Classic Rock Review

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The Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)


What could the Doobie Brothers possibly do to follow-up the excellent The Captain and Me? Plenty. They started by inviting the Memphis Horns to inject more soul into their trademark, Southern-styled boogie rock. Next, they secured the services of Steely Dan virtuoso Jeff “Skunk” Baxter to supply guitar and pedal-steel parts.

And for extra spice, the band recruitedArlo Guthrie to play autoharp. The results? What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, the group’s most diverse album to date.It’s just one reason Mobile Fidelity is proud to include the 1974 effort in its phenomenal Doobie Brothers catalog restoration series.

Of course, no record is worth its salt without sharp songwriting. Fret not. What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits overflows with one memorable tune after another. It’s a true collective effort, with the material reflecting the musical strengths of each of the members. Picking up where the disbanded Creedence Clearwater Revival had left off, Tom Johnston contributes the rousing “Pursuit on 53rd Street” and “Down in the Track.” Patrick Simmons’ “Black Water” advances swamp rock, and gave the band its first Number One hit.

The Doobies also mine the country-rock vein like nobody’s business. “Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need)” and “Another Park, Another Sunday” cross roots rhythms with edgy melodies. And the instrumental “Flying Cloud,” contributed by bassist Tiran Porter, finds the Doobies further expanding their sonic palette while remaining faithful to their loose, good-time themes.

By every stretch, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits defies easy categorization yet soars on amiable vibes designed to satisfy the listener. Having reached #4 on the Billboard Album charts, it’s safe to say the public was indeed impressed.

Mobile Fidelity’s engineers had the same goals in mind when mastering this 70s rock classic from the original master tapes. And so the Doobie Brothers’ dual-drum approach now resonates with a punchiness it never previously possessed.Johnson’s high-pitched vocals no longer hit an artificial ceiling or lurk behind a veiled curtain.

The Memphis Horns’ brassy accents carry, and the all-important midrange sounds immediate, transparent, and dynamic.

March 16, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits | | Leave a comment

The Doobie Brothers: What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)


In a time when album rock took over the radio airwaves, the Doobie Brothers were a mainstream rock group that were still more of a singles band. I haven’t checked, but I’d bet a stack of Franklins that The Best Of The Doobie Brothers is still far and away their best selling album (and that record didn’t even include most of the Michael McDonald hits). But being a singles band obscured the fact that in their prime, they had lots of great album cuts with little filler.

What Doobie Bros. aficionados would call “prime” depends on their preference of Tom Johnston or the aforementioned McDonald, but it sure seemed they were a constant hit factory from “Jesus Is Just Alright” up through “Takin’ It To The Streets.” 1973’s The Captain & Me is their best release from that prime era, as solid of a MOR rock album as there ever was.

As tempting as it is to gush all over The Captain & Me, it’s the only slightly weaker follow-up from the following year that deserves a rare spotlight. What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits is one of those records I became very familiar with growing up and still sounds great more than 32 years later.

This record encapsulates all that many people liked about the pre-McDonald Doobies: an accessible mixture of boogie rock, country, soul, jazz and R&B. Vices is filled with tight, top-notch musicianship and strong, varied songs contributed primarily by either Johnston or fellow guitarist/vocalist Patrick Simmons.

For those not familiar this record, the first question might be, what hits did it spin off? The record label had intended for Johnston’s soulful, melancholy “Another Park, Another Sunday” to be it, but deejays around America soon flipped the single over and played Simmons’ swampy backwoods ditty “Black Water” instead, becoming the Brothers’ unlikely first ever chart topper. Maybe it’s because the charm of “Black Water” had long worn off on me due to saturation, but I favor “Sunday” and think it remains one of Johnston’s strongest compositions ever. His Stax-style “Eyes Of Silver” with its Memphis Horns was another crack at the pop charts, but fell short. A shame, because it contains some of the DB’s distinct ensemble rhythm guitar playing and some fine vocal harmonies.

But among the single-less tracks are some real gems. “You Can’t Stop It” boasts a real funky shuffle and bass player. Tiran Porter, a criminally underrated bassist, propels the rhythm in perfect sync with the band’s two percussionists, Keith Knudsen and John Hartman. It’s followed by another Simmons-penned nugget, the mellow, soulful “Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need)”. That’s soon-to-be-full-member Skunk Baxter providing the pedal steel on the final chorus. Patrick Simmons’ full set of stellar tunes is completed by his vaguely progressive, “Daughters of the Sea”, and it shows off a depth in his songwriting not often seen in later years.

The Johnston partisans like this version of the band because they could rock more convincingly, and WWOVANH doesn’t disappoint with TJ numbers like “Road Angel” and “Down In The Track.” His “Pursuit on 53rd St.” picks up where “China Grove” left off. Johnston’s “Spirit,” which has a melody that sounds like a close cousin of “Eyes Of Silver,” shows off the band’s bluegrass side without losing any of its soul.

So no, this album won’t ever be put alongside the widely acknowledged rock classics of that time like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, or Steely Dan’s Aja. It’s just a consistently good-to-great, entertaining album by a successful mainstream rock band hitting its stride. If that’s the kind of forgotten treasure you’re looking for, you’d want to know about What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. There’s gold between them there hits.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | The Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits | | Leave a comment