Toxic Pop Syndrome: The Strange Case of Dr. Oates & Mr. Hall

Welcome to Toxic Pop Syndrome, so named after the Britney Spears single that just seemed far and away in another category from the rest of her songs.

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan, per se, of Hall & Oates. I know a few of their big singles, and that’s pretty much it. They were pure 80s pop and did what they did very well. “Private Eyes”, “Kiss On My List”, “Maneater” and so on. But for some reason, every once in awhile, every single element comes together in a perfect storm and creates that pop song that it is impossible to sing, to groove with, to get up and dance to. “You Make My Dreams” is just such a song.

It is the only one that manages to surpass that “I’m listening to an 80s pop song” feel, and just move into “I’m listening to some damn good music” as I start throwing shapes like nobody’s business, bobbing my head back and forth and howling the lyrics without even knowing what most of the lyrics are. And it all has to do with that magic organ and its interplay with the beat.

The song opens with the organ by itself, the better for you to soak in the glorious riff it’s layin’ down. It fills up the sound nicely, but hits those offbeats heavily, which gives it that lurching feel – it’s always sort of leaning forwards to the next beat and gives that urgency and immediacy. The backbeat almost stands alone as the keys and guitar crunch down the chords on that offbeat. You can hear it when the electricity disappears for a second on the “Listen to this!” part, where they come down on the normal beats and it sounds a bit more like their other hits.

Just before the initial vocals come in, all the instruments stop to let them come in solo, creating much of what Queen called ‘hot space’ (on their album, Hot Space, where they got funky), the vocals going on their own half a step longer than it normally would, because the organ comes in on the offbeat. Leaving the listener hanging for that split second creates a great tension and excitement for when the instruments come back in.

Preliminary research (thanks, Wikipedia) tells me that this song wasn’t even one of their #1 Billboard singles, which boggles my mind. It’s basically the only Hall & Oates song I would consider to be a party in a can. Yeah, I can nod along to “Private Eyes”, but it doesn’t quite hit the same high. “You Make My Dreams” is, like, “Superstition” level (which, come to think of it, has that same offbeat feel). It gives a bit more of a peek into the duo that might have been. Even so, most groups don’t even get that effervescent moment.

Bravo, Messrs. Hall & Oates, bravo.

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