John Oates on lost cult-classic 'She's Gone' video: 'Most hysterical thing we'd ever done'

This Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on, John Oates and his wife Aimee are putting on a free virtual concert for Feeding America, Oates Song Fest 7908, featuring all-stars like Dave Grohl, Sammy Hagar, Dan+Shay, Darius Rucker, Sara Bareilles, Bob Weir, Jewel, and Oates’s Hall & Oates bandmate, Daryl Hall. Oates’s co-host for the evening will be viral video star Saxsquatch, whom Oates met on Instagram; during the event, Oates and Saxsquatch will also premiere their new EDM version of Hall & Oates’s classic “Maneater.”

The pairing with musical internet sensation Saxsquatch is a full-circle moment of sorts for Oates, because it could be argued that Hall & Oates made one of the first viral music videos — even though it took decades for the bonkers “She’s Gone” to actually go viral, because Instagram, YouTube, and even MTV did not exist way back in 1973.

“She’s Gone” has become the stuff of internet legend, and Oates says it’s “absolutely” his favorite Hall & Oates music video, more so than any of the duo’s clips that dominated MTV after the cable network eventually debuted in 1981. The budget art mini-film, which still looks surreal almost 50 years later, features a glassy-eyed Daryl Hall and John Oates — the former in a bathrobe, Bowie mullet, and platform sandals with socks, and the latter in a rented penguin costume — reclining on dentist’s-waiting-room ‘70s chairs among scattered Monopoly money, on what appears to be the Between Two Ferns set, while a red-sequined devil and a woman in a floral maxidress occasionally saunter into frame. After Oates's penguin-flippered faux guitar solo, he and Hall walk off the set, leaving only the unitarded devil onscreen. It’s three minutes and 29 seconds of what Oates describes as pure “performance art,” and it’s almost downright punk-rock.

“It was pre-punk rock, actually, but yeah,” Oates tells Yahoo Entertainment with a chuckle. “I mean, we just thought it was the most hysterical thing we'd ever done.”

Daryl Hall and John Oates in the 1973 'She's Gone' music video. (Photo: YouTube)
Daryl Hall and John Oates in the 1973 'She's Gone' music video. (Photo: YouTube)

So… what’s the story? Oates seems delighted to tell it. “You have to put yourself in the context of the time. It was 1973. There was no MTV. There were really no music videos being played,” he begins. When Hall & Oates bristled at the notion of lip-synching one of their earliest hit singles, “She’s Gone,” for a local teen dance show in Atlantic City, they came up with another plan, enlisting the help of Oates’s sister. “One night I'm sitting in our apartment that we were sharing in New York City, with Daryl. And I said, ‘Let's just do something crazy. Let's take our furniture from our apartment.’ My sister was a film student at Temple University. The girl you see walking across the video is Sara [Allen, Hall’s girlfriend at the time] from ‘Sara Smile.’ And the guy in the devil suit is our tour manager, Randy Hoffman, who is now John Mellencamp’s tour manager.”

John Oates, Daryl Hall, and the Devil in the 1973 'She's Gone' music video. (Photo: YouTube)
John Oates, Daryl Hall, and the Devil in the 1973 'She's Gone' music video. (Photo: YouTube)

When the band and their misfit crew showed up to the TV set with their props and Halloween costumes, “They didn't know what to make of us,” Oates recalls. “Here's this 20-year-old girl who's a film student with a script that we had all written together. … She walks into the control room and they're like, ‘Oh, what is happening here?’ And she starts telling these guys what we're doing. ... I was wearing a rented penguin suit that had flippers instead of hands, and Daryl was wearing a black bathrobe. And we did the video and they hit the ceiling. They thought we were mocking them. They thought, who were these stupid young hippies who are doing this thing? And they refused to play [the video]. They did not play it on the show. And they called our record company and they said they were going to ban us from Philadelphia radio, they would never play us again: ‘Your careers are over!’ Oh, it was a big deal. Our record company was like, ‘What did you guys do here?’ And we were laughing all the way.”

John and Daryl managed to shoot the video in just one take before the plug was pulled — “They literally kicked us out of the television studio; they hated us!” — and the footage remained in a vault for years, even after Hall & Oates became MTV darlings with other videos that now seem quaint and lo-fi, like “Private Eyes,” but were slick for the time. “No one ever saw [the “She’s Gone” video] for the entire decade of the ‘70s. It wasn't until YouTube began that we actually said, ‘You know, we've got to post this thing.’ I always had a copy of it. So once there was a platform for us to put things up, the first thing I said was, ‘We've got to get the “She's Gone” video out into the world,’” Oates confesses.

John Oates puts n his penguin jacket for his
John Oates puts n his penguin jacket for his "She's Gone" guitar solo in 1973. (Photo: YouTube)

So, was Oates the person who actually leaked it? “I dunno, sure. I'll take credit for it now,” he answers with a sly grin.

Now “She’s Gone” is considered a bona fide cult classic. “I'm glad we were ahead of our time. The people who get it love it, and the people who don't, I guess they just don't,” shrugs Oates. As for whether he and Hall would ever consider recreating the video — perhaps with Saxsquatch for Oates Song Fest 7908 this weekend? — Oates laughs, “You know, maybe one of these days I will revisit the idea. You never know. It's a moment in time, and sometimes you just can't kept recapture stuff like that.”

Check out John Oates’s extended Yahoo Entertainment interview below for full details on Oates Song Fest 7908, the stories behind the “Private Eyes” and “Jingle Bell Rock” music videos, Oates’s memories of opening for David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour, his latest musical projects, and much more:

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— Video produced by Jon San, edited by Jason Fitzpatrick