Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers (not brothers, by the way), were an archetypal West Coast, easy-listening, driving rock band. Their albums spanned the seventies and I have reviewed most of their output from that period....

The Doobie Brothers (1971)

This was a somewhat inauspicious debut album from a group who would go on to make some of the seventies' most scintillating, upbeat country rock.                                   
The opener, Nobody, has lots of hints as to the sharp, punchy country rock sounds that The Doobies would serve up over the new decade, it is full of great guitar riffs, harmonious vocals and some cutting acoustic riffs underpinning it. Slippery St. Paul is a bluesy, acoustic number that sounds as if it has come from The Rolling StonesBeggars' Banquet. It has a lovely bass line too. Greenwood Creek continues the country blues feeling. The sound is a bit rough and ready, but there is an energetic, enthusiastic rawness to it that is appealing, a bit like The Eagles' debut album. It has some killer harmonica on it. 

It Won't Be Right is a CSNY-style country rocker, but with a rougher, gutsier voice. Mott The Hoople tried to sound like this on their Wildlife album, but this sounds much better. Travelin' Man is a laid-back, once more very country rock number. All very 1971. It has a nice bass and guitar interplay bit near the end. Relaxing stuff. A typical Doobie Brothers Listen To The Music type riff introduces Feelin' Down Farther. Listening to this, there is no-one else it could be but the Doobie Brothers. 

The Master is a rhythmic number with a hint of The Band about it. Growin' A Little Each Day has a downhome country vibe while Beehive State has some seriously impressive electric guitar work and some "heavy-ish (for 1971)" overtones to it. It is probably the densest, hardest rocking of the album's songs. Closer Every Day drifts along on a warm, smooth bass line and the album ends with a short traditional finger-picking blues in Chicago.

Overall, this is not an album that demands much in depth analysis. It is an enjoyable, appealing debut album from a band who would go on to fine-tune their sound over the years and produce better stuff, but this was a good start.

Toulouse Street (1972)
After a debut album that went largely unnoticed, this was the album that found people starting to take The Doobie Brothers seriously. There was quite a lot of upbeat country rock around in 1972 - The Eagles, in particular, ploughed a similar furrow. The Doobies, though, had a jazzy melodic rock side to them. Less blues and heavy rock, more soulful hooks. 

Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the opener and massive hit single, Listen To The Music, which is just such a classic seventies Americana driving on the freeway song. The goodtime, barroom, roadhouse rock is continued in the irresistible Rockin' Down The Highway.  It is packed full of rocking piano, throbbing bass and killer guitar riffs. Great stuff. The Doobies were now employing two drummers, although to be honest it isn't that apparent.

Mamaloi is a slightly Caribbean-influenced groove with echoes of Little Feat about it. Toulouse Street is very redolent of CSNYAmerica and The Byrds in its airy, country-folk rock laid-back feel and its gentle hippy-ish vocal harmonies. 
Cotton Mouth has a huge, horn-driven, swampy funky beat. Sort of like Little Feat meets The MetersDon't Start Me To Talkin' is a cover of a Sonny Boy Williamson upbeat Delta blues number. It bluesily rocks in a big way. The other successful single from the album was the gospel-influenced Jesus Is Just Alright which is slightly too evangelical for my taste. Great harmonies, riffs and rhythm on it though. It is incredibly US radio-friendly too. White Sun is another CSNY-type song, with hints of Neil Young in there too. It has a beautiful melody to it. The rock returns with the Allman Brothers-esque extended semi-jam of Disciple. The last few tracks, (indeed all the album), have shown that The Doobies had considerable variety to them. Snake Man is a short, acoustic blues to finish what was an appealing, impressive album that still sounds just as good today.

