Tuesday, January 14, 2014


"Sara Smile" /
Hall & Oates

I'll admit it: I have a fangirl crush on Daryl Hall. Had one in the 80s, still have one today. One of the great things about cable TV for me is that I can watch music jams on Daryl's House on VH1 and soon will be able to watch Daryl renovating his Sherman, CT, house on his new DIY series Daryl's Restoration Over-Hall. (And to think we were renting in Sherman only a few years ago...)

So in 1976, having already been a fan of Hall & Oates ever since their folk-tinged debut LP Whole Oats, I felt very ambiguous about "Sara Smile." On the one hand, yay, it finally broke Hall & Oates through to chart success (leading to a run of hits in the 80s, as Daryl and John married their native Philly soul to the 1980s disco-and-MTV formula). But on the other hand -- was my beloved Daryl two-timing me?

Well . . . yeah.

I'm just going to have to bite the bullet on this one. It's so clear that this is a man besotted. There was a real Sara: Sara Allen, Daryl's main squeeze for many years, who co-wrote songs with him as well as being his muse. Listening to this song, I cannot deny that this was a relationship that worked.  Every beat of this song tells you that.

With the wonder of love, he describes her, in a hip-shifting tempo that goes right to the core: "Baby hair / With a woman's eyes / I can feel you watching in the night / All alone with me and we're / Waiting for the sunlight." Unh-hunh. If they're watching the sunrise, it's because they spent the night together -- having sex, of course. But what sets this song apart from so many "doing it tonight" pop songs is that they've already "done it"; that languorous tempo is all about feeling satiated and satisfied. And he's in no hurry to leave -- he's happy to lie there, drowsily, having a cuddle. Guys, I gotta tell you, this is what ladies find sexy.    

One line jumps out at me: "All alone with me" -- there's pride of possession there, and amazement that he won this particular lottery. That has to make a girl feel good. You'd think that a guy as impossibly good-looking as tall, blond Daryl Hall would be an egomaniac, but I've never gotten that impression of him. (Another thing we ladies find sexy.)   

In the chorus, he stirs himself from the caressing phrase "Sara, smile" to hop (effortlessly, of course) into his upper register, scatting happily, as the soul/gospel/jazz protocol demands. It's as if his heart is bursting with joy.

The soulful tempo is one thing; then there's the oozy chord changes, from minor to major, sevenths and tonics, never quite resolving at the ends of lines. (You do need a pitch-perfect singer like Daryl to make this song work.) It's drowsy, a little aimless, ebbing and flowing -- and intentionally so. Because this isn't a storytelling song with a beginning, middle, and end, with tension and suspense and a crisis to resolve. It's about two lovers catching a moment of glorious equipoise, simple happiness.

Oh, there's change all around them -- in the first verse, night changing into day, in the second verse Sara's restless need to go. (A little 1976 feminism, and why not? I love that he's intrigued by her independent spirit.) We're aware of changes in the offing, aware that this relaxed moment in each other's arms can't last. But that just makes it feel all the more precious.

One nice touch: In the first verse he marvels, "When I feel cold you warm me / And when I feel I can't go on, / You come and hold me." (Love how the melody rises, anxiously, on that "feel I can't go on.")  But notice how he switches pronouns in the second verse, promising now to warm her, hold her, be the supporting actor if she needs it. Maybe that's a pop sleight-of-hand; I don't know. But I love it as an acceptance of the quid-pro-quo of love.

At the end of every verse, he carves their initials in this pop-song tree: "It's you and me forever, ahh aaahhhh." Unfortunately Daryl and Sara are not still together -- except they are, eternally, in this song.

And when I listen to it, I'm happy that someone made Daryl this happy. Though seriously, D? Now that Sara's out of the picture . . . .

5 DOWN, 47 TO GO


Uncle E said...

Oh go on and admit it. You secretly loved the '80s, didn't cha?

Holly A Hughes said...

Just because there were one or two decent songs from the 80s . . . and technically this one is from 1976. Hall and Oates were an anomaly, I swear it!

NickS said...

Hmmm, I might have to defend the eighties. I'm surprised to say that because I have a bias against pop music that is overproduced or overly theatrical, because I feel like that often doesn't wear well.

I'd concede that the bad pop hits of the eighties were really, really awful. If you want to hold "Freeway of Love" against the entire decade, I won't argue.

But I have affection for songs that are distinctively eighties and also good. I mean, not only is "Bastards Of Young" well written, it gets extra style points for the video.

Secondly, the eighties were clearly better than the nineties (with the caveat that I don't listen to much rap or hip hop so I'm missing some of the best music of the nineties).

But I don't actually need to say that; you have a blog called, "The 80s Didn't Suck" in your links :)

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Dave said...

Holly, this is beautifully written, worthy of the beauty of this song. "Abandoned Luncheonette" is one of my favorite albums.