Not many bands changed
their musical styles midstream so completely as the Doobie Brothers.
Oh sure, it happened, mostly with contemporaries of the Doobies like
Chicago, The Bee Gees, Steely Dan, The Jefferson Airplane/Starship and
Genesis. But still, it is hard to find the thread between the driving
biker rock of early singles like "Listen to the Music," "Long Train Runnin'"
and "China Grove" and their later slick blue-eyed soul period best known for
the hits "What a Fool Believes," "Minute By Minute," "One Step Closer" and
"Real Love." (Oddly, unless I'm forgetting something, this last song seems to be the band's one huge
hit that is not acknowledged in this documentary.)
Part of this change had
to do with changing musical styles. Part of it had to do with shifting
band line-ups. Whatever the cause, The Doobies had a long, rollicking
decade-plus of wall-to-wall hit making and Let the Music Play tells
the whole complex story pretty much as well as you could ever expect.
The Doobies' story is
told through talking head interviews with just about every living member of
the regularly shifting collective mixed with mostly live performance footage
of the band throughout its history. (The band's glory days came to an
end right at the dawn of the MTV music video era, so the only music videos I
recall came from the band's later comeback attempts.) There is also a
fascinating assortment of rare, archival photos (though there are a couple too
many shots of band members mooning the camera.).
However, other than a
very brief and modest comeback album and single ("The Doctor") in 1989, very few people
have bought any new Doobies material since their 1982 Farewell Tour.
It's been even
longer since their final new smash hit studio album before the breakup, the 1979 smash
One Step Closer.
Of course, Let the
Music Play takes a look at the band only in the broad context of being in
the band. The film completely skirts past McDonald's enormously
successful solo career after leaving the Doobies (and even slightly while
still a member), mentioning his side work once and only in passing. It
also doesn't even acknowledge Johnston and Simmons' less successful attempts
at going it alone, despite the fact that both did barely scratch the top
forty singles charts with the Johnston's 1980 song "Savannah Nights" and
Simmons' 1983 tune "So Wrong."
Basically the years between their 1982
Farewell Tour and the 1987 reunion for some charity shows become a black
hole, with Johnston just mentioning in passing that none of them were doing
anything so pressing or successful to stop the original band members from
reuniting for their marginally successful 1989 comeback album Cycles.
A little annoying is the film's
insistence on pretending that the obscure independent albums that the group
has released in the new millennium – such as Sibling Rivalry, Live at
Wolf Trap and World Gone Crazy – are as important to the Doobies'
story as their earlier classics. When Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons
try to convince us they are doing their best work ever, it comes off as a
Still, even though the
film ends with a bit of a thud, there is more than enough meat on the bones
of the Doobie Brothers story to make this a fascinating look at an
important, if slightly underappreciated, band. The stuff leading up to
1982 is truly captivating.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: January 19, 2013.