Within four years, they’d perfected a blend of soul, New Wave, and power pop that made them the top-selling duo in the country and the uncoolest band in New York. Hall lived in a two-bedroom apartment on Sheridan Square; he’d see Lou Reed walking his dog, and went to clubs like the Mercer Arts Center and CBGB, where he saw Patti Smith, Television, and the New York Dolls—once witnessing Dolls singer David Johansen’s Mick Jagger act in an entourage that included Mick Jagger. “We loved the music, we’d hang out backstage, but we never were really part of it all,” says Hall, who nonetheless captured the chill of coke-fueled, Wall Street–Warholian nightlife in songs like 1982’s chart-topper “Maneater,” which was based on observing the scene at the West Village hot spot Marylou’s.
Around this time, Hall & Oates’s then-manager Tommy Mottola suggested the duo get involved with a new-media start-up out of Times Square. “They had these fledgling V.J.’s,” says Hall, “but they had so many hours that they’d have us on and say, ‘Just go on for three hours.’ ” The band shot their first formal music video, for “Private Eyes,” in about an hour—lip-synching in fedoras and trench coats in a West 54th Street rehearsal space—and became regulars on MTV, unwittingly sealing themselves into a moussed-up, wide-lapeled epoch that has been very hard to escape from.
The end of the Hall & Oates era came in a hotel bathroom in 1990 in Tokyo, where they had just performed at a Yoko Ono–sponsored concert commemorating the death of John Lennon. There, in a sad, reflective moment, John Oates said good-bye—to the mustache.
“It really was a kind of spiritual moment for me,” Oates says, laughing. “The mustache represented a me I no longer was. I shaved it off and never looked back.” The next day, he and Hall were waiting at the Tokyo airport for a flight back to the States when Miles Davis appeared. “He came up to me with those red eyes of his,” says Oates. “He got like three inches from my face and kinda drew his finger across his own upper lip, as if he was shaving, and he said to me [in a deep, raspy voice], ‘Now the lovin’s gonna be better.’ ” Oates pauses. “And then he went up to Daryl and said, ‘I used to tell my hairdresser, I want my hair to look just like Daryl’s.’ ”