentment or jealousy and everything to do with money. Lots of artists, including members of Fleetwood Mac, Shakira, Bob Dylan, Dire Straits and even Neil Young sold off publishing and/or recording rights to their back catalog during the pandemic as a way of making up for lost income, as well as other other potential legal reasons (taxes, estate planning, etc.). Maybe Oates saw what so many of his colleagues and peers were doing and decided now was as good a time as any to cash out. And what better way to make a clean break with Hall than sell his rights to the band’s business entity?

Or maybe this just boils down to the simple proposition that Hall and Oates both came to the realization that they’ve spent the last 50 years together and wanted to see what life would be like without the other.

And why not? They’ve seemingly accomplished everything they ever wanted to as a band — hits galore, money, fame, belated critical acclaim (they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014). With their current focus on touring and recording separately, it’s clear that Hall wants to do Hall and Oates wants to do Oates. “What makes me really, really happy is that people have accepted me as an independent musician,” Oates said in 2023. “It’s very rare that someone who’s part of a group that was as big as Daryl and I can actually break away and have people accept them.”

Of course, it might be premature to write their epitaph. After getting eliminated in The Masked Singer in December, Oates said that he would “never say never” to working with Hall again. However, Oates also seemed to really enjoy his freedom on the show and being able to sing without you-know-who around. Plus, you don’t disengage all of your various business vehicles if you intend on working together again.

So, maybe they really are finished as a duo. Then again, they still have that pesky lawsuit to deal with, and as anyone who’s ever gone through litigation can tell you, those things can drag on and on. As such, don’t count on them falling out of touch with each other just yet.

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