Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Doobie Brothers

  • Toulouse Street [Warner Bros., 1972] C
  • What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits [Reprise, 1974] C-
  • Takin' It to the Streets [Warner Bros., 1976] C+
  • Best of the Doobies [Warner Bros., 1976] B+
  • Minute by Minute [Warner Bros., 1978] B
  • One Step Closer [Warner Bros., 1980] B-
  • Best of the Doobies Volume II [Warner Bros., 1981] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Toulouse Street [Warner Bros., 1972]
The main difference between these guys and the lowest AM schlock-rock--Daniel Boone, say, or even the Grass Roots--is flashier instrumentals (a real plus) and a company that knows the value of the graven image. Nice cover, really. But the vocals and original songs (including the hit) are truly doobieous. C

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits [Reprise, 1974]
The quotation originated with Seneca and is very impressive, though one wonders (as one is no doubt supposed to) just what vices-turned-habits are indicated. Ordinary music? Or something even more enervating? After all, boogie chillen, wouldn't it have a better beat if it were phrased "what once were vices now are habits"? Oh well--unlike Three Dog Night, who they would do well to emulate, they've never shown any flair with outside material. C-

Takin' It to the Streets [Warner Bros., 1976]
You can lead a Doobie to the recording studio, but you can't make him think. C+

Best of the Doobies [Warner Bros., 1976]
One reason this band epitomizes corporate rock is that it has its meager merits, and I'm ashamed to say that on this compilation I enjoy them. In fact, the bassline hooks of "China Grove" and "Long Train Runnin'" move me so efficiently that by the time we get to "Listen to the Music"--which with its easy-rolling rhythms, anonymous harmonies, countrified arrangement, meticulous production, and smug message made my ten-worst list in 1972--I'm still listening to the music. B+

Minute by Minute [Warner Bros., 1978]
Tight playing combines with moderately intricate rhythms and harmonies for sexy, dancey pop music of undeniable craft (at least on side one). And as we all know, they could be doing a lot worse. B

One Step Closer [Warner Bros., 1980]
The absence of must-hums brings into stark relief the magnitude of their debt to Steely Dan. Michael McDonald, of course, but more significantly Skunk Baxter, now departed and and you can't even tell, so sedulously do the other guitarists emulate his virtuoso harmonies. The Doobies are now socially responsible artists, stopping at nothing in their battle to let the radio audience taste musical quality in the breaks. If the songs themselves had any content, well then obviously there'd be no chance to enlighten the masses. Don't dare ask them to abandon this mission. B-

Best of the Doobies Volume II [Warner Bros., 1981]
Though this sums up their brush with greatness, a/k/a Michael McDonald, McDonald has grasped greatness but once: on the eternally recurrent apothegm "What a Fool Believes," here isolated overdisc from such grazes, whisks, and sweeps as "Here to Love You," "Real Love," and "Minute by Minute." Vanity, vanity--usefulness rather than greatness is the purview of a record like this, and thus the first volume stands as a more fetching collection of ephemera. Better than Minute by Minute and One Step Closer on the sociological ground that it got more total airplay. B

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]