Classic Rock Review

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The Doobie Brothers Takin’ It To The Streets (1976)


I’m not going to go over the same ground as the other reviewers… Gavin Wilson’s notes for this album are pretty accurate so you may want to read this first. I’d just like to take up a couple of point he makes which are not accurate for all you history buffs out there. At the end I give you my opinion of the album if you just want to skip down to that.

QUOTE “McDonald needed a vehicle to establish himself before going on to a solo career”

This statement is misleading in that it suggests that Mike only joined the Doobie Brothers to further his solo career – at the time in ’73/’74 Mike McDonald would have needed a crystal ball to have had this in mind. He joined the Doobies because he was asked by Pat Simmons over the telephone and he was not just ‘using the band’ as a stepping stone to a solo gig. Mike had been gigging around the West Coast for a couple of years – most notably with Steely Dan (which was on/off as anyone who knows Dan will understand – they went through more musicians that I’ve had hot dinners… approx’ 52 on Aja alone!). At the time he had had an abortive solo album released through a producer friend Rick Jarrard and he was living in a garage apartment surviving on oatmeal. He had pretty much given up on the idea of a solo career and was really looking for work as a session musician. Jeff Baxter, another Dan session man recommended him to Pat and that was that.

The whole idea of Mike going solo didn’t come until the Doobies fell apart around 79/80 and then it was out of necessity… it was either a solo gig or go look for more session work. Mike’s never planned anything in his life.. and he still believes to this day in synchronicity – fate leading him forward.

QUOTE “However much the band’s manager might want to thrust Simmons as the band’s new leader it seems that he needed a co-leader to bring out the best of his playing.”

The truth of this is that Pat is a very nice guy and a great musician but was not a leader in ’74. He was a hippy in the true sense of the word and this was not even his band remember – he came in a year or two after Tom Johnston had formed the band. Tom Johnston was the driving force behind the Doobs in the early days both in terms of direction, leadership and song writing. Following his well documented drug and health issues (he collapsed on tour with bleeding stomach ulcers that nearly killed him and spent 12 months recovering) the Doobies were in serious free fall.

You have to understand that these guys were all stoned half the time and all they could focus on was getting to the next gig to play a live set. They weren’t really a studio band at all so the idea of them all sitting down round a table and working out which musical direction to go after Tom’s sudden exit is frankly…. laughable.

Jeff Baxter, however, is a leader and has very strong ideas about what he wants to do. It was really his decision to employ Mike McDonald and it was part of his (later admitted) plan to take over Tom’s spot as leader of the Doobies. He realised that the Doobs had potential and with Tom gone were ripe for the taking. By bringing in his buddy from Steely Dan (McD) he gave his corner more strength. What is really ironic is that through the Doobies, Mike McDonald blossomed and developed a close bond with Pat Simmons and Tiran Porter which pushed Baxter out of the band a couple of years later. Baxter has commented on this power struggle and admits that once he realised he couldn’t lead the band he decided to quit

QUOTE “The only problem with those two classic tracks was they are both pretty much solo efforts”.

‘Takin It To The Streets’ WAS written before Mike joined the Doobies, in fact the words were part written by Mike’s sister as part of a college paper on Martin Luther King and social unrest in the U.S. It is no surprise that Mike’s musical inspiration for this track was Marvin Gaye and the album ‘What’s Goin’ On’ which pre-dated this album by 3 years. ‘It Keeps You Runnin’ and ‘Losin End’ were also pretty much written solo by Mike and these three songs really began a new direction for the band which would see them rise to chart success and Grammy awards with the next three albums, Fault Line, Minute By Minute and One Step Closer.

This album is a real mish mash of styles and rhyhms which done’ really knit for me. You have remnants of the past (Turn It Lose – Tom Johnstons rescued studio dub from Stampede), Mikes solo tracks over dubbed by the band, a kind of odd song ‘For Someone Special’ from bass player Tiran Porter that whilst OK doesn’t fit with anything, an attempt at a ‘pop’ song in ‘Rio’, Pat’s bluegrass influenced ‘8th Avenue Shuffle’ and a pre-psychodelia ‘Wheels oF Fortune’.

If you know the history of the band at this point in their career, it is glaringly obvious why the album should be this way. It is an attempt to tread water, an albums of bits and pieces put out under pressure from the record company whilst the band tried to come to terms with losing its core (Tom Johnston).

Having said that, it is also a remarkable album in that it marks a turn in the bands direction. It is historical in that it certainly rescued the faltering career of the Doobie Brothers. It’s worth buying just because it features the fledgling inspirational work of Michael McDonald and the truly great song ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’. This is THE album that began a major shift in popular Rock music away from the hard blues of Cream and Jimi Hendrix to the Ray Charles and Motown influenced Soul. Just a few years later Michael McDonald’s chords and vocal dubs would be copied across the board for nearly a decade from Christopher Cross, Toto and David Pack in the early 80’s to band like Go West in the 90’s. This album is where it began and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

January 20, 2014 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers Takin' It To The Streets | | Leave a comment