A Critical Companion of the Video for Hall and Oates’ "Out Of Touch".

Today we will focus on Hall and Oates’ “Out of Touch”, their 1984 hit, in an effort to understand what the duo and those responsible for creating the video may have been thinking:

The video begins with Hall and Oates inside a giant bass drum. Ostensibly trapped, they helplessly bounce around inside as it vibrates, struggling to maintain their balances. Above them their drummer plays the giant drum kit the bass drum belongs to with giant drum sticks. For some reason unknown to the viewer, he hits the toms when he should be hitting the snare. No toms play on the track. Do you think that we don’t know the difference between toms and a snare drum, sir? We do. 

Meanwhile, back in the bass drum, Hall and Oates look for a solution to their dilemma. “Help us, we’re hopelessly trapped in this bass drum!” their movements suggest, but then they realize the solution is simply to exit the bass drum to safety. The exit was just a few feet away all along, at the front of the bass drum. Why had Hall and Oates decided to enter the bass drum in the first place? It does not appear a very welcoming place to have a conversation. It is impossible to say. 

What any of this means is unclear. 

How have Hall and Oates managed to enter this world, where either a) they are unnaturally small or b) the world around them is unnaturally large? 

In this world, the answers are hard to come by. This world is a slick 80’s version of Lewis Carroll, without the logic problems and political metaphors, and other things that would make it interesting. 

The safe haven Hall and Oates had hoped to find when they exited the bass drum is only an illusion. Eventually the bass drum, set in motion by forces unseen, steam rolls over them, leaving them flattened. How the bass drum managed to break free of its armature and lose the toms mounted atop is unexplained. Something fairly catastrophic must have occurred given its size. 

Suddenly Hall appears, reanimated. We cannot say what provoked his quick recovery. 

Now he is dancing and lip-syncing in front of giant letters which spell out “BIG BAM BOOM”. One of the letters contains the smaller dancing Oates. Oates is commonly viewed as an afterthought in this band, but he would probably have you know that he is in fact a very good and soulful backup singer and an excellent guitarist, and he also sings lead from time to time. Next to Daryl Hall, the man with the golden pipes, almost anyone would look like an afterthought. Still, it’s hard to imagine any creative meeting about a new Hall and Oates video would have occurred without someone saying “Does Oates have to be in this one?”. 

It’s impossible to divine what Oates might be thinking. He appears to be enjoying himself, but does he question his own purpose? Does he ask what contribution he makes that couldn’t be made by many others? Or does he just sit back and count his millions? He is unknowable. He sits in his castle with his moustache, and no one bothers trying to cross the moat, filled with giant eels. 

If Oates is resentful, he does not show it, as he dutifully dances behind his partner. He seems to favor a crouched over style, while he moves his arms back and forth in front of him, as if working some imaginary old machine. For his part, Hall, who is not known for dance moves (he is usually standing behind an electric piano in a live setting), does an admirable job with his dancing. However, he lacks the cohesive style of his partner.

We continue to explore this mysterious world in which Hall and Oates find themselves. 

At the top of a flight of stairs that leads to nowhere hangs a giant screen. On it, a movie of a Daryl Hall and his hairstyle. On the staircase in the foreground, the real Hall sex-lessly writhes. The screen version of Hall suddenly notices smoke coming out of his finger. Unconcerned, he simply blows the smoke away and gives us a wry smile. “That is the sort of thing that happens to me; I have become accustomed to it”, he tells us with his eyes. 

After a time we move back to the bass drum, in which Hall now safely plays guitar. Whatever prompted the reconciliation between the duo and the bass drum is never made clear to the viewer.

Soon after, we cut away to see what Oates is doing. He vents his frustrations by jumping up and down atop the giant bass drum pedal, thus pounding the giant beater into the giant bass drum which undoubtedly still contains his partner Daryl Hall (Hall is not shown, so this is impossible to verify). 

Perhaps Oates vents his frustration through this aggression because he is unable to express his feelings in a direct verbal appeal to Hall. Or perhaps Oates realizes his talent is inferior to that of Hall, and there is nothing that can be said about it, and so his frustration manifests itself physically. It is never made clear, due to the aforementioned mystery surrounding Oates, whose rage is now palpable as he grips the rod the beater is attached to and pushes it forcefully into the bass drum.

As the video draws to a close, we learn that once again Hall and Oates have once been seduced by the bass drum, only to see it once again cause their demise, this time by suffocating them.  The bass drum has grown itself a front head, which nullifies their earlier solution of simply exiting to safely out the front. Perhaps this will not end well. The only way out involves the duo breaking through the head. And, of course, they do just that. They are Hall and Oates, after all. They are unstoppable. 

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The comments on the YouTube video for “Out of Touch” demonstrate some noteworthy things. 

One comment says “Gotta love the 80’s!”. This sentiment seems a little unfair to Hall and Oates; it would seem to diminish their importance to simply lump them into the same category that houses Oxo and Wang Chung. Yet 11 youtube users give the comment the thumbs up. It is not unreasonable to conclude that all 11 of those people are fat. 

The next one says “Get back together, the world needs you”, which is not necessary since Hall and Oates are, in fact, still together. Despite this ignorance, or perhaps because of it, 8 youtube users give the comment the thumbs up. 

On both points these youtube users do a disservice to Hall and Oates, and their ignorance is symptomatic of today’s political landscape in the US, where if a sentiment is repeated often enough, it becomes true, regardless of the evidence at hand. 

Here again Hall and Oates, although indirectly in this instance, continue to teach us lessons.