Doobie Brothers box set suffers from some Michael McDonald-penned ditties

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 9, 1999

By Steve Newton

Is a band that only put out two great albums in its 30-year career justified in releasing a four-CD, 78-track boxed set?

You betcha.

A lot of bands that don’t have any great albums put out boxed sets. So just the fact that the Doobie Brothers have The Captain and Me and What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits under their belts gives them the right to go the full-fledged retrospective route on the new Long Train Runnin’: 1970-2000.

Those two albums, from 1973 and ’74, respectively, captured the band at its Tom Johnston–led peak; of the 13 tracks included from the Ted Templeman–produced LPs, nine are Johnston compositions. Unfortunately, shortly after the weaker Stampede album of ’75—when the band relied on a remake of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)” for a hit—Johnston left, vocalist-keyboardist Michael McDonald joined, and the group switched from an excellent guitar-rock outfit to a soft-pop band specializing in lame-ass schmaltz like “It Keeps You Runnin’ ” and “Minute By Minute”. Johnston returned to a (thankfully) McDonald-less lineup for Cycles in ’89, but the band couldn’t quite rekindle the spark of its ’70s heyday.

In order to make this boxed set more attractive to those Doobies fans who already own the single-disc collection from ’76, Best of the Doobies, there’s one entire CD of previously unissued demos and rough cuts, including intriguing early versions of “Daughters of the Sea” and “Sweet Maxine”, plus a live version of “Jesus Is Just Alright”, recorded on the band’s “farewell tour” of ’82. Unfortunately, there are also a few Michael McDonald–penned ditties on the “Abandoned Tracks” disc, which makes the whole collection even more suspect for those who think he wrecked the band.

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One response to “Doobie Brothers box set suffers from some Michael McDonald-penned ditties

  1. Sorry, but this writer loses all cred when Michael McDonald’s contribution is deemed ‘lame assed schmaltz’. It’s one thing to have an opinion, like how some didn’t consider Michael McDonald to be the ideal replacement for Tom Johnson. But an immature shot like the aforementioned at someone who was good enough to have been a member of Steely Dan and did work with Little Feat as well as having his own successful solo career is unwarranted. Not only that, but were it not for McDonald’s successful reinvention of the band (well, the band’s reinvention of itself with McDonald) it would likely have died off decades ago; the Doobies weren’t exactly at their hottest when Tom Johnson had to step out. McDonald did a turnaround of what would otherwise likely have seen the band’s career slide to the bottom. How? He kept the Doobies relevant – in fact more relevant than ever – for a changing and ultimately wider audience. As for the boxed set – there is a Warner Bros. set that includes all the albums up to and including the live farewell tour one. It’s a great collection and the sound has been restored so it’s like listening to an album on CD.

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