The Captain And Me (1973)

The Doobie Brothers third album was possibly their best, certainly their most successful. It has a successful balance between vibrant piano and guitar-driven rockers and tender, country-style ballads. There were Allman Brothers bluesy rockers mixed with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/The Byrds style lyrical, relaxing country airs. The Eagles put out albums with a very similar mix during the same period, which was an extremely fertile one for this type of music. This type of music dominated the US airwaves at this time. 
Natural Thing is a mid-pace, typical freeway AOR rock song, full of harmonised vocals and a potent drum sound. Two big, well-known tracks are next - Long Train Running with its addictive funky, guitar-strumming intro, fantastic rhythm and catchy hook and the magnificent, effervescent rock of China Grove. Both of these are superb tracks and very representative of The Doobie Brothers' sounds at this time. Dark Eyed Cajun Woman is a bluesy, Southern-influenced rock song, with hints of both The Eagles and Free in places, the former in the instrumentation and ambience, the latter in the gritty vocals. It has an excellent guitar solo in it too. Clear As The Driven Snow is a folky, acoustic song that sounds like some of the acoustic passages on Led Zeppelin III. It has a powerful rock part at the end, though.

Without You is a pounding, copper-bottomed riffy rocker. It is energetic and very catchy, once again. South City Midnight Lady is a beautiful Eagles-like country ballad, which still has time for some clever, melodic guitar work in the final third. Evil Woman is an intense rocker, with a strangely unclear, muffled sound, which could have done with some better production, to be honest. 
Busted Down is a short acoustic guitar-picking interlude, before the upbeat, lively Ukiah, with its rustic lyrics. More searingly cutting guitar features here. The Captain And Me ends this enjoyable album with its folky, CSNY-style, light, airy melody. There is a lovely, subtle bass line that underpins this one. It is quite an adventurous, inventive track. There have been quite a few changes in mood and pace on what is actually quite a short album, making for an enjoyable 41 minutes.

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)

The Doobie Brothers added a brass section to their upbeat brand of Americana-electric country rock for this, their fourth album. It is still more of the same though - confident, soaring Americana-country rock.                                    

The opener, Song To See You Through, is an impressive, punchy, brass-driven funky number. Spirit has one of those classic Doobie Brothers backing riffs, augmented here by some country fiddle. This is one of their most folky, country-ish numbers. Pursuit On 53rd Street is a riffy slice of Doobies majesty, like China Grove in its muscular power. Black Water is a wistful, airy CSNY/Neil Young-influenced track. Eyes Of Silver recycles the Long Train Runnin' riff and general sound. Road Angel is another chunky, riffy song. Upbeat, bassy and solid. It features some intoxicating percussion-guitar interplay at the end.

The old "side two" opened with the appealing, funky, horn-driven 
You Just Can't Stop It, which reminds me somewhat of Tower Of Power. 
Tell Me What You Want is a melodic piece of country rock that they lay down effortlessly. Riffage is back for the rocking Down In The Track that almost sounds Status Quo-ish in places. Another Park, Another Sunday is a lovely, laid-back and melodic country rock number. It features some sumptuous bass on it near the climax of the song. Daughters Of The Sea is an unusual, almost sixties psychedelic-influenced number with hints of Cream, for me, in parts. It is actually an excellent track. The album ends with a brief instrumental, Flying CloudOverall, this was quite a varied album and again, was impressive and stands up today both as one of the best of its era and also as one which can be enjoyed today.

Stampede (1975)

This was the last of the first five Doobie Brothers albums and it is possibly the most fulfilled and varied - it is rootsy, soulful country-ish rock that is always uplifting and lively. Blues and rock 'n' roll are never far from the surface either. This is probably their rootsiest, most "Americana" album to date. It is far less rocking than its two predecessors. Incidentally, much of the great guitar on here comes from erstwhile Steely Dan virtuoso, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter.                               

Sweet Maxine is a frenetic, rousing opener, with a bit of a "wall of sound" feel to its backing. Neal's Fandango is another energising, upbeat number, full of rocking guitar and piano - check out the interplay in the middle break. Texas Lullaby sees the pace slow down somewhat in an Eagles-ish country rock slumber of a ballad, featuring some infectious slide guitar. Music Man shows the funky side to The Doobies that usually makes itself known once or twice on every album, with lots of wah-wah guitar and horns. Curtis Mayfield guests on this one. Slat Key Soquel Rag is a short, finger picking instrumental redolent of the band's first album.

