Long Train Runnin': 1970-2000

The Doobie Brothers

Rhino, 1999


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Most people who are not fans of the Doobie Brothers tend to lump them in as a second-rate classic rock band, with several good songs but nowhere near the historical, creative or musical import of the Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival or Lynyrd Skynyrd, bands with a similar sound and approach. Warner Bros.' box set Long Train Runnin' attempts to rectify this by showcasing the best of all the band's albums on three discs, with a fourth for rarities and outtakes.

Such an approach, while noble for other bands, doesn't quite work for the Doobies. The band had two distinct personalities: a six album run as a boogie rock band with hints of folk, country and gutsy guitar crunch, and then a shorter run as a blue-eyed soul pop band fronted by Michael McDonald. Meshing the two together creates for a strange listen, and certainly those who enjoy "What A Fool Believes" and "Rockin' Down The Highway" fall in two different camps, with neither one really wanting at least half of this set.

So, then, this set falls to hardcore fans as its main audience, especially those who maybe owned some of this on vinyl back in the ‘70s and want to upgrade while also getting a bonus disc of rarities. As most of the songs come from that time period, when Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons ruled the roost, this set will primarily be of interest to fans of early albums like The Captain And Me and Stampede. In being fair to all the band's albums save the debut, these classic years end around the middle of the second disc. The rest of that and much of the third disc are devoted to the McDonald pop years, with the rest of the third disc collecting the band's reunion singles like "The Doctor."

Those early songs remain surprisingly complex yet still catchy, thanks to a twin-guitar attack and the alternately gutsy, moving and ethereal songwriting tandem of Simmons and Johnston. Naturally, the first disc is the best, hitting a couple of tracks from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Doobie Brothers before moving into the best of Toulouse Street and the entire first side of The Captain And Me. The big hits are here – "Long Train Runnin'," "China Grove," "Jesus Is Just Alright," "Listen To The Music," "Rockin' Down The Highway" – along with solid album tracks that are just as good, especially "Toulouse Street," "Clear As The Driven Snow," "Dark Eyed Cajun Woman," and "White Sun."

Unfortunately, seven songs are included from the subpar What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, and only "Black Water," "You Just Can't Stop It," and "Another Park, Another Sunday" are worth the time. More from the debut and "Ukiah" from Captain would have been ideal, especially with a set designed for hardcore fans. Even more puzzling is the fact that the Toulouse Street singles are here in their single versions; surely, someone could have found an extra three minutes to include the full, better versions of "Listen To The Music" and "Jesus Is Just Alright."

The second disc features seven songs from Stampede, though again only two or three are truly worthy, especially the moody "I Cheat The Hangman," Johnston's finest hour as a songwriter. Then McDonald comes in with four songs from Takin' It To The Streets, three of which ably mesh the past and future: the title track, "Wheels Of Fortune" and "It Keeps You Runnin'."

Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the quality stops and a morass of mediocrity seeps in. The next disc and a half hit the lowlights of the McDonald era, a swamp of faux R&B and white boy soul that makes Phil Collins sound hip, a dilution of what made the band great in the first place. A few spots are noteworthy – "What A Fool Believes," "Real Love," and maybe "Minute By Minute" – but most of this is forgettable. The last part of the third disc focuses on the Johnston reunion discs, but this also was a reduction of the band's classic sound, touched up with ‘80s production, and only lyrically cheesy but good-time boogie of "The Doctor" is worth seeking out.

The fourth disc has the expected highs and lows of a rarities collection, offering a few minor gems but overall giving the feeling of castoffs. The demo versions of "Daughters Of The Sea," "Takin' It To The Streets," and "Double Dealin' Four Flusher" are welcome for longtime fans, as are a stomping live version of "Jesus Is Just Alright," a "Long Train' Runnin’" demo, and the beautiful acoustic "Pat's Song."

Simply put, there is not enough quality material in the Doobies' entire catalog to warrant a box set, and this one doesn't say anything that The Very Best Of The Doobie Brothers didn't say in two discs; frankly, that should have come in a deluxe edition with the rarities disc from this box. The devoted fan will want to hear that disc, but everyone else should stick to a simpler hits collection and those early albums (The Captain And Me especially) to get the best from these guys.

Rating: C

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