John Oates, one half of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Hall & Oates, is part of one of the most robust catalogs in modern pop music, spanning six No. 1 singles and 16 top 10s. He also happened to sport music’s most iconic ‘80s mustache.
So it was only a matter of time that both of those traits would eventually find their way into ABC’s ‘80s-themed sitcom “The Goldbergs,” currently airing its seventh season. As seen in this exclusive clip premiering below, Oates will guest star on next Wednesday (April 22)’s episode (titled “Oates & Oates”) as a janitor who shows up just after Barry Goldberg (Troy Gentile)’s failed attempts to book Hall & Oates for a two-day Earth Day Telethon in an effort to impress his love interest Ren (Kelli Berglund.)
Oates, whose uniform even bears a “John” nametag, sits down with an acoustic guitar and starts singing the chorus for Hall & Oates’ signature ‘80s hit “Maneater,” only to be interrupted by a frustrated Barry who says, “What the hell, man? Are you mocking me?” Oates’ “John” stammers out an apology and then offers, “Me and my buddy, we got this band, and I thought maybe next year…” “Hard no,” Barry says, clearly unaware of the custodial doppelganger before him.
In addition to “Maneater,” the episode will feature Hall & Oates’ “Kiss on My List,” as well as appearances from two castmembers dressed as Oates lookalikes. “The cast was amazing. It all happened so fast,” says Oates, who flew to L.A. from his Nashville home with 24 hours’ notice to film his scene. He was back in Tennessee within hours of wrapping. “Luckily the timing all worked out for everyone. It helped that they had a synergy in how they’ve been working together for a long time. Hayley [Orrantia, who plays Erica Goldberg] helped me with feeling comfortable.”
Oates’ cheeky cameo is just the latest milestone in a decade-plus cultural renaissance for Hall & Oates’ catalog and overall personae. Since the 2007 premiere of Hall’s collaborative concert series “Live From Daryl’s House,” the band’s songs and the musicians themselves have had arguably even more pop culture highlights than during their ‘70s and ‘80s heyday.
And the number of entrypoints into the world of Hall & Oates these days is seemingly endless: soundtrack and synch appearances on more than 70 movies & TV shows since 2009 alone; other cameos in IFC’s H&O-inspired musical comedy series “Garfunkel & Oates” and 2015 Adam Sandler vehicle “Pixels;” dozens of licenses in commercials and video games (including “Out Of Touch” in “Grand Theft Auto”); touring gigs that rival the band’s glory days (Hall & Oates played to a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd on Feb. 28, just days before the national quarantine.)
Why are the band’s hits still on so many lists? Both Oates and the synch team at BMG, which oversees the majority of Hall & Oates best-known albums and copyrights, credit 2009’s “500 Days of Summer” for kickstarting the resurgence with its ebuillent 2-minute musical number featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt dancing to “You Make My Dreams.”
Oates recalls buying a ticket to see the movie at Los Angeles’ The Grove during a matinee with his wife, son and a sparse audience of mostly teenage girls. “And at the end of that scene, I remember the girls started clapping. And I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I thought to myself, that was probably one of the most well-integrated uses of music and film I’ve ever seen — I mean, without getting carried away here, I think ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ wasn’t bad either,” he laughs. “But it was just so well done. The music really crystallized the moment for the actors and the dancing and the joy and the falling in love. It just worked on every level.”
Though “You Make My Dreams” was a top 5 hit upon its initial 1981 release, it was still lower on most music fans’ list of the duo’s best-known singles than hits like “Private Eyes,” “Sara Smile,” “Kiss on My List” or “I Can’t Go for That.” But now “Dreams” is Hall & Oates’ most-streamed track by a landslide (425 million streams on Spotify to “Maneater”’s 218 million), taking on a new outsized life of its own.
It’s a striking parallel to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which like “Dreams” was released in 1981 and peaked at No. 9, but has since become the band’s most ubiquitous hit following its use in the 2007 series finale of “The Sopranos.” That coincidence is not lost on Oates, who happens to frequently record at Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain’s studio in Nashville. “He and I have [talked] about that many times. We’ll say, ‘I’ll buy lunch,’ ‘No, I’ll buy lunch.’”
Indeed, post-“500 Days,” the use of “You Make My Dreams” in other movies, TV shows and pop culture has only proliferated. That particularly translates to commercials. While most ad music supervisors typically shy away from using songs that others have recently used, “Dreams” seems to be the exception to the rule. This year alone, the song has been synched in national ads for both American Family Insurance and Google, the latter of which aired during the Oscars. It’s also had recent uses in spots for McDonald’s and Toyota, as well as soundtrack syncs in the movies “Ugly Dolls” and “Ready Player One,” and has been performed on countless singing competition series.
“We can make a killing with that song every day of the week. The appetite for it and using it in mainstream looks doesn’t seem to diminish,” says Jonathan Palmer, BMG’s senior VP of creative synch, who calls the amount of inbound interest in “Dreams” the “elephant in the room” when it comes to trying to pitch other Hall & Oates songs. “I made a challenge to my team that anything you can find for any other song is a massive win.”
Those recent wins include two prominent syncs for “Maneater” and “Private Eyes” in last fall’s most recent season of FX’s “American Horror Story,” an “Out of Touch” sync on HBO’s “The Deuce,” two looks for “I Can’t Go for That” and “Kiss on My List” on Netflix’s “Coffee & Kareem” and a standout sync on HBO’s “Watchmen” for Hall’s “Everytime You Go Away,” a song that later became famous by Paul Young. “Private Eyes” just made another appearance on last Sunday’s episode of Showtime’s “Black Monday.”
Oates’ personal favorite non-“Dreams” synch use? HBO’s use of 1975 album cut “Alone Too Long” as the opening-credits theme for its short-lived 2013-14 comedy “Hello Ladies” (he happens to sing lead vocals on that one, too.)
“That one came out of nowhere,” Oates says. “Whoever was picking the songs for that was a hardcore Hall & Oates fan. I wish people could delve more into our deep track catalog, there’s a lot of really cool musical stuff there. Our big hits are so ubiquitous and they overwhelm the musicality of our catalog, so people can find it hard to get to them. It’s the same reason people say, ‘Why aren’t you playing more album cuts in your show?’ Well, we’re playing 14 number-one records and we really don’t have a lot of time.”
Since Palmer took the reins of BMG’s synch department in early 2019, he’s been encouraged by the marketplace’s receptiveness to the broader Hall & Oates catalog, even if “Dreams” is still the ultimate door opener.
“I don’t actively worry about any of these songs falling into being under-utilized, but you gotta keep ‘em fresh and keep them in circulation. Music supervisors know the value of these songs, and they’re definitely distinctive. It helps to have had the guys back on the road, which will hopefully resume and be back in cycle. There’s been talks that they’re gonna create new music, which would be really exciting.”
Oates confirms he’s been on “a crazy roll” writing new songs for what could become the first Hall & Oates album since 2006. That includes dusting off a song from his vault that he co-wrote with The Temptations’ Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin. “It was the last time Eddie and David ever recorded together, and I said to Daryl, ‘You and I should recut this and you should sing this.’ So he’s putting that in the pile.” Oates and his wife also performed another brand-new song during last weekend’s People Supporting Artists telethon, which he recorded on an iPhone in his living room.
As to what other “Daryl’s House”-style collabs may be in store for Hall & Oates’ new music once studio sessions can resume? “I’m totally open minded when it comes to music,” Oates says. “You never say no. Daryl and I need to kickstart the project, come up with a vibe. Once we get that, you never know what’s gonna happen.”
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.