Thursday, October 19, 2017


This has to be one of the most magical bits of riffing in music, I sooooo love this simple sounding casual wrist action, as patented by the Doobie's Tom Johnston, singer and guitarist, of many, in the early incarnation of the band, as well as the writer of this song. It was clearly a sound he enjoyed, as it reprises often in other songs, notably the big early other song they are famous for. And, does it remind you of anything? Let me give you a clue, here's Nile Rogers explaining his style. But that doesn't matter, so glorious a sound it is, in any hands.

But it isn't just the guitar, it is the subtle appearances of what sounds like some mandolin after the first chorus, the banjo slowly leaking through during and after the second, and all the flanging/phasing effects so beloved of the time. (God, I miss flanging. Or is it phasing......) Did I say it had two drummers? Surely the first two drummers on a big hit single in history. Or my memory It is the sound of joy on a plate.

Over to Johnston, who later explained his inspiration, in a never more 70s way:

"The chord structure of it made me think of something positive, so the lyrics that came out of that were based on this utopian idea that if the leaders of the world got together on some grassy hill somewhere and either smoked enough dope or just sat down and just listened to the music and forgot about all this other bullshit, the world would be a much better place. It was very utopian and very unrealistic (laughs). It seemed like a good idea at the time." 

Who could argue with that?

I always felt a bit sad about the Doobie Brothers, this earlier raw and less polished aspect of their sound sometimes a little airbrushed out by the smoother Michael McDonald years. Sure, a terrific and gifted singer and interpreter, but why were my beloved hippy band singing philly soul, something I couldn't embrace until a new century beckoned. Did Johnston feel the same? Having started the band and been the main focus, from their tentative start in 1970, breakthrough album, 'Toulouse Street', in 1972, from which this song comes, he left in 1975, nominally from a hospital bed, suffering from what was called road stress. Actually a duodenal ulcer. But the die had been cast, the band slowly seeping in soul and smooth jazz music sounds ahead of that, as ex-Steely Dan-ner Jeff Baxter joined the band. With Johnston in hospital, his Dan alumnus, McDonald, was invited in. (I accept this may be a slightly unfair stance to take, one part of the Doobie style always being the contributions of all, but the Johnston bits were my favourite. )

Since then Johnston has been in and out of the band a couple of times, initially rejoining a near-original line-up in 1989, stimulated by an almost accidental reunion of the by then legion of ex-members available two years earlier. Officially he remains, with Patrick Simmons, singer and guitarist, alongside him at the beginning, and the only permanently present member during the band's on-off history. I guess, for me, they are the two true siblings of this fraternal band. (Is here the place to state I once thought all these contemporaneous bands of brothers just had funny american names, imagining, as well as Mr and Mrs Doobie and their sons, so also Mr and Mrs Burrito, let alone Mr and Mrs Freak, that most hirsute of families? Thought not.)

Back to the song, such is the catchiness of the beat that it is no surprise it captured a few covers. However, fascinatingly, both the two I enjoy most come, arguably, from artists who probably picked up and on the band in their blue-eyed soul phase. So, the Isley Brothers (who were):

and Candi Staton:

I still prefer the original. Here!

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