When What A Fool Believes came out and hit #1, everyone finally realized that the Doobie Brothers transformation from a San Francisco biker band to a Los Angeles West coast mellow rock outfit was now complete. This was Michael McDonald’s band now. When the title track from their Minute By Minute LP was released, people probably wondered if there was anyone else left in the band. This keyboard driven track retains the jazzy soul of Michaels’ former cohorts, Steely Dan, but smooths it out for pop consumption. If there’s any guitar in this recording its buried so far in the mix that the Moog and Rhodes drown it out. No wonder Tom Johnston left the band. There wasn’t any room for him anymore.
This is not say that Michael was some sort of dictator. In fact he revived the bands fortunes when Tom got sick in 1975 and couldn’t tour with them on the heels of the first #1, Black Water. Then we co-wrote their next 10 hit, Takin’ It to The Streets in 1976. And this is where we break to discuss their What’s Happening appearance…
I can’t think of another band making as much of an impact on me on a TV show than the 2 part episode where the Doobie Brothers plan at Raj, Duane & Rerun’s high school. People have derided this episode and band choice by saying it was too White and it made no sense for these kids to like them. Why couldn’t the Commodores have shown up instead?
To me, that would have played to the stereotypes. Having the Doobie Bros show up was an awesome decision, made or not made by the show’s creator Eric Monte [who was not White]. The band had changed from straight up rock to a more R&B based groove oriented unit and that change was occurring before McDonald showed up. He just happened to carry it to its fullest realization. Watching Rerun play air bass during the chorus of Takin’ It To The Streets hammers home that backbeat funk that you may have missed on your AM transistor. The choice wasn’t lost on the writers either, especially when Dee asks the only Black member of the band, Tiran Porter, if he was a half-brother.
Watching these 2 episodes via ‘rerun’ in the 80s was a reminder of how musical appreciation wasn’t limited to genre. You could like the O’Jays and Grand Funk and no one thought it was especially weird. In many ways we’ve come full circle with online sites offering a cafeteria style of musical entrees. But it took us another 30 years to get there. Or Doobie terms, over 16 million minutes by minutes by minutes by minutes….