Classic Rock Review

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The Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute (1978)

28686185-28686188-largeFrom amazon.com

“Minute By Minute”, originally released in December of 1978, was the third official studio album from the Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald as a member of the band, and I think it’s clear that the third time was the charm, both artistically and commercially–although the previous two albums certainly weren’t without solid commercial success in the US, this one was a bonafide blockbuster, topping the US charts, having gone platinum within the first four months of its original release, and having gone triple-platinum by 1985.

I think the report of the band being dissatisfied with this album can be attributed to them feeling emotionally drained at the time of its recording/ release. The sessions weren’t exactly smooth sailing–in the booklet for the Rhino “Greatest Hits” CD, Michael McDonald recalls how the band did countless takes just for “What A Fool Believes” alone and that they “almost gave up”.

Without a doubt, the huge success of this album was deserved. It’s really amazing how much better of an album “Minute By Minute” is compared to the first two Doobies’ albums with McDonald–1976’s “Takin’ It To The Streets” and 1977’s “Livin’ On The Fault Line” respectively. Although respectable albums, the Doobies sound rather burnt out on “…Streets” and “…Fault Line” and often seem to be coasting on their (admittedly hugely respectable) instrumental chops to try and mask a lack of quality songwriting. With “Minute By Minute”, energy and enthusiasm are back in a big way–it’s like the band suddenly got a second wind.

Michael McDonald’s gasping, soulful vocals here pack a major wallop and are simply infectious, and he handles the lead vocals on a handful of classic tracks from this album. And of course, McDonald was one damn impressive songwriter as well–his album opening solo composition, the heavily syncopated “Here To Love You”, is one of his characteristic “soulful rants” as I like to call them, and it’s an irresistible, uplifting feel-good tune. “What A Fool Believes” was a huge hit, and with its crisp beat, rich & soaring harmonies, clever and incisive love lyrics, the sly key change on the chorus, and the extreme melodic catchiness, it’s a total classic–it’s true that you’ve probably heard it a ‘zillion’ times, but there’s no denying the brilliance of it. The jazzy, arrestingly hushed and moody title track is also classic hit. “Open Your Eyes”, with its pleading minor-keyed verses and extreme catchiness, is also a gem, and don’t forget about the grooving album closer “How Do The Fools Survive?”.

The greatness doesn’t stop there. On the previous album, it was as if the band was either afraid to rock out or had forgotten how to do so, but they come gloriously roaring back in that department with Patrick Simmons’ enthusiastic bluesy rocker “Don’t Stop To Watch The Wheels”, an irresistible song with a super fun guitar line and cool atmospheric stuff going on as well.

I’ll admit that not every song itself on the album is a classic, but still, “Dependin’ On You” is a fun feel-good tune, and “Streamer Lane Breakdown” is a solid, country-flavored instrumental that adds a welcome diversity. The minor-keyed “You Never Change” is admittedly a bit slight, and yet it’s still another piece of arrestingly catchy material. The quasi-ballad “Sweet Feelin'”, with vocals from Nicolette Larson, is rather fluffish, but it’s still catchy, under 3 minutes long, and nicely enjoyable.

So, despite some weaknesses, I have to admit I have a real weakness for this type of classy music, the kind of stuff that really holds up to repeated listening. Even “What A Fool Believes” is one of those songs that, despite its relentless airplay, has so much going on to make it one of those songs that’s always ‘worth one more listen’, as the saying goes. On the whole, “Minute By Minute” is a great and timeless album.

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January 20, 2014 - Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Minute By Minute |

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