45 Years Ago: Hall and Oates Notch Their First No. 1 With ‘Rich Girl’
"Rich Girl" arrived in January 1977 as the second single from 1976's Bigger Than Both of Us and quickly became the first of what would eventually be six chart-topping U.S. hits for the duo. They were finally building a path to superstardom.
But this partnership already stretched back a decade. So RCA insisted that Hall and Oates do everything the same for 1977's Beauty on a Back Street, once again pairing them with producer Chris Bond in a faraway Los Angeles studio.
"As for the record company, we had something going and they didn't want us to change it," Oates told Goldmine in 2015. "They wanted us to keep doing the same thing."
It was a futile attempt to replicate something that had originally come together in such an unusual way. "Rich Girl" was, quite simply, a moment in time.
Hall happened upon the idea during an evening spent with longtime girlfriend Sara Allen, subject of Hall and Oates' Top 5 hit "Sara Smile" from the year before. Her ex stopped by to visit, and Hall was struck by his privileged demeanor as the heir to a fast-food fortune.
"He came to our apartment, and he was acting sort of strange," Hall told American Songwriter in 2009. "I said, 'This guy is out of his mind, but he doesn't have to worry about it because his father's gonna bail him out of any problems he gets in.' So I sat down and wrote that chorus: 'He can rely on the old man's money, he can rely on the old man's money – he's a rich guy."
There was one problem, however, in Hall's mind: "You can't write, 'You're a rich boy' in a song," he argued in a 1985 interview with Rolling Stone.
So, the song fragment sat unused. "I wrote that chorus, and then I left it for about a year," Hall told CBS in 2017. "Then I sat down, and I said, 'Well, 'Rich Guy' is stupid. That doesn't work.' So I changed it to 'Rich Girl.'"
Listen to Hall and Oates' 'Rich Girl'
By then, Hall and Oates had been whisked back to L.A. with Bond, who had earlier co-produced 1975's self-titled LP. He'd take complete control during the sessions for the LP that became Bigger Than Both of Us, right down to orchestrating Scotty Edwards' memorable bass line on "Rich Girl."
"He was a really good arranger, and he wrote it out note for note," Edwards told Songfacts in 2013. "He knew exactly how long he wanted you to let a note ring, how to hit it, how to release it. He was a good guitar player, but he played all the instruments. So he was one person who really could write out everything, and it would be great."
The bass line they created together was so integral and propulsive that transcriptions have been widely distributed. But that kind of close involvement had begun to feel claustrophobic for Hall and Oates.
"Back Together Again" followed "Rich Girl" onto the singles chart in April 1977, reaching the Top 30 as Hall and Oates rejoined Bond during sessions for Beauty on a Back Street. Released that September, the follow-up once again went gold, but broke their streak of consecutive Top 20 albums. More tellingly, neither of its singles got close to the lofty perch established by "Rich Girl."
The highest-charting song from the third consecutive LP recorded with Bond was "Why Do Lovers (Break Each Other's Heart?)," which stalled out at No. 73. Hall and Oates never worked with him again; they have basically disowned Beauty on a Back Street, too.
"The reason we don't care for that album is it brings up bad memories of our working with our producer, Chris Bond," Oates told Goldmine. "It was the last album we recorded in Los Angeles, and we really didn't want to be there. We had been forced to be there by circumstance, by the fact that we had some success with Chris Bond with 'Rich Girl' and 'Sara Smile.'"
They'd release two more albums before finally scoring another No. 1 single with "Kiss on My List" from 1980's Voices. That was the first LP where Hall and Oates worked with members of their touring band and the first they co-produced themselves.