The big hit from the album was Holland-Dozier-Holland's Motown classic Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) given the Doobies treatment. It is lively, singalong and most appealing. 
I Cheat The Hangman is one of those CSNY/America influenced ethereal, hauntingly harmonious hippy-ish numbers that also crop up on every Doobies album. Half way through, the production ramps up into all manner of orchestrated indulgence, almost prog-rock in places. PrĂ©cis is a brief Spanish guitar instrumental that leads into Ry Cooder's trademark slide guitar guesting on Rainy Day Crossroad BluesI Been Working' On You is typical Doobie Brothers funky blues rock featuring some of that killer guitar. The album ends with a copper-bottomed slice of roadhouse piano-driven rock in Double Dealin' Four Flusher.

The Doobie Brothers were up there with Little Feat and The Eagles as one of the best examples of early-mid seventies rocking Americana. This is the last in their run of truly classic albums. A sea change would come with the next album. This was the end of "The Doobie Brothers phase one".

Takin' It To The Streets (1976)

The Doobie Brothers changed direction with this album, leaving behind the Eagles-influenced, riffy country rock and developing a slicker, AOR, semi-funky sound. They bought in the instantly recognisable voice of Michael McDonald too, which would dominate "Doobie Brothers phase two".  Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, of Steely Dan fame, brought in for the previous album, is still there too, and would be for several more albums.                            
Wheels Of Fortune is upbeat, funky and full of catchy guitar parts. It is quite infectious and appealing, with sublime horn breaks in places too and a great rubbery bass. Takin' It To The Streets has a typical McDonald soulful vocal, something that completely changed the vibe of The Doobies' material. The track is rhythmic, with sumptuous percussion and a general soul groove to it. In many ways, this sort of material infuriated the freeway rock fans of albums like The Captain And Me8th Avenue Shuffle is a slightly latin-influenced Steely Dan-esque catchy number. Losin' End is a laid-back soully track, while Rio is full of percussive rhythm and samba-influenced jazzy sounds. This is an absolute sea change from their earlier albums.

For Someone Special is a soul classic worthy of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes but with some most evocative bluesy, jazzy stylings with more airs of Steely Dan or Al Stewart. The musicianship on this is excellent. This really is a quite impressive, adventurous album. 
It Keeps You Runnin' is a very Steely Dan influenced track, again it is packed full of polished soulful ambience.  Turn It Loose is the one concession to past riffage with a guitar-driven country-ish rocker. It is the only number that brings to mind anything from the first five Doobies albums. Carry Me Away is a precursor to What A Fool Believes, with a pounding piano backing and McDonald's unique voice soaring above the impressive instrumentation. As with all The Doobie Brothers' albums, from whatever phase, there is considerable pleasure to be derived from this album. Good stuff. The sound quality is excellent too.

Livin' On The Fault Line (1977)  

This is a very laid-back, easy-going AOR-oriented album. Released at the height of punk, it was about as far from punk as could be. A lot of the Eagles-style barnstorming country rock has disappeared from The Doobies' sound by now, replaced by a cool, sophisticated, polished sound. They had definitely set out their stall now to produce a slicker, more commercial, adult radio sound.                    

You're Made That Way is a jazzy, rhythmic Steely Dan (Aja -era) style number, with a real easy listening soulful groove to it. The AOR feel continues with the breezy, harmonious, West Coast-ish Echoes Of LoveLittle Darling (I Need You) is a lively, catchy, toe-tapping singalong rocker. It is a cover of a Marvin Gaye song from the sixties. You Belong To Me is a slow-tempo keyboard-powered piece of soulful balladry with more Steely Dan-Donald Fagen vibes blowing around. It is a classic late night number. Livin' On The Fault Line is a samba-influenced offering with a gentle rhythm and vocal to it. It features some sumptuous jazz guitar as well and some jazzy "vibes" sounds.

Nothin' But A Heartache explores the laid-back furrow once again, with a sweet, deep soul vocal from Michael McDonaldChinatown is an atmospheric, shuffling jazzy, slightly funky number. The instrumentation on this, and indeed on all the album is top notch. It is one of the group's instrumentally finest offerings. There's A Light continues the smoochy, soully feel with some fetching harmonica in the middle. Need A Lady is a funky grinder with bags of atmosphere. The album closes with a short piece of finger picking guitar in Larry The Logger Two Step. Overall, this is a pleasant album for a listen of an evening.

