2015 marks the 45th anniversary of one of the greatest bands in the history of recorded music, the Doobie Brothers. To celebrate the group’s sapphire anniversary, we’re counting down the 45 best songs in the band’s 45-year career. A Spotify playlist is at the end of this list for your convenience.
45. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
From the opening piano lines, “What a Fool Believes” is a jaunty ode to never-was love, a paean to #sadboys who favor relationships that float by like sand through your fingers.
44. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Formed in 1970 as a raucous bar band playing mostly to Hell’s Angels in the San Jose area, the Doobie Brothers didn’t reach perfection until their 1979 album, Minute by Minute, which featured the seminal “What a Fool Believes,” a Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald-written jam that considers what it means when your memory is not reality.
43. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
If you had to present the Doobie Brothers’ badass American eagle logo in song form, this song would be it.
42. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
An absolute staple of so-called “yacht rock” playlists, “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute by Minute captures the yearning and emotions that so defined the genre the Doobies helped invent. No ironic trip on a boat is complete without it.
41. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
In the 1982 Mariel Hemingway movie, Personal Best, track stars deal with their four years of training and disappointment at the U.S. Olympics boycott in 1980 by still competing, but only against their own best times. The soundtrack during a pivotal scene? “What a Fool Believes,” a song about disappointment and readjusting your priorities.
40. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
On the cover of Minute by Minute, Doobies lead singer Michael McDonald is pictured dead center, looking forlorn and depressed. In other words, he looks like he’s living out this song, in real time, on the album cover. There are levels here you’ve probably never considered.
39. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
If you had to create a list of “Songs with the Best Drumbeats” that song would begin and end with “What a Fool Believes.” The melodies and voice get all the shine, but the drumming here is as well constructed as an Egyptian Pyramid.
38. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
The impact of this standout was most felt on videogame music, where the swirling synths and escalating tension and release of the piano line can be seen from the Super Mario Brothers Theme all the way to the soundtrack of Halo 3. If you’ve ever liked any music in any videogame ever you have the Doobie Brothers to thank.
37. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Is what seems to be really better than nothing at all? Michael McDonald would say so.
36. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Ted Templeman, the producer behind the Doobie Brothers for much of their run, and particularly Minute by Minute, was the man who convinced Warner Brothers to sign Van Halen. If you’re playing at home, that means Michael McDonald can reach David Lee Roth with only two phone calls.
35. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“What a Fool Believes” is so poetically written, it’s actually an acrostic.
34. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
After Minute by Minute came out, the Doobie Brothers went on a triumphant U.S. tour that took them from coast to coast. HBO, then a newish cable channel, recorded their show at Milwaukee’s Alpine Valley. Their recording included footage of the band doing “What a Fool Believes,” and it’s a rare moment of seeing a band on the absolute top of their powers; Michael McDonald rocks a rowel and plays two pianos while perfectly performing the vocals at the same damn time, and the guitarist gets in a rad solo. A premiere live document of one of the best Doobie Brothers songs.
33. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Imagine being Kenny Loggins: You wrote “What a Fool Believes” with Michael McDonald, and your version of it sucks. Hard. Then a few months after your version drops, Mike takes the song and tops Billboards Hot 100. Poor one out for K-Log.
32. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Whenever I hear “What A Fool Believes” I remember the story I’ve heard from my parents and my uncle Karl a dozen times about how they saw the Doobie Brothers on their 1981 farewell tour, and how Karl got passed some weed from the people next to them and they all got stoned (though my dad maintains he did not partake). My parents are in 1982 getting stoned to “What a Fool Believes” while I am in 2015 getting stoned to “What a Fool Believes.”
31. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
In its single form, “What a Fool Believes” had “Don’t Stop to Watch the Wheels” as its B-side. At least that’s what’s reported: famously, no one has ever turned the single over to hear the B-side, because “What a Fool Believes” is so perfect.
30. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute:
Every time you hear Bon Iver on a Kanye West song, the reason you can’t understand what he’s saying is because he’s obscuring the fact that he’s just covering “What a Fool Believes” over and over.
29. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“What a Fool Believes” was a song written about Michael McDonald’s relationship with Bernadette Peters, who he went on three dates with in 1976. She never called him back. After they both became famous, he tried dating her again, and she acted like she didn’t know him. He cried for months.
28. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“As he rises to her apology” is the most cutting, most dejected line in any song by any band ever. The imagery there is too perfect, so excellent in its economy.
27. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
This song was notably flipped by MF Doom on his compilation Special Herbs Vols. 7&8, as he turned the song into the hip-hop breakbeat it deserved to be all along. But even Doom knew he couldn’t improve on the song; he doesn’t even rap on it.
26. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
There’s a moment near the end of “What a Fool Believes” where I can be convinced that perfection is possible here on earth. It’s at the 3:21 mark where Michael McDonald bellows, “if love can come, love can go.”
25. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
It’s possible to write a doctoral thesis on the way Michael McDonald sings “he” and “she” here, a masterful use of tone, diction, and the bending of notes.
24. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
sen·ti·men·tal / ˌsen(t)əˈmen(t)l/
1. adj. of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia:
2. fool, don’t see, tryin’ hard to recreate what had yet to be created.
23. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“What a Fool Believes” was the second number one hit the Doobies scored in their career, after 1974’s “Black Water,” making them the weirdest combination of number one hits for any band ever. One song is about a guy being psyched to literally go fishing, the other is about a guy figuratively fishing through his, it turns out, incorrect memory of a past relationship.
22. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
I used to listen to this song in the backseat of my parents’ eggplant-colored Plymouth Voyager when I was a kid, and used to ask my parents what this song “meant.” I remember a drive home from school and asking my dad what “What a Fool Believes” means, and him telling me that it was about how in relationships sometimes one person thinks the relationship is more important than the other person. That made me incredibly sad.
21. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
According to the Doobie Brothers’ Behind the Music, the group broke up right after Minute By Minute came out, citing that they thought the album “sucked” and they hated each other. But then “What a Fool Believes” blew up, and they had no choice but to get back on the road. We have that song to thank for the last 35 years of Doobiehood.
20. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Despite being eligible for close to 20 years, the Doobie Brothers are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This snub becomes more insane when you consider that U2 are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and nothing they’ve ever written comes close to this song, from 1979’s Minute by Minute.
19. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“I didn’t just get you any singer. I got you the best singer in the world. Michael McDonald!”—Tracy Jordan, to Kenneth’s blind date on the “St. Valentine’s Day” episode of 30 Rock. When Jenna has to pick a Michael McDonald song to sing, which does she choose? This one.
18. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
17. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
My dad owned multiple Doobie Brothers LPs, tapes, and CDs since 1975, and he only found out that their name is a reference to weed in 2009. He realized this when we were listening to “What A Fool Believes” in Appleton, Wisconsin.
16. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Michael McDonald accidentally spawns emo on “What a Fool Believes,” a 1979 hit that finds the bearded Bard pontificating on the way that perception can color your recollections of romantic relationships. An entire generation of boys with angular haircuts and sweatbands on their forearms would basically re-write “What a Fool Believes” a million times and tour the country and cry in music videos. Blame Mike for “Screaming Infidelities” and everything else.
15. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
In a pivotal mission from the Trevor storyline in GTA V, Trevor gets in a car after being turned down for being a meth distributor, and flips out because the music on the radio isn’t “right.” The song? “What a Fool Believes.”
14. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
They say that punk “died” the moment Nirvana became the number one band in America, and being a “punk” could be bought and sold in Hot Topic. But the first volley in the death of punk was “What a Fool Believes,” by the Doobie Brothers. It’s a song that explodes the punk ethos—nothing matters—with an even more rebellious notion: Nothing is as it seems, therefore everything matters. Punk took another 12 years to “break,” but the Doobies shattered the first pane.
13. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
If you’ve followed the Doobie Brothers’ history, you know that the band’s history is essentially a power struggle between Michael McDonald and the original members who wish they were still playing to just Hell’s Angels. That power struggle was writ large on the band’s performance on Jimmy Fallon earlier this year; instead of doing a Michael McDonald number like “What a Fool Believes,” they did a medley that just featured a portion of McDonald’s “Takin It to the Street” after one of the band’s O.G. cuts. Some things never change.
12. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
1979 is remembered as the peak of disco, when glitter and cocaine and aimless fuck-dancing went from the club to the top of Billboard. But “What A Fool Believes” stands abreast of that; it’s anti-disco in that you can’t look cool when you dance to it and it’s not about the salvation of free love and free drugs. It’s about how love isn’t liberation, it’s a burden. It topped Billboard for one week in 1979, but it lives on like few other songs that topped Billboard from 1979 have.
11. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Sometimes the Grammys get it wrong. Actually, the Grammys always get it wrong. Except for in one case: in 1980, the Doobie Brothers won Song of the Year and Record of the Year for “What a Fool Believes,” the only perfect song released in 1979. Award shows for art are pointless and often misguided, but for one perfect night in 1980, they were right.
10. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Here is something insane for you to consider: for most of the time he was in the Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald was also a studio musician in Steely Dan. So, the same time he was recording parts on Aja, he was writing “What a Fool Believes.” Lowkey, Mike’s run from 1976-1982 is the strongest single musician stretch in history.
9. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
It used to be songs were judged by often they were covered. If a song like “This Land Is Your Land” gets covered a million times, it must be one of the best songs of all time, right? “What a Fool Believes” is the inverse; it’s a song so flawless in its execution and delivery that it is virtually uncoverable. That doesn’t mean people didn’t try; it’s been covered dozens of times. It’s a song so singular, and so singularly flawless that it can’t exist in any other form or universe.
8. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Has there ever been a sadder song than “What a Fool Believes”? There are lost love songs, which are often about the singer being wronged or the singer wronging a partner. These are often sad songs. Then there are love songs, which are obviously happy. But “What a Fool Believes” is maybe the only middle ground love song of all time. It’s about a love that seemed Important, but which was not at all. The older you get, and the more people you think you love, you realize that this is considerably sadder than any alternative. Not knowing if someone really loves you is the worst fate you can possibly experience in a relationship.
7. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Stop for a moment, and imagine the genres of music and bands that would not exist if not for Michael McDonald’s run at 21 seconds, where he ascends to heaven singing, “sentimental fool can’t see.” Without that run, you don’t get the New Romantics, you don’t get Nirvana, you don’t get power metal, you don’t get Odd Future, and you don’t get New Jack Swing. Musicologists are split on this, but this is debatably the most influential vocal run in music history.
6. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
Michael McDonald’s performance on the seminal “What a Fool Believes” might get mocked more than any other vocal performance. Anyone whose heard the song can do a convincing goof on it. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Micahel McDonald is a stone cold thug. According to an interview with Rolling Stone, he once fired his whole band because one of his backup singers hit a flat note during the second chorus of “What a Fool Believes.” “I was running a band, not a circus,” McDonald was quoting as saying.
5. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
What can you say about the Doobie Brothers and “What a Fool Believes” that hasn’t been said before? All you can hope to do is Dooblicate someone else’s opinions.
4. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
On January 27, 1979, the Doobie Brothers appeared on an episode of Saturday Night Live. Minute by Minute had been out for a couple weeks by then, but the standout song to perform on national television was already apparent: “What a Fool Believes.” It’s hard to appreciate now, but it’s inconceivable to have seen a band this #chill on national television in 1979. Only 1/4 of the band even bothers to stand up, but this is a deconstructed version of the track, removed from the synthly confines of its original version, it’s clear how perfect a melody writer Michael McDonald is.
3. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“What a Fool Believes” is the masterwork of the Doobie Brothers, a band largely derided in their time, before it became clear that they were the best answer America had to the Beatles. Who else even rose to that mantle? The Eagles? The Beach Boys? Creedence Clearwater Revival? None of them ever wrote a “What a Fool Believes.” The Doobies started as a fuzz rock group popular with bikers, before going folk and then swamp rock, finally settling at their perfect final form as the pre-eminent yacht rock band, and America’s greatest musical export.
2. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
It’s hard to understate the impact that the Doobie Brothers—who were from California—and “What a Fool Believes” have had on the Midwest. You hear that Bruce Springsteen wrote a lot of songs that meant a lot to working people, but the working people I know who were alive in 1979 didn’t listen to fucking Bruce Springsteen. They listened to the Doobie Brothers, who wrote songs like “Black Water,” “Minute by Minute,” and most importantly “What a Fool Believes,” a song that is more popular across “classic” music radio stations in the upper Midwest than any other. I’ve heard it in central Minnesota pharmacies, I’ve heard it at Upper Michigan cookouts, I’ve heard it in Oshkosh, WI on a radio station that’s single blocked out every other station in my parents’ neighborhood. My parents and aunts and uncles bought more copies of Doobie Brothers albums than they did of Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Bruce Springsteen, combined. Yet Rolling Stone would have you believe the Doobies have written fewer of the greatest songs of all time than fucking Gnarls Barkley. Music criticism is always wrong. The Doobies’ only crime against music is that were never cool to the cool people.
1. “What a Fool Believes” from 1979’s Minute By Minute
“What a Fool Believes” is not only the greatest Doobie Brothers song, it’s the greatest song of all time. There is nothing to debate here; give me a song by the Beatles that has as many melodies as this. Give me a song by Led Zeppelin that rocks harder than this. Give me a Bob Dylan song that is written better than this. They don’t exist. The Doobie Brothers might tour only county fairs now, and Michael McDonald makes more money singing Motown, but they have this one perfect moment.
From the way the synths float in and out, the way McDonald’s voice reeks with the pain of the lyrics, the way the backbeat is still better than any live hip-hop instrumentation ever, this thing is flawless. It’s the Mona Lisa of yacht rock. The “Guernica” of songs about being sad. The most beautiful sunset rendered as a 3:39 pop song.
The absolute peak of recorded music.
A Spotify playlist of the entire list for your convenience.
Andrew Winistorfer is a fool. Follow him on Twitter.