The Brothers Doobie are yet another band that has been inexplicably denied induction into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame, despite having more than enough credentials thereof. I’d put their output (including even the Michael McDonald-era stuff) up against that of Bob Seger, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp any day, and they’re all in the Hall. As you might have gathered, I’m much more partial to the good-time Rock ‘N’ Roll Tom Johnston-era Doobies, as opposed to the wimpy Jazz-Fusion Michael McDonald-era Doobies. Don’t get me wrong—ol’ McDonald is a great singer and can do blue-eyed soul even better than Hall & Oates ever dreamed they could, but apart from two or three standout tracks, the stuff he did with the Doobies paled in comparison to the earlier (and later) stuff with Johnston. I much prefer TJ’s warm and friendly voice, which ironically, I find more soulful than MM’s!
And let us not forget the once-in-a-while capacity of Doobie stalwart Pat Simmons to produce some real gems in their musical catalogue, as well.
Throughout all their various personnel changes, my favorite Doobie Brothers lineup has to be the 1975 Stampede era with Johnston and Simmons, along with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitar, Tiran Porter on bass, and John Harte and the late Keith Knudsen on drums. By the way, two drummers, Gracie? I’ve never quite understood why any band needs more than one drummer (Allman Bros., .38 Special, latter-day Moody Blues, et al) to maintain one beat, but whatever floats yer boat, I guess. Anyway, although I’d become familiar with their big hits on AM radio growing up, the first time I ever actually saw the Doobie Brothers was that infamous episode of TV’s “What’s Happening!” ("Doobie Or Not Doobie") where the band played a concert at Raj and da gang's high school and brother Rerun tried to make a bootleg of the show for some thugs—as if smuggling an ordinary cassette tape recorder under a trench coat would yield a high-quality concert recording—riiiight! Johnston was already gone by that time, dealing with some health issues that forced him off the road for a while, and McDonald became the focal point until the band broke up in 1982.
Johnston and Simmons reunited with Porter, Harte, former drummer Michael Hossack and late percussionist/vocalist Bobby LaKind in 1989 for the vastly underrated Cycles album, which featured the hit single “The Doctor”, which I like to call “China Grove, Jr.” It was almost as if the Doobie Brothers had invented time travel, because this record just felt like 1974 all over again. Their 1991 follow-up, Brotherhood, wasn’t quite as strong, but it still had its moments. Johnston and Simmons still tour constantly to this day (mostly without McDonald, who’s busy singing Motown songs on his own tours) and they can still bring it. Put these guys in the Hall already, will ya please?
My all-time Doobie Brothers Top 20
20) “Echoes Of Love” (1980) This was the beginning of the end the first time around, but not a bad song.
19) “Evil Woman” (1973) Not to be confused with the ELO or Black Sabbath tunes of the same title. Sounding kinda like the Eagles' "Witchy Woman" in places, it’s sadly kinda forgotten now.
18) “It Keeps You Runnin‘” (1976) Now forever associated with Forrest Gump…
17) “Another Park, Another Sunday” (1974) I didn’t think much of this one at first, but it’s kinda grown on me over the years.
16) “Too High A Price” (1989) Also sounding almost Eagles-esque at times, this Pat Simmons tune was the closing track from Cycles.
15) “Listen To The Music” (1972) Sad to hear this one being used on TV commercials now, but whaddya expect? Check out Peter Frampton on Comes Alive! on the ironically-titled song “Doobie Wah” and tell me if it doesn’t bear a bit of a resemblance to “Listen To The Music”.
14) “The Doctor” (1989) Son of “China Grove”—most bands wouldn’t get away with recycling the same riff and instrumentation from an old song for a reunion album, but somehow the Doobs did.
13) “Black Water” (1974) Gets played to death on the radio, but still brings back fun memories of listening to it when it first came out when I was ten.
12) “Without You” (1973) Nice power chords on one of the edgier Doobies tunes.
11) “Double Dealin’ Four Flusher” (1975) I don’t have a clue what Pat Simmons is singing about here, but it’s nifty little romp to close out the Stampede album.
10) “Takin’ It To The Streets” (1976) Easily M. McDonald’s finest hour with the Doobie Brothers.
9) [Tie] “China Grove” (1973)/“Long Train Runnin’” (1972) These two probably would’ve scored higher on my list, but they’ve both been played to death so much on the radio that I’ve grown a little weary of them. Still, they’re both classics.
8) “Wrong Number” (1989) A cautionary tale about the evils of cocaine from Cycles: “That sugar it ain’t worth the price…” Drugs are bad, mmm-kay?
7) “Rockin’ Down The Highway” (1972) As the title suggests, this is an outstanding road trip song.
6) “Jesus Is Just Alright” (1972) Probably the first thing I remember hearing from the band on the radio when I was about seven or eight. Originally done by The Byrds in 1969, a highly ironical favorite for an agnostic like me.
5) “Need A Little Taste Of Love” (1989) Those trademark Doobie harmonies were a perfect fit for this excellent cover of the Isley Brothers tune.
4) “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)” (1975) Another excellent cover version that blows the original away. It was the first 45 I ever bought that literally had my name printed on it, as I apparently co-wrote this Motown classic with Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier—where the fuck's my royalty check?!? For the longest time, I wondered how the Doobie Brothers made themselves sound like girls doing the backing vocals before I learned of the concept of hired studio singers!
3) “One Chain (Don’t Make No Prison)” (1989) Great lyrics here ("One rain don't make no river/one punch don't make no fight", etc.) and the backing track has a lot of drive to it. It even kinda sorta sounds like the old Sweathog lost classic “Hallelujah” in places.
2) “Ukiah” (1973) I first heard this song about four in the morning on the old KY-102 when I was about half-asleep sometime in the early ‘80s, but right away I knew it was the Doobie Brothers with those harmonies. Very underrated track off the killer The Captain And Me album.
1) “I Cheat The Hangman” (1975) Is this song a trip or what? That “What’s Happening!” episode was my first exposure to this underrated classic, and I dunno why it doesn’t get more airplay on the radio. All you Classic Rock program directors out there—why not give “China Grove” and “Long Train Runnin’” a little break now and then and play this one, eh?