Minute By Minute (1978)

This was The Doobie Brothers' biggest-selling album and nothing like their first five albums of riffy, bar-room road trip rock. Doobie Brothers "phase two" (post 1975) was a radio-friendly, laid-back, West Coast, harmonious AOR group. Not that they weren't eminently listenable. It was now a commercial, white funk/soul sound and the public lapped it up. This album sold over three million copies. It was also a million miles away from the punk/new wave that was all the rage in 1978, particularly in the UK. I was nineteen in 1978 and I wouldn't have listened to this if you paid me, although had liked the group's mid seventies material. Time has mellowed me though.      

Here To Love You is a smooth, polished soul number with some infectious piano and Michael McDonald's unique, smoky voice soaring above the excellent backing. What A Fool Believes is now an iconic song, known by many. It is catchy, soulful, gently and melodically rocking. It was a huge hit on mainstream radio and it is clear why on one listen. Minute By Minute is a classic of easy listening AOR soul. Dependin' On You is full of sweet harmonies, infectious, tuneful rhythms driven by McDonald's piano, the horns and some sublime percussion. There is even a Santana-style guitar solo on here too.

Don't Stop To Watch The Wheels is a nod back to their previous, more rocking incarnation, full of bluesy guitar and a solid rock beat. This is a song that will have pleased the older fans and probably would be skipped over by the new ones. 
Open Your Eyes is an infectious, piano-driven soul mid-tempo number with hints of Hall & Oates about it, for me. Sweet Feelin' is gently laid-back and pleasant, although it ends a bit abruptly. The band rediscover their Americana roots on the finger-picking country instrumental of Steamer Line Breakdown, which again reminds one of those early albums. You Never Change slows the tempo again, with some delicious percussion and some hot summer's day vocals that sound almost country-rock-ish, like America, or CSNYHow Do The Fools Survive? ends the album with some polished soul funk with a great bass line and impressive horns, once more. It gets into a groove and just sweeps you along. This is a highly recommended album of its type. Laid-back jazzy white soul-funk didn't get much better.

One step Closer (1980)

This was the last album from The Doobie Brothers as such. There were some later "reunion" ones, with slightly different line-ups, that appeared over a decade later, but, to all intents and purposes, this was the end of the line. It is a pretty uninspired album, played with technically brilliant musicianship and easy listening sound quality, it just lacks that certain something that had been present in their previous albums. It was solidly an AOR, late-night, polished soul/rock album. However, it was also, by now, sounding very formulaic. It is all very pleasant and you cannot object to it while listening, but the previous albums all had far more to offer.                        

Dedicate This Heart is a smooth, soulful opener, while Real Love is a bit of a What A Fool Believes remake, although it features a sumptuous saxophone solo, it has to be said. No Stopping' Us Now has a pretty intoxicating groove to it, full of white funk licks. It is probably the strongest cut on the album. Thank You Love is standard, laid-back, sweet soul with great vocals and rhythm, but you feel they could do this sort of thing in their sleep. It does have a fetching bit of jazzy piano in it, however, and saxophone too. There is also some good percussion near the end.

One Step Closer has some lively saxophone in its intro and an appealing vocal. It is a poppily catchy number. 
Keep This Train A-Rollin' is very early eighties in its synthesised backing and, although pleasant enough, is nothing special. As on most of the tracks, it is the saxophone which raises it up in places. Just In Time is a short, funky-ish number with some good Latin-influenced percussion. South Bay Strut is a saxophone-led tuneful instrumental, very much of its time, and One By One closes the album with an infectious, bassy slice of jazzy soul-funk that is one of my favourites on the album. As I said earlier, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this album and it is an enjoyable listen, but, in comparison with the eight albums that came before, it is not quite as inspired. As a one-off album of late night eighties soul, it is perfectly acceptable.

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  1. The early Doobie Brothers were terrific. They had great single after great single. I'm talking about the pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers. Long Train Running, China Grove, Listen to the Music, Another Park Another Sunday are all fantastic records. They really had their own distinctive sound too. I didn't much like them in their later era though. But early on they were great.

  2. A bit like Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead among others, they had different eras within the same band's (nominal) output.

    Those tracks you mentioned are my favourites too. China Grove - what a song.