That big, crashing sound you heard on Oct. 12, 1984 was Daryl Hall & John Oates releasing another blockbuster album: Big Bam Boom, their 12th studio release and final with longtime label RCA Records.
The Philadelphia duo were pop mainstays since the '70s, when "Sara Smile," "She's Gone" and the chart-topping "Rich Girl" became radio staples. It was the '80s, though, that saw the duo's career take off like a rocket. With impeccable pop hooks, cutting edge production and a visual dynamic that stood out in the early days of MTV, Hall & Oates quickly became one of the era's most reliable acts. They put a total of 10 singles into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 between 1980 and early 1984, including No. 1 smashes "Kiss on My List," "Private Eyes," "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" and "Maneater." Greatest hits package Rock N' Soul Part 1, issued in time for the holiday season of 1983, went double platinum.
Inspired by the dance-ready grooves of Rock N' Soul's exclusive tracks, "Say It Isn't So" and "Adult Education," the pair leaned even harder into synthetic sounds on Big Bam Boom - albeit with a sense of style and rhythm that was all their own. For the sessions, mega-producers Bob Clearmountain and club whiz Arthur Baker were called in to sharpen their sound. "Instead of making the record and then giving it to Arthur, we decided to integrate the process, have Arthur involved in the process from the beginning," Oates explained in a 1985 interview. "That way the songs would evolve, and we would not have to remix the record."
Cacophonous opener "Dance on Your Knees" gave way to lead single "Out of Touch," one of the duo's heaviest dance tracks. By the end of 1984, it would sit atop the Billboard Hot 100 for two straight weeks. Follow-up single "Method of Modern Love" continues the album's synth exploration, with a trippy keyboard hook and the upbeat, spelled-out chorus (later interpolated by Wu-Tang Clan on their 1993 track "Method Man").
There's plenty of heart lurking under the production, though. Hall & Oates crack studio and live band, including future Saturday Night Live guitarist G.E. Smith, bassist Tom "T-Bone" Wolk and drummer Mickey Curry all shine on Big Bam Boom. One particular standout is the Daryl-penned "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid." "I think it’s one of the best things Daryl and John have ever done," Curry told Modern Drummer in 1985. "I had to come up with some off-the-wall stuff." And not to worry, Oates fans: the man with the mustache gets a chance to shine on tracks like "Cold Dark and Yesterday" and moody album closer "Possession Obsession."
Big Bam Boom was an unsurprising juggernaut, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and selling more than two million copies in its initial run. A breakneck tour, sponsored by both MTV and Pontiac, traveled the States in 1985; notable dates included a special show at New York's legendary Apollo Theater (taped for a live album and featuring guest appearances from Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin of The Temptations) as well as a frenetic concert the day after Live Aid that was taped for HBO.
Critics who dismissed Hall & Oates - now Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees - as a mere pop act did so at their peril, and in the Big Bam Boom era, Hall was quick to point out their folly. “I think we’re the Eighties Beatles,” Hall boasted to Rolling Stone. “There’s something about our personalities that is very Lennon-and-McCartneyesque. And there is something about the body of work that we both have that’s similar.
“I know people will have trouble accepting that,” he continued. “But I don’t have any trouble accepting it.”