In the late ’70s, some of the sweetest sounds in pop rock came from the California-based Doobie Brothers. The band had evolved from rhythmic guitar rock to a smooth soft rock/pop outfit starting with the addition of Michael McDonald in 1976. McDonald’s voice was all over the place as he had worked with Steely Dan, Kenny Loggins and many others before joining the The Doobie Brothers. Even as he fronted his new band, he was in demand for various projects by other artist.
By the time Minute by Minute was released in 1978, I had come to equate the The Doobie Brothers with some of the good things about the late ’70s. Songs like “What a Fool Believes” or “Minute by Minute” had become the soundtrack of middle-school. I somehow associate the bands sound with the Helvetica font, earth toned hues of modern architecture, car louvers and West Coast ski lodge culture. All a strange combination on their own, but often experienced together where late ’70s style was concerned.
As the decade’s styles were coming into maturity, so was the hit formula the Doobie Brothers started with Takin’ It to the Streets in 1976. Produced by Ted Templeman, the man who would guide them from the beginning, Minute By Minute would introduce more keyboards and a lighter pop/soul/rock sound.
The concept of blue-eyed soul was not new, but McDonald’s soulful delivery moved the sound from album oriented rock (AOR) to more mainstream pop audiences. While Hall and Oats were still trying to decide if they wanted to be progressive pop or not, it was the Doobie Brother’s who would give new credence to the term Blue Eyed Soul to mass audiences. While McDonald became the lead voice of the band, many of the non-single tracks feature Patrick Simmons (one of the band’s guitar players) prominently. Simmons would write many of the songs on Minute by Minute and would go on to a solo career himself.
Critics were mostly positive, but the music business being more color struck then as it is now, prompted some detractors to bemoan the Doobie Brothers as sellouts who were trying to cash in on the popularity of disco (Black culture). That argument applied more to Rod Stewart and arguably the Rolling Stones, both of who made concessions to disco in some way or another. Not that the Doobie Brothers did not have something for disco fans. Although not part of the original album recording there was an extended disco version 12″of “What a Fool Believes”.
Side one if fact held all of the hit singles from Minute By Minute. The other two singles “Depending on You ” and the title track did well, but it would be the Kenny Loggins penned “What a Fool Believes” what would become the biggest of all the bands hits. It reached #1 on the Billboard pop charts while also charting on the Black Singles 100. It was one of the few songs of 1979 that reached the top of the charts that was not disco.
There would be more of the same (although not as successful) immediately following Minute by Minute, but songs like ‘What a Fool believes” would linger in the public consciousness as it would be a favorite for TV commercials well into the 80s. The song’s half-life continues up to now, as it has been covered by a diverse group of artist from Aretha Franklin to George Michael. While brown painted modern architecture and window louvers are no longer in vogue, Minute By Minute remains as one of the band’s most loved albums.