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?
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.