After their self-titled debut album didn’t make much of an impact, The Doobie Brothers hooked up with noted producer Ted Templeman for their much-improved second album, Toulouse Street, which contained three “greatest hits” and several strong album tracks. Led by singer-guitarists Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons (whose voices are at times eerily similar), and musically anchored by a rock solid rhythm section that included two drummers (thus inspiring many Allman Brothers comparisons even though the bands are markedly different), The Doobie Brothers had a smooth West Coast sound that also often had a Southern (New Orleans) flavor. The album peaks immediately with a pair of Johnston gems, starting with the joyous “Listen To The Music,” their first big hit and arguably their signature song, what with its marvelous acoustic melody and endlessly singable lyrics about the uplifting power of music (it’s also a superior showcase for the band’s excellent harmonies). The aptly titled “Rockin’ Down The Highway” wasn’t actually a hit but it later became a popular classic rock radio track; notable for its great riffs and another easily singable chorus, this smooth yet rockin’ number does indeed make you wanna rock down the highway (preferably with the top down). The other hit was a cover of the Arthur Reid Reynold’s track “Jesus Is Just Alright,” whose previous best known version was by The Byrds. And sure enough, as much as I love The Byrds, there’s no denying that The Doobie Brothers’ highly percussive, alternately rocking and atmospheric (in large part due to its prominent keyboards) take was the definitive version of the song. Elsewhere, we get a pair of Simmons songs with "Mamaloi," a short, Caribbean flavored, sing songy ditty that I'd classify as minor but enjoyable, and the standout title track, an atmospheric acoustic number that's probably the best non-famous song on the album. The funky "Cotton Mouth," a Seals & Croft cover with punchy horns, is a bit generic but still solidly enjoyable, while "Don't Start Me To Talkin'" is a Sonny Boy Williamson cover which shows that this group was a tight band of impressive players. It's not a great composition or anything, and the band's reliance on covers (three in a row smack in the album's mid-section) shows that they'd yet to really hit their songwriting peak (that would come soon enough), but I like the song's wailing guitars and again the punchy horns are a nice touch. The album ends with three Johnston songs, with a pair of short laid back tunes ("White Sun," "Snake Man") that are agreeable enough if not particularly substantial sandwiched around "Discipline," an epic (6:44) hard driving jam that also has agreeable (there's that word again as the band are nothing if not pleasant) mellower sections as well.
The Captain and Me (Warner Bros. ‘72) Rating: A
The band really hit their stride on The Captain and Me, their lone great album which contains 10 self-penned compositions, including two of their best songs (and biggest hits) ever along with many stellar deep tracks (in fact the majority of the album is comprised of stellar deep tracks). Part of it may be nostalgia, as my parents had this album on vinyl way back when and so this is the only non-hits Doobie Brothers album that I grew up with, but I really like and often love almost all of these tracks (ok I'm not so crazy about the grating riff rocker "Evil Woman"). The album starts with "Natural Thing," another breezy, hooky feel good tune that in a just world would've been a big hit, and things only get better from there, as "Long Train Runnin'" is THE Doobie Brothers song for many. This intense, funky top 10 hit really grooves and makes you wanna move, and I also like the way it creatively intermingles acoustic and electric guitars, plus it's capped off by a memorable harmonica solo and has one of the band's most quotable choruses ("without love, where would you be now?"). "China Grove" is another classic hit that has arguably the band's best guitar riff, memorable boogie piano from Little Feat's Bill Payne (a frequent contributor to many Doobie Brothers songs), and another catchy chorus. "Dark Haired Cajun Lady" is another moody gem of an album track that really has a haunting quality to it, while "Clear As The Driven Snow," the album's first Simmons composition (the prior four were from Johnston), is the album's most ambitious song and was more of a grower track for me. That said, now I really like this multi-sectioned opus, which completely changes gears at least a couple of times and which is a fine showcase for how capable and adaptable the musicians in the band were. Continuing, "Without You" is one of the bands heaviest and best rockers (when the song stops and then explodes around the 3-minute mark it's a great moment), while Simmons' "South City Midnight Lady" is a gorgeously laid-back ballad with tasty orchestrations. After a short and admittedly inconsequential acoustic segue ("Busted Down Around O'Connelly Corners"), the album ends with a pair of stellar Johnston songs, starting with "Ukiah," which has an enticingly moody mid-tempo groove, excellent vocals, and a strong guitar solo. Finally, "Ukiah" seamlessly segues into the title track, a breezy, catchy, propulsive Cajun-flavored acoustic finale that provides a fitting curtain closer. All in all, The Captain and Me is just an extremely well-crafted pop rock album that contains many of my favorite Doobie Brothers songs.
