Jan 152020

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

In 1982, talented multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield was looking for a change. It had been nearly nine years since Virgin Records had released his debut Tubular Bells, with a title track that had gone on to be featured as the theme to The Exorcist. His follow-up releases had followed much the same format (minus the somewhat creepy distinction): long form, avant-garde, eclectic orchestral pieces, with names like Hergest Ridge and Incantations. While his records were critically praised, commercial success was proving to be elusive.

In 1979, Oldfield started writing songs that were shorter and more commercially viable, in addition to some longer pieces. 1982’s Five Miles Out featured five songs: the nearly 25-minute “Taurus II” and four shorter songs, including the breakout hit “Family Man.” Oldfield wrote all the music to that song; five other writers are credited with the lyrics. This synth- and echo-heavy tune featured Scottish vocalist Maggie Reilly (one of the credited lyric writers; she would remain a regular collaborator) on vocals, ostensibly telling the story of a prostitute attempting to pick up a man in a bar. The man continually turns down her propositions, protesting that he’s a “family man.” The intensity increases with each verse, reflecting the female’s growing frustration with his repeated rejection. Neither the single nor the album charted in the US, although the single did reach #29 in Canada.

Just a year later, American duo Hall & Oates were coming off the success of their landmark album Private Eyes. Their follow-up, 1983’s H2O, also marked a bit of a change in direction, both musically and within their backing band. The changes were successful, with three Top 10 singles and 15 weeks at #3 on the Billboard charts. The three singles, “Maneater,” “One On One,” and “Family Man,” carried on the stylistic evolution hinted at in “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” from Private Eyes, featuring a slightly darker, less “pop” tone than the other singles from that album. This was by design—Daryl Hall is on record saying that the idea is always to make their music better by taking chances.

With “Family Man,” the duo looked at the darker side of relationships: temptation and desire, making this song almost the total opposite of a song like “You Make My Dreams.” They even up the ante by changing the final verse. In the Oldfield version, the solicited male remains steadfast, reflected musically by the change in intensity mentioned above. Hall & Oates tweaked the wording to reflect a belated decision to succumb to temptation, only to find out it was too late.

Oldfield’s lyrics:

She turned, tossed her head and then
She started to make her final exit line
She showed real disdain
As if explaining again she could be his for a price

Hall & Oates’ lyrics:

She turned, tossed her head
Unlike her opening move, her final exit line.
He waited much too long
But by the time he got his courage up, she was gone.

In the video, especially around the 3:20 mark, one gets the feeling that the husband realized that he almost made a major mistake, and that he’s relieved he didn’t follow through on his impulsive change of heart. The fact that Oldfield’s song had been little heard in the US contributed to the success of Hall & Oates’ version. As a single, “Family Man” peaked at #6, one slot higher than “Maneater.” There were lots more original songs to come in Hall & Oates’ career, but this choice of a cover was a good one for them, musically and financially.

Hear more great covers of songs by Hall & Oates in our archives!

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