You can keep your expensive Zeppelin and Floyd bootlegs. I’m more interested in curios like this, a ‘peak behind the curtain’, as the record’s subtitle tells us, of Steely Dan’s 1973 American tour.
Recorded in front of a small audience at the Los Angeles Record Plant in late 1973, although some sources put the date as March 20th 1974, it’s a brilliant run-through of selections from the band’s first three studio albums (Can’t Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy and Pretzel Logic). The inclusion of three songs from Pretzel Logic suggests the recording is from the later date, as this would fall after the February release of the album.
The liner notes on the simple pink-photocopied insert that acts as the cover reads:
THE BOYS IN THE BAND ARE DENNY DIAS ON GUITAR / JEFF “SKUNK” BAXTER ON GUITAR / WALTER BECKER ON BASS GUITAR AND VOCALS / JIM HODDER ON DRUMS (AND BACKING VOCALS) / DONALD FAGEN ON PIANO AND VOCALS / RECORDED IN LATE 1973 AT THE LOS ANGELES RECORD PLANT / NO IT’S NOT YOUR EARS…THE BAND ARE PLAYING LOUD TO THE POINT OF DISTORTION / THE TAPE WAS EDITED (EXTENSIVELY) BY DEEK / EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS TO MR. TIME FOR THE GOOD SENSE AND SOUND ADVICE / THE BAND GET VERY, VERY EXCITED DURING TRACK THREE ON SIDE TWO / AS MELTS THE SNOW IT’S OL’ STEREO / BYE BYE / TAKRL 1924
The comment around the distortion is spot-on. It doesn’t sound bad, just the result of being recorded outside of the mixing desk I’m guessing. The band are on fire though, as you would expect them to be.
This isn’t my favourite Doobs album – that would be Toulouse Street – but this is probably the most successful one, if you consider the strength of the individual songs on it. Both Long Train Runnin’ and China Grove were lifted off this record, and they’re amongst the best singles the band ever released.
In 1976, when the band’s first compilation, Best Of The Doobies, was being put together, as well as taking the two hit singles on The Captain And Me, they also took a couple of album tracks – Without You and South City Midnight Lady. As a result, these two songs now sound like hit singles. The end result for The Captain And Me is a record that feels like it’s full of hits.
Of course the thing that makes this a great Doobie Brothers album is the absence of Michael McDonald. He wasn’t tainting the band with his smooth AOR vocals just yet. I’ve criticised him enough in the past though, so I won’t elaborate further on this lest anyone think I have a personal vendetta against the man. <Aside> I do!
The record does mark the first occasion when fellow Steely Dan alumnus Jeff “Skunk” Baxter would appear on a Doobie Brothers album. He would also appear on the following year’s What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, before becoming a fully fledged ‘brother’ on 1975’s Stampede.
The last Doobies album to feature Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, and with Tom Johnston now a distant memory, this is really now Michael McDonald’s band. You can still hear the influence of Patrick Simmons (especially on the awesome Steamer Lane Breakdown), but his parts are usually absent from the MOR-tinged McDonald songs. It’s almost as though there are two bands at play – one band doing session work at the bidding of Michael McDonald, and another band trying their best to sound like the Doobie Brothers of days gone by.
Compared with their earlier albums, Minute By Minute is pretty average, but the cover is awesome. I’m a sucker for black and white album covers showing a warts ‘n all band photograph, and this is up there with the best of ‘em – almost as good as the inner gatefold photo of the mighty Floyd inside Meddle.
Of course, it’s nice to see Baxter on the cover for one last time. It should be a rule that all rock bands have to have somebody in their ranks with a handlebar moustache.
This album is so Michael McDonald it’s almost impossible to listen to. The Tom Johnston-era Doobie Brothers were a great rock band, but from Takin’ It To The Streets, when McDonald took over lead vocals, their albums get increasingly towards the middle of the road.
This is the first Doobies album after Jeff “Skunk” Baxter left the band, but they seem to be very aware that they needed someone with a crazy name to play on the record, so instead they have a guy called Cornelius Bumpus on saxophone.
One Step Closer is their last studio album before disbanding (and eventually reforming in the late 80s). Patrick Simmons walked away from the band in 1981, and as he was the last original member left in the band, they called it a day. Michael McDonald was last seen drowning in a river of MOR sludge.