Private Eyes

Album: Private Eyes (1981)
Charted: 32 1
  • The song title came from the 1980 movie The Private Eyes, starring Don Knots and Tim Conway as bumbling detectives. Warren Pash, a musician who was trying to make it in Los Angeles, was working on a song called "I Need You To Need Me," but he didn't like that title. He was driving on Ventura Boulevard when he saw the movie billboard, turned back home, and wrote the song with a new title and chorus: "Private Eyes."

    Pash had met Daryl Hall and Janna Allen (Hall's sometime songwriting partner) earlier in 1980, and had done some songwriting with Hall that didn't amount to anything. When Allen and Hall returned to New York, they kept writing together, including a song that was intended for Allen's first solo album: "Kiss On My List." That song ended up being recorded by Hall & Oates, but Janna kept looking for material. When she called Pash, he told her about "Private Eyes," and when Janna returned to LA, they worked on the song together.

    Pash told Songfacts: "We went in a little rehearsal room somewhere - I think it was five bucks an hour with a beat-up, old piano with cigarette burns and half the keys not working, and a cassette player. We banged it out with some stuff that she added to make it more singable for her and more melodic for her. She took it away and I said, 'OK, we'll see what happens.' She calls me maybe a month later and says, I don't think that song is for me. I said, Yeah, I understand. And she goes, But I think it's perfect for Daryl and John, so I gave the cassette to them. I went, What are you trying to do, kill my opportunity to work with Daryl again? Why'd you give him that piece-of-crap tape? She says, No, no, no... they'll know what to do with it.'"

    Daryl Hall worked on the song with his girlfriend, Sara Allen (Janna's sister), turning it into a Hall & Oates tune. In the end, the song had four writers: Janna Allen, Sara Allen, Daryl Hall and Warren Pash.
  • The song compares the challenges of a romance to the cloak-and-dagger work performed by detectives. The promotional video featured the duo wearing stereotypical detective dress of long trench coats and trilby hats. Hall & Oates didn't like making videos, as they felt the visuals detracted from the sound, but they knew it was a vital part of marketing with the emergence of MTV. When someone suggested the '50s detective look for this clip, they went with it because it was cheap and easy.

    For a hassle-free video that could be thrown together quickly, they contacted Jay Dubin, a director who liked music videos about as much as they did, but had a knack for working with a tight budget in a short time frame. In a Songfacts interview, Dubin remembered shooting it on the fly:

    "It's real simple. I get a call from them, it's about 11. 'Hey, we're over at Electric Ladyland, we want to shoot a video. We only have this much money. Can you get over here in a couple of hours?'

    I go, 'Yeah.' Came in, did it, and left. I mean, there was no plan. It was just like, 'Whaddaya got around here? What can I do?' Okay, I got this, this, and this. All right. And I've got a camera. Let's do it. Get outta here. Okay, 'bye. Two hours, done, boom. Go and edit it and I finish the next day. It was no big thing though, you know? [Laughing] Had nothing to work with. You have the room and the two guys, and a couple of other guys.

