The Doobie Brothers Long Train Runnin' 1970-2000 (Warner Archives/Rhino)
Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., Dec. 17, 1999
The Doobie Brothers
Long Train Runnin' 1970-2000
(Warner Archives/Rhino) It's easy to hate the Doobie Brothers. Although almost 30 years have passed since this feel-good Northern California collective began peppering our cultural consciousness with infectious contrivances like "Listen to the Music" and "Long Train Runnin'," their presence on the airwaves has never really waned. Who needs a 4-CD box set when you can turn on your local classic rock station and hear a Doobies tune within the hour? While money is squandered in casinos to the sound of "What a Fool Believes," cars are being sold with "Rockin' Down the Highway." The persistent ubiquity of the Doobie Brothers' music in the service of commerce goes a long way toward making them such an easy target. Nevertheless, if I had to go 20 years without hearing "Minute by Minute," I'd welcome its mellifluous opening organ spiral at least as much as anything by Pablo Cruise. And it's not just me. Who among us hasn't sung along to the a cappella breakdown in "Black Water" or played air guitar to the opening riff of "China Grove"? The band's ear for hooks is undeniable, but for all their vaunted versatility, the Doobies have always been far more adept at assimilating musical ideas than originating their own. "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman," for instance, is nothing more than a shameless rip-off of B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," while "Neal's Fandango" strip-mines the Allman Brothers with aplomb. As you wade through the nonhit detritus on Long Train Runnin', it quickly becomes apparent that there aren't a whole lot of hidden gems in the Doobies' back catalog that haven't already appeared on one of the two greatest hits collections. One noteworthy song that appears on the first collection but doesn't receive much airplay anymore (unless it's a rock block weekend) is Patrick Simmons' "South City Midnight Lady." This romantic country-rock ballad is distinguished by Simmons' tender vocal and a bridge that breaks the twang with a wide-open string arrangement. Tom Johnston's soulful take on the Motown hit "Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me)" from 1975's Stampede also gets unjustly ignored these days. That album signaled the end of the Johnston country-rock era of the band. Starting with 1976's Takin' It to the Streets, the Doobies reinvented themselves in the image of Steely Dan without all the lyrical lechery. Former Dan keyboardist Michael McDonald's blue-eyed mellowtone fit the champagne-and-cocaine aesthetic of the late Seventies like a tube top. While "It Keeps You Runnin'" was probably the most unique sounding of the McDonald-era Doobies, "Losin' End" is an even better example of the singer's synthesized polyrhythmic groove. The band won a "Record of the Year" Grammy in 1979 for the happy-sounding paean to delusion, "What a Fool Believes," but a lesser-known highlight of their career came a year earlier when they appeared on the infamous anti-bootlegging episode of the ABC-TV sitcom What's Happening! Instead of four CDs heavy on filler, outtakes, and retreads from the reunited Doobie Brothers (not to mention their grating new version of Thurston Harris' "Little Bitty Pretty One"), Rhino should have pared down the set to two discs and thrown in a video of the What's Happening! episode for comic relief. As it is, only the most die-hard of fans -- the kind who'd pay $500 for a motorcycle jacket emblazoned with the Doobies' logo -- will want to forgo the existing best-ofs for this perfunctory marathon collection.