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Michael McDonald Biography
With his husky, soulful baritone, Michael McDonald became one
of the most distinctive and popular vocalists to emerge from the
laid-back California pop/rock scene of the late '70s. McDonald found
the middle ground between blue-eyed soul and smooth soft rock, a sound
that made him a star. He initially essayed his signature style with the
Doobie Brothers, ushering in the group's most popular period with hits
like What a Fool Believes and Taking It to the Streets. McDonald
disbanded the group in 1982 to pursue a solo career, which was
initially quite successful, but by the end of the decade his popularity
had faded away, since he was reluctant to work regularly and hesitant
to update his sound to suit shifting popular tastes.
After singing backup on several Steely Dan albums in the mid-'70s,
Michael McDonald joined the Doobie Brothers in 1977. He was largely
responsible for moving the group away from boogie rock and toward
polished, jazzy blue-eyed soul. Prior to the Doobies' farewell tour in
1982, he sang harmony on several hit singles, including tracks by Donna
Summer, Toto, Kenny Loggins, and Christopher Cross. As it turned out,
McDonald's solo work was a cross between the Doobie Brothers'
white-bread soul and Cross' adult contemporary ballads.
McDonald released his solo debut, If That's What It Takes, in 1982. The
record climbed to number six on the strength of the number four single
I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near), which also crossed over
into the R&B Top Ten. In 1983, he had another Top 20 pop hit (and a
Top Ten R&B hit) with his duet with James Ingram, Yah Mo B There.
McDonald didn't deliver his second solo album, No Lookin' Back, until
1985. The record wasn't as successful as its predecessor, producing
only one moderate hit in its title track. He bounced back the following
year, when his duet with Patti LaBelle, On My Own, shot to number one
and Sweet Freedom, his theme for the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines
comedy Running Scared, climbed into the Top Ten.
Instead of capitalizing on his revitalized success, McDonald didn't
release another album until 1990. The resulting Take It to Heart was a
bomb, peaking at number 110. Two years later, his fortunes were revived
somewhat when he sang on Aretha Franklin's minor hit Ever Changing
Times and toured with Donald Fagen's New York Rock and Soul Revue. The
following year, he released Blink of an Eye, which was ignored. In
1994, I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near) was sampled heavily
in Warren G's smash hit Regulate. By 1996, McDonald had returned to
the Doobie Brothers, touring the oldies circuit with the reunited
group. The following year, McDonald released Blue Obsession, his first
album of new material in three years. He released a Christmas album (In
the Spirit: A Christmas Album) in 2001, and began a series of
recordings devoted to the Motown catalog with 2003's Motown. ~ Stephen
Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
Written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine