Doobie Brothers’ Minute by Minute was more than ‘What a Fool Believes’

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I think that the Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes” must be the favorite guilty pleasure of all time, because I’ve seen everyone from Alice in Chains fans to aficionados of the Wu-Tang Clan profess their love for this tune. Me? Eh, I’ll allow that it’s got a catchy melody and verses that are memorable if a little esoteric, but I reached my lifetime quota of tolerable listens somewhere in the summer of 1979.

Elsewhere on same hit Doobie Brothers album Minute by Minute, released on December 1, 1978, is another song that I still hadn’t quite got my fill of: the title track. Like “What a Fool Believes,” the 1979 Grammy Song of the Year, “Minute By Minute” was a Michael McDonald-sung tune — and he also co-wrote this one, but with Lester Abrams rather than Kenny Loggins.

The intro is sweet soulful stuff, as McDonald plays chords up and down and up again on a Rhodes at offbeat intervals. Then “Minute by Minute” settles into a mid-tempo shuffle and Michael McDonald’s brawny baritone kicks in. There’s a little synth interlude that sounds a little cheesy today, but that’s not enough to disturb this groove. Right after that, the Doobies Brothers’ bridge takes the song to a higher key and McDonald’s voice just soars in response.

I recall Larry Carlton covering this song around 1987 (check it out here), but found it lacking. That’s because his version is mainly instrumental, and even though the melody is tight and righteous, it’s Michael McDonald’s lead vocals — more than anything the Doobie Brothers do behind him — that makes the sale. Oh, yeah, and that cool electric piano intro, too.

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