Often too easily dismissed as a milquetoast marginalist, Daryl Hall has real chops honed on real street corners; his past a Zelig like journey through the origins of Philadelphia soul music. Cutting his teeth at the edge of Thom Bell's piano, woodshedding with Gamble and Huff, working the neighborhood corner as a teenage blue eyed tenor, Hall has found his public perception at odds with its true origins, and has subsequently developed an evolved duality- a parallel pursuit of creative independence and blatant commercialism. The lesser know aspect of this duality, his sublime individuality, is found at its peak in Sacred Songs- his 1977 collaboration with British sound explorer Robert Fripp.
Upon dissolving the multi-lineup, original King Crimson in 1974, Fripp retreated from the musical spotlight seeking intense spiritual reorganization in the transformative introspective teachings of G.I. Gurdjeff (a spiritual position from which Fripp has since distanced himself). These periods of introspection, in tandem with creative collaboration with Brian Eno, led Fripp to develop Frippertronics, an innovative droning loop system which created an entirely new synthesized language with which to express himself. Reemerging publicly with a new creative focus, he bonded with Hall, whom he saw as a life force and anchor; a link which provided a crucial creative association to the realities of the world outside of his spiritual concerns. Curiously Hall, at the time, was undergoing a spiritual crisis that lead to an exploration of the dark forms of mysticism in the teachings of Aleister Crowley. Fripp and Hall found themselves staring over the cliff together, a bonding which greatly informed the focus and concept of Sacred Songs.
Hall has said the collaboration with Fripp sought to take each of their musics and create a third, new music- a uniform destination informed only by the lessons of the journey, a vision of Pop music as encoded spiritual direction. While conceptual thought was abundant, much of the process in creating Sacred Songs was greatly informed by the unspoken ideology of classic American Soul Music.
Belying the improvisational performance aesthetic which provided the conceptual foundation of the record, the lyrics spell a complex and artful balance between introspection and accessibility. The koan of "The Farther Away I Am" precedes the surface level, lovelorn lament of "Why Was It So Easy". "Babs and Babs" is an existentialist muttering bleeding into the dreamlike Frippertronics showcase "Urban Landscapes". A boilerplate sentiment of the creative engine which drives the collaboration is found buried in the second track "Something in 4/4 Time". "Continue to dream after you're robbed of sleep even though the images fade, So grab what you can and all you can keep"; a subversive jewel of thought enshrouded in the saccharine context that so absolutely defines Hall's career.
Sacred Songs was considered by Fripp to be the third in the MOR trilogy encompassing Fripp's own Exposure and Peter Gabriel's second self titled album (known by Gabriel as Scratch). While sonically one canvas, a perhaps truer mirror for reflection and context is found in Todd Rundgren's prog-soul opus A Wizard, A True Star- an album equally as unexpected in the career of its creator, yet a record as definitively rooted in the traditional musics which influenced its creation.
Away from the constrictions of King Crimson, Fripp was the consumate atmospheric contributor. In tandem with his development of Frippertronics alongside Eno, his subdued production was greatly in demand and its enhancements evolved at their peak into the definitive ringing looped melody in David Bowie's era-defining Heroes; itself a clue into the mystery of what makes great pop music GREAT pop music. Fripp's deft touch equally lifted The Roches cautious first album into refined moments of sublimity. "Hammond Song" is a wonderful example of his artful subtleties.
Upon completion in 1977 Sacred Songs was shelved based on the concerns of Hall's management, who saw Hall's solo experimentation as a great impediment to the career trajectory of the top 40 motown revisionism of Hall and Oates. This line of thought also led to the striking of Hall's vocals on Exposure. One major point of contention between Hall's management and Fripp was Fripp's refusal in the crediting of the record as a duo. Ultimately Hall's vocals were limited to just two tracks on the initial issue of Exposure, his vocal concepts and arrangements were subsequently redubbed by Terre Roche, Pete Hammill (of Van Der Graaf Generator) and somewhat definitively by Peter Gabriel. Fripp became quite embittered by the process and sought refuge in the eventual reformation of King Crimson, ultimately leading to the definitive prog-metal opus Red. Hall of course found great fame as one of the defining pop and soul voices of the 1980s. Sacred Songs eventually was released in 1980, and found moderate success, peaking at number 58 in the US Billboard Top 100. To this day, Fripp refers to Hall as the greatest vocalist he has ever worked with.
In the 33 years since its release Sacred Songs has generated no shortage of curiosity and critical revisionism. The sound and intent of the collaboration somehow exists quite happily on record shelves alongside such modern masterpieces as Frank Ocean's genre-busting Channel Orange.
Removed from its idiosyncracies, Sacred Songs is a beautiful subversion of form, full of risk and reward; an expression of two artists at an apex peering, with absolute focus, into the future.