    So you walk in and go, 'Okay, everybody sing, point the cameras at them. Okay, now we'll do a close up, now we'll do this, now we'll do that.' And, 'All right, I'll have it done in the morning.'"
  • According to the liner notes of the remastered Private Eyes CD, this song was at one point titled "Head Above Water," with the word "water" listed as "H2O." When Hall and Oates finished recording it, they knew it was a contender for the first single, and it ended up being the title track.
  • Hall is the much more visible member of the duo, which gave Saturday Night Live fodder for a sketch where an actor playing Oates talks about his contributions to this song, explaining that it was he who did the hand claps. Oates, who actually co-wrote many of their songs, has often been overshadowed by the more extroverted Daryl Hall, but he's fine with that. In our 2011 interview, he told us: "He's a very flamboyant out-front personality, and that's his style, and that's really where a lot of his strength lies. I do what I do and I'm satisfied with it. Maybe that's another reason we've been able to stay together is we don't get in the other's way personally." (Here's the full John Oates interview.)
  • The cover for the Private Eyes album features shadowy portraits of Hall & Oates. Gym Class Heroes frontman Travis McCoy is such a fan of the white soul duo that he had the artwork tattooed on the back of his hands. "One day I was looking at the Private Eyes cover and I was like, 'That's really f---ing awesome," said McCoy of the thinking behind the pieces.
  • The duo adopted a new approach to songwriting for the Private Eyes album. Hall told Output
    magazine in 1981: "A lot of times we'll just come in with the basic idea of verse-chorus-verse musically, and I'll just sing something over it, words that don't make any real sense ... then we'll come back and put the real lyrics in the song. It has worked real good for us because it keeps us from getting frustrated. We have it down now where we can go in the studio with incomplete songs and finish them there."
  • Hall & Oates have always written from the heart, bringing their personal experiences and struggles into the lyrics. As for the complexities that shape the Private Eyes album, Hall said in a Billboard interview: "If you want to understand what we're talking about, read between the lines." Oates added with a laugh, "Some people go to a psychiatrist. We write songs."
  • For this song's co-writer Warren Pash, having Hall & Oates turn it into a huge hit was like hitting the songwriting jackpot. When the song was breaking big, however, Warren was going through some turbulent times that tempered the celebration. His father died a week before the song was released, and Warren went into a funk. "I became very disillusioned and disinterested in anything to do with pop music," he said. "It was a reaction to the enormity of the pain that came with that time, the personal family stuff. It was like, If this is what success is, I don't want anything to do with it."

    Pash ended up in a band called Laughing Sam's Dice and another called Swag. Eventually, he moved to Nashville and began working on a variety of projects, including a 2007 solo album called Plastic Rulers. When we spoke with him in 2015, he talked about how "Private Eyes" changed his life. "I'm quite proud of it. And I think Daryl's a brilliant guy. He gave me the break of a lifetime. Every day I wake up and have a little thank you Daryl moment."
  • This was featured twice on the TV series Chuck, in the 2007 episode "Chuck Versus the Sizzling Shrimp" and the 2010 episode "Chuck Versus the Final Exam." It was also used in the 2005 episode of Veronica Mars called "Kanes and Abel's."
  • This was also used in the 2002 comedy/drama/thriller Cherish, starring Brad Hunt and Robin Tunney, and in the 2010 action comedy Knight and Day, starring Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise.
  • You can rest easy knowing you can call up this song on your phone - even if it's a landline - any time. Just dial 719-26-OATES and press 4. This service, the Callin' Oates hotline, was set up in 2011 by two fans in Colorado.

Comments: 4

  • Carla from ArkansasFrom John Oates’ book Change of Season re: T Bone Wolk - Not long after he joined the band, we were getting ready to go out on the Private Eyes tour. Literally the night we were to leave, with the bus idling outside Studio Instrument Rentals, and MTV video-production crew came in to shoot a simple video for the title track of the album. The band stood costumed with trench coats and fedora hats in front of a black backdrop right before the cameras rolled when a shy and clearly nervous Wolk asked me, “What should I do?” Making videos was new to all of us, but he was way out of his element. “Don’t do anything,” I told him. “Just stand there perfectly still, like a statue, and the occasionally move your head from side to side. That will be cool. That will look good.” And so that’s what he did.
  • Coachkoen from Antwerp BelgiumRediscoverd this hit from my teenage years by the intro (cover by Dear Rouge) of Private Eyes, a Canadian comedy-drama-detective television series created by Tim Kilby and Shelley Eriksen that stars Jason Priestley (Yes!) and Cindy Sampson. It began airing on Global on May 26, 2016. Unforgettable song by Daryl Hall & John Oates this is.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 23rd 1981, "Private Eyes" by Daryl Hall & John Oates entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #68; and on November 1st, 1981 it peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} and spent 23 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #6 on the Canadian RPM Singles chart...
    Was track one on side one on the duo's tenth studio album, "Private Eyes", and the album peaked at #5 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart...
    Three other tracks from album also made the Top 100 chart; "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" {#1 for 2 weeks}, "Did It in a Minute" {#9}, and "Your Imagination" {#33}...
    {See next post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny"Private Eyes" was knocked out of the #1 position by "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John; and that song stayed at #1 for 10 weeks. But then the boys got their revenge when their "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" ended Newton-John's reign at #1!!!
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