There’s no mistaking Michael McDonald’s voice – it’s one of the most distinctive in popular music, a sound that emanates from his soul as well as his body. Whether fronting The Doobie Brothers, singing duets or background vocals (think Steely Dan’s “Peg” or Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind”), or playing on his own, McDonald (born Feb. 12, 1952) does more than simply carry a tune – he imbues it something great, an unnamable quality that makes him stand out in any setting. You know him when you hear him.
The ‘70s were a great time for McDonald, as he racked up hit singles and classic albums with the Doobies. The ‘80s, however, were when he made a name for himself, starting the decade by closing out his (initial) time with the band and stepping out on his own. Here are some of his best moments of that era:
The Doobie Brothers, “Real Love”: The song that provided the last trip to the Top 5 for the Doobies was one of McDonald’s best tracks with the band, from the deeply grooved keyboard intro to the resignation in his vocal. Much of 1980’s One Step Closer (the final studio album of the band’s initial run) bore McDonald’s modern pop touch, a fact that set him up perfectly for his inevitable solo career.
"I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)": That solo career started with this hit, a slow-burner that lit up Top 40 radio in 1982, and which appeared again a dozen years later, as a sample in Warren G’s “Regulate,” which hit No. 2.
"I Gotta Try": McDonald’s songwriting partnership with Kenny Loggins proved fruitful for both artists; the Doobies’ “What a Fool Believes” and Loggins’ “This is It” and “Heart to Heart” were all big hits that came from their compositional collaboration. “I Gotta Try” was not as big a hit (just missing the Top 40), but it’s of no less quality, with a chorus that provides a melodic lift and verses that strive for motivational significance.
“No Lookin’ Back”: Talk about choruses – “No Lookin’ Back” will put you in the mindset to hit the road, or bolt away from a bad situation, or both. There’s plenty of drama in that refrain, and the fact that it comes from another writing session with Loggins is far from surprising.
"Yah Mo B There" (with James Ingram): An indelible ‘80s hit with indelible ‘80s instrumentation and production (we dare you to locate a guitar in the mix), “Yah Mo B There” is inspiring and danceable at the same time. Ingram in his prime was a force of nature, and McDonald proves to be the perfect counterpoint and partner in crime. If you haven’t heard it in a while, listen again and prepare to be moved.
“On My Own” (with Patti Labelle): This shouldn’t work – McDonald’s buttery baritone paired with Labelle’s explosive, churchy soprano – but it most certainly does. It’s a great mid-tempo broken-love song, and the pair’s voices wind around one another beautifully. It completed a comeback of sorts for Labelle when the song and the album from which it came (1986’s Winner in You) both hit No. 1.