Masterworks

Doobie Brothers: The Yacht Club

Title: Minute by Minute

Label: Speakers Corner

I wonder how they really feel about the tag? It’s one I’m not too familiar with, I have to admit but when a band is described as ‘yacht rock’, I sense derision. 

So what is yacht rock? It’s a sort of soft rock approach to music but distinctly  Southern California in tone and normally from 1976 and 1984. The yacht part kicks in because yuppies of yore supposedly found the music appealing while they jaunted on their yachts, sipping champagne and snorting cocaine. Not the most respectful picture, I’m sure you’ll agree. 

Singer Michael McDonald once told Rolling Stone, “The way I look at it is, it’s something people love to laugh about, but they still have a certain affection for it.” When he was asked about his ‘Captain of Yacht Rock’ tag, he replied, “I’ll take whatever I can get at my age.”

And maybe that’s the point, the tension between The Doobie Brothers and critics and the adoration between the band and the public. If ever a band survived and even thrived upon a schism, it was and arguably still is, the Doobie Brothers, “We always kind of had to look for our validation from our fans because that was really where we got it, on the road playing for people live and having that communication. As far as the media goes, we weren’t referred as a cutting-edge band,” said McDonald.

Doobie Brothers: The Yacht Club

I got that. Even back in 1978 when I first became aware of the group via their then hit single in the UK, What a Fool Believes. Being a sucker for harmonies, I loved this track. Even if others didn’t. Reportedly, one music industry executive from their own record label exclaimed that Minute by Minute “…would be the final nail in their coffin”. Then the band won four Grammys, just to spite him. The label didn’t even want to release What a Fool Believes.

Minute by Minute was a boundary. A transition. Partly because guitarist/vocalist, Tom Johnston had withdrawn due to health concerns, the band transformed from a guitar band to a smooth soulful outfit. More piano and horns than guitars. So, there was possibly less instrumental skill and mastery on offer here but there was certainly more commercial funk flavours inserted into the mix that would enable the band to reach more ears. Three million ears, in total.

“I don’t think we’d had a real strong hit for a couple of years, maybe,” said guitarist Pat Simmons, “so we were concentrating harder. We’d be a little harder on ourselves.”

The first single from the LP, What a Fool Believes was developed from three or four bars, repeated over and over. Michael McDonald was encouraged to finish it but he couldn’t, “I actually wound up writing most of the verse/lyrics on an aeroplane ride from New York to California. Just came to me. But I didn’t have a bridge or a chorus. I was planning to get together with Kenny Loggins and we were looking to write together and thinking that you’re timid to get together with someone you’ve never written with. So I was playing a little bit of this piece for my sister and I said, ‘Hey Kenny Loggins is coming over tonight. I was thinking of playing him this.’ I was playing her that piece and he was at the door. She said, ‘Yea, that’s a neat idea.’ Then the doorbell rang. The door opened and he said, ‘Whatever it was that you were just playing, can you remember it?’ I said ‘Yea, sure. I’ve been goofing around with it.’ He said, ‘Let’s work on that.’”

Doobie Brothers: The Yacht Club

When McDonald joined the Doobie Brothers, he moved from living in a garage to a very nice apartment. He was kicked out of the same because he was making too much noise. Musicians, eh? “My neighbours hated me,” he said. Evicted, he found a less than salubrious abode. “I was on the road so didn’t have the time find a new apartment so flopped in this dinky place for a while.” This is where he wrote the title song for this LP with Lester Abrams.

McDonald had to project ahead on this track because, in his opinion, without the background harmonises, the track would have been dead in the water. 

And that’s what I also get from this LP, a sense of the group and, in every way, a sense of harmony. The music flows easily, without any effort. Music without friction, you might say.

Critics, eh? Who needs ‘em.

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