The Captain And Me
The Doobie Brothers
Released: March 1973
Chart Peak: #7
Weeks Charted: 102
Certified Double Platinum: 10/13/86
The Doobie Brothers are a mainstream rock band with a few crucial limitations and a knack of making good records despite their flaws. Their big hit of a few months ago, "Listen to the Music," displayed both: Leader Tom Johnston has a full catalog of compelling electric and acoustic guitar riffs, and in the single he puts a bunch of these to use, most importantly in his intro, a modified version of the beginning of Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life;" the instrumental arrangement, spirited but buoyant, is practically irresistible, and the Doobies put it together with precision. What makes the song so irritating after repeated listenings (I've never seen a volume-raiser become a station switcher so quickly) are the affectedly funky singing by Johnston and backup and the shallowness of the song itself. "Ohohoh, listen to the music," and the rest of the things-are-getting-better-day-by-day lyric would wear down even the most optimistic AMer after two or three weeks of hourly exposure, and, once you get past the nice guitar chording and double drumming, there isn't much music to explore. Like all the music of the Doobie Brothers, it has its attractions, but you shouldn't ask too much of it.
The first two tracks are variations on "Listen to the Music," with those syncopated lines and dumb lyrics ('We all got to be loved..." and "Without love/Where would you be now?"), and there's a third variation later on. There are a couple of quieter tunes by Simmons: one, "South City Midnight Lady," a rather pretty whore-with-a-heart-of-gold song in country-rock dress, the other, "Clear As the Driven Snow," in which the group adds wind sound effects and jingle bells in an attempt to evoke a mood that's already amply provided by a lovely Johnston guitar solo. There's also an ugly high-energy track complete with shrieking, echoed harmonies, a Redbone-"Witchy Woman" takeoff (this may be a new genre), and the title song, a more lyrical version of the standard Doobie rhythm number.
In the two best tracks here, "China Grove" and "Without You," the band changes things around by using full, ringing electric chordings instead of the usual acoustic and low-volume electric rhythm, and by keeping the lead singing rough and spontaneous-sounding. The sound on each track is so explosive that it won't occur to you to find out what the song is about, and de-emphasizing their basic material is something the Doobies should do more often (as it happens, "China Grove" turns out to have the strongest lyric on the album, once you've dug it out of the crunching chords).
Neither Johnston (who writes most of the songs) nor Simmons is more than adequate as a songwriter, and Johnston's whiny and emotionally thin singing doesn't do much to improve the material. But the Doobie Brothers have plenty of style, and that style turns what would otherwise be a throwaway into an entertaining album.
- Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 5-10-73.
A good-time rock set from the group that scored so heavily with "Listen To The Music," this LP includes the bluesy rock style both vocally and instrumentally with which they have become identified. No gimmicks, no tricks, just rock. Best cuts: "China Grove," "Clean As The Driven Snow," "Without You."
- Billboard, 1973.
Their best early album features "China Grove." * * * *
- Dan Heilman, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
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