Despite being once known for playing rowdy Hell's Angels' functions the Doobie Brothers consistently rode the line between pop and Rock until, with a "little" help from Michael McDonald, they finally landed on the pop side.
Emerging from a Folk-influenced group called Pud, they grabbed their new name from marijuana slang, back when drugs were cool. You'd think with a name like that they'd be the target for every narc in America. And for a time they were.
The band featured two drummers and a solid line-up of guitars. Early core members were songwriter, singer, guitarist Tom Johnston and guitarist Patrick Simmons.
The first album tanked but the second, "Toulouse Street," rolled out in '71, with the hit "Listen To The Music." They were famous. "Jesus Is Just Alright," probably written in atonement for all those missed Sunday church services, had hot vocal harmonies but an acoustic pop feeling. Finally, "Rockin' Down The Highway" blew the doors off. Burning guitars, soaring vocals and a driving rhythm section (two drummers paid off) made the song one of the band's best.
A series of albums including "Captain and Me" and "Takin' It To The Streets" built the Doobie's following while band members started coming and going with increased regularity. It practically reached the point where you needed a scorecard. But there was one personnel change that profoundly effected the Doobie's direction. In '76 McDonald, ex-Steely Dan member, signed on. Soon Johnston was out. McDonald moved the band away from its guitar base toward a funkier keyboard anchored sound. '79 saw the release of "Minute By Minute" was a commercial break through resulting in million selling singles and Grammy Awards, a sure sign of mainstream appeal. Not that it was all bad. This Doobie edition (which still included Simmons) came up with "Dependin' On You" and "Keep This Train A-Rollin'." But they were better known as a pop act, a very good pop act, but still.
Eventually, McDonald cut the Doobie Brothers loose to pursue a lackluster solo career. Johnston returned to the band in the '90s to tour/record and Simmons was there for that too.
1971 The Doobie Brothers
1972 Toulouse Street
1973 The Captain And Me
1974 What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
1976 Takin' It To The Streets
1977 Livin' On The Fault Line
1978 Minute By Minute
1980 One Step Closer
2000 Sibling Rivalry
Early Doobie Brothers' albums were inconsistent and later ones inconsequential, but the group managed a long string of hits before drifting into pop land. That fact points toward picking up a "Greatest Hits" compilation.
"Minute By Minute" shows the group at their commercial zenith but the jazz pop direction is hardly top-drawer Doobies. That honor goes to either "Captain and Me" with "China Grove," their best Rocker, or "Takin' It To The Streets," their first album with Michael McDonald. He's not yet the dominate force and the title track is outstanding.
The Doobies' self-titled debut is forgettable. The follow-up "Toulouse Street" is far better. Mid-career albums, "What Were Once Vices…," "Livin' On The Fault Line" and "Stampede," each have a couple of good Rockers.
"One Step Closer" attempts to duplicate "Minute By Minute's" pop success and largely fails.