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (Warner Bros. ‘73) Rating: B+
The album cover looks like this would be a live album, doesn't it? Well it's not, this is the band's fourth studio album, and though it has some excellent songs, it's a definite notch below their prior album which I consider their career peak. My problem with this album is that it often alternates loud riff rockers with breezy soft rockers, and these juxtapositions don't always sit well with one another, plus the songs are sometimes generic or sound like rehashes; for example, "Position On 53rd Street" recalls "Rockin' Down The Highway" and "Eyes Of Silver" reminds me of a heavier "Listen To The Music" with horns. Fortunately, these are still good songs, and the album does feature Simmons' signature Doobie Brothers track "Black Water," which was the band's first #1 hit. The song's success surprised everyone as a bluegrass influenced number with a capella vocals (its famous "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand" refrain) isn't your typical top 40 fare, but fortunately the song's uniqueness didn't hurt it at the box office. Then again, the song is catchy as heck, and though it wasn't a big hit, peaking at #32, I'd argue that the sublime "Another Park, Another Sunday" is simply the best song that the band ever did. How this airy soft rock gem wasn't a massive hit still mystifies me, as it's a perfect fit for a lazy sunny Sunday (p.s. "Eyes of Silver" was the album's other single and it was even less successful, though "Black Water" made up for these failures). Elsewhere, I'm partial to mellower tracks like "Spirit" and "Tell Me What You Want (And I'll Give You What You Need)," and I also like the atmospheric, atypical "Daughters of the Sea," while "Road Angel" is probably the best of the album's heavier rockers. In general, hard rock isn't the band's best style, but they could rock out convincingly, which this song certainly shows; the guitar solo section at around 3:30 featuring traded off leads is genuinely exciting, and there's even a drum solo as this song, like others before it, has a heavy percussive presence. Again, this album sometimes sees the band repeating themselves and/or suffers from unmemorable material, but it was still a worthy follow up to The Captain and Me and it contains at least a couple of major highlights. Interesting Note about The Doobie Brothers and hard rock: When Ronnie Montrose got his record deal, he told Warner Bros. he wanted to sound like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple but with the Doobies' production, so Ted Templeman and his engineer Donn Landee were hired. And if you listen to Montrose's "Rock The Nation" its tone/aural quality is similar to "Rockin' Down the Highway." Fast forward to 1977, a young Eddie Van Halen insists on the Templeman/Landee team because of his love of Montrose's debut (which is what later got Sammy Hagar hired). So, The Doobie Brothers are actually extremely influential on hard rock, albeit indirectly.
Best Of The Doobies (Superego Records '76) Rating: A
If you want the hits and only the hits, then this is the Doobie Brothers album for you. After all, Best Of The Doobies has sold over 10 million units, which is a testament to the durability of these songs, many of which I used to hear all the time before classic rock radio starting significantly shrinking their playlists. I'd reckon that the majority of these 11 songs should still be familiar to most people over a certain age, and for those who aren't familiar with the band, I'd say that this is a good starting place, even if this album, which covers 1972-1976, is a bit on the skimpy side as I would've liked to have seen more songs in particular my beloved "Another Park, Another Sunday" (there have been more comprehensive later collections but they've had their problems as well, whether in the song selection or in needlessly using edited songs). In truth, I feel that the best Doobie Brothers albums were the ones I've reviewed here, the ones led by Tom Johnston and to a lesser extent Patrick Simmons. When Michael McDonald joined in 1976 they pursued a more keyboard-based "blue eyed soul" sound that he ended up dominating. It brought them their biggest success with 1978's Minute By Minute and its #1 hit "What a Fool Believes," but like many I far prefer the prime Johnston-Simmons stuff, which comprises the bulk of this collection, though two McDonald songs (the excellent "Takin' It To The Streets" and the solid "It Keeps You Runnin'") are included here, as is their fun hit cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland's "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)" from 1975’s also very good Stampede. As for the rest of the songs, it's basically a roll call of songs I called out as previous highlights: "China Grove," "Long Train Runnin'," "Listen To The Music," "Black Water," "Rockin' Down The Highway," "Jesus Is Just Alright," "South City Midnight Lady," and "Without You." This enjoyable album showcases a very good band who had some great songs.
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