Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Artists are eligible for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 25 years after their first release. For the Doobie Brothers, who formed in 1970, it took nearly twice as long. Perhaps that’s because they have had twice as many members as most of the other inductees.
The band became hit makers in the early ‘70s: playing a hybrid of hard rock, country-rock, and blues, mixed with well-manicured harmonies. The Doobies’ sound took a 180-degree turn in 1975 when a young soul singer named Michael McDonald was tapped to fill in for the band’s ailing frontman Tom Johnston. Eventually, Johnston left, and McDonald pushed the band into blue-eyed soul territory.
In 1978, the collective recorded and released its eighth studio album Minute by Minute. With its synth-driven pop sounds, the album was a distinct departure from their earlier music. Before it hit the shelves, the band was certain they had a flop. As McDonald recalled in an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music: “I remember playing that album for a friend of mine and said, ‘Well, what do you think’? And he goes, ‘It’s a piece of shit. It sucks.’ And I remember thinking, ‘I think he’s right.’”
Record buyers and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences thought otherwise. The album went triple-platinum and “What a Fool Believes,” the biggest single, spent several weeks atop Billboard’s charts in 1979. The song won Grammys for record of the year, song of the year, and even best arrangement for accompanying vocals.
The Doobie Brothers’ version of “What a Fool Believes” is technically a cover song. Co-written by McDonald and Kenny Loggins, it was Loggins who released the first version, several months earlier on the album Nightwatch. But the Doobies’ version is the definitive take.
The band took a break in 1982, and McDonald left to pursue a solo career. The group then reunited in the late ‘80s, with Johnston back as frontman, and became a staple of the summer outdoor concert circuit playing the early, more rock-oriented songs. It seemed that the band and their fans had left the McDonald era far behind.
Then, sometime during George W. Bush’s second term, something funny happened–literally.
The silky, smooth sound that had once been passé suddenly became cool again with a brand-new label – yacht rock. Many credit the music’s revival as well as the moniker to the mid-aughts low-budget web series of the same name. Yacht Rock featured comic, low-budget origin stories of many of the most beloved songs of the era. The very first episode depicted McDonald and Loggins teaming up to write “What a Fool Believes.” According to the show’s creators, the song is number one in terms of its yacht-rock-ness. This summer McDonald, who has since earned the title the “Godfather of Yacht Rock,” was supposed to be rejoining his brothers (yeah, I know they’re not related) for a 50th anniversary tour, but like every other tour it got postponed.
One can chart the revival of “What a Fool Believes” by looking at how often it has been covered. Artists covered the song just a handful of times in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but the number of covers began to skyrocket in 2006 after the Yacht Rock series premiered. So, in honor of the Doobies’ induction into the always-controversial Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, we present five good covers of “What A Fool Believes.” After all, “no wise man has the power” to resist.
M People – What a Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers cover)
The music of M People could be used as the soundtrack for a spiritually uplifting exercise class. The U.K. group, known for their dance-pop hits in the ‘90s, has a sound that blends elements of hip-hop, House, R&B, disco, funk, and jazz, all of it held together by Heather Small’s vocals. She sings like a member of the choir at the coolest church you’ll ever attend. In 1998, M People recorded a cover of “What a Fool Believes” for its compilation The Best of M People. The group transformed the quintessential ‘70s yacht rock song into a ‘90s Eurobeat track that’s ideal for dancing the pounds, or your cares, away.
Miss Tess – What a Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers cover)
For several years, the Nashville-based musician known as Miss Tess produced an online series called Show Me Your Freebird, in which she would take requests to play cover songs. She released 22 tracks by a wide range of artists including the Beatles, the Electric Light Orchestra, Willie Nelson and Duke Ellington. In 2017, for her final edition of the series, she released this whimsical, folky take on “What a Fool Believes.” She performed it live in her backyard, breezily hitting the high notes. “This one sure was a hard tune to learn,” she wrote. “Michael McDonald, you have a truly impressive vocal range.”
Mike Phillips – What a Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers cover)
On his latest album Pulling Off the Covers, smooth jazz saxophonist Mike Phillips plays several tracks from the yacht rock era, including “Just the Two of Us,” “What a Fool Believes,” and, weirdly enough, the Three’s Company theme song. While the album version of “What a Fool Believes” closely follows the original, Phillips has played the song differently in the past. With a fan-shot live video, you can see Phillips take the song to another place entirely. Phillips cranks out a solo at the end that is more reminiscent of John Coltrane than Kenny G.
Michael Duchesne – What a Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers cover)
There is plenty of drama in Michael Duchesne’s two-minute cover of “What a Fool Believes,” which he performed as his audition for the 2012 Australian edition of The Voice. His parents look on nervously as the coaches, including Keith Urban and Seal, debate whether to select him. To his credit, Duchesne seems completely oblivious to the process. He starts out singing it as a piece of acoustic soul. After the intro, the band kicks in, giving it a bit of a funkier edge. “As he rises to her apology,” Seal hits his buzzer to select him. Though Duchesne did not win the overall competition, this cover has stood the test of time.
Jammy Jams – What a Fool Believes (Doobie Brothers cover)
The Jammy Jams music series aims to reimagine pop, rock, metal and rap tunes as lullabies for tots. The 2016 album Midnight Cruisers: Yacht Rock Goes Lullaby features yacht rock classics arranged to smoothly and gently rock the little ones to sleep. Of course, the album included a cover of “What a Fool Believes.” The JJs expertly recreated the track with xylophones and bells. Listening to this cover is almost as soothing as sitting on the beach at night watching the waves come in.
This post is part of our annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame series, with a covers feature on every inductee. Catch up on the full set here!