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Music Review: The Doobie Brothers – What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

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In a time when album rock took over the radio airwaves, the Doobie Brothers were a mainstream rock group that were still more of a singles band. I haven't checked, but I'd bet a stack of Franklins that The Best Of The Doobie Brothers is still far and away their best selling album (and that record didn't even include most of the Michael McDonald hits). But being a singles band obscured the fact that in their prime, they had lots of great album cuts with little filler.

What Doobie Bros. aficionados would call "prime" depends on their preference of Tom Johnston or the aforementioned McDonald, but it sure seemed they were a constant hit factory from "Jesus Is Just Alright" up through "Takin' It To The Streets." 1973's The Captain & Me is their best release from that prime era, as solid of a MOR rock album as there ever was.doobiebrothers_eyesofsilver_sheetmusic

As tempting as it is to gush all over The Captain & Me, it's the only slightly weaker follow-up from the following year that deserves a rare spotlight. What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits is one of those records I became very familiar with growing up and still sounds great more than 32 years later.

This record encapsulates all that many people liked about the pre-McDonald Doobies: an accessible mixture of boogie rock, country, soul, jazz and R&B. Vices is filled with tight, top-notch musicianship and strong, varied songs contributed primarily by either Johnston or fellow guitarist/vocalist Patrick Simmons.

For those not familiar this record, the first question might be, what hits did it spin off? The record label had intended for Johnston's soulful, melancholy "Another Park, Another Sunday" to be it, but deejays around America soon flipped the single over and played Simmons' swampy backwoods ditty "Black Water" instead, becoming the Brothers' unlikely first ever chart topper. Maybe it's because the charm of "Black Water" had long worn off on me due to saturation, but I favor "Sunday" and think it remains one of Johnston's strongest compositions ever. His Stax-style "Eyes Of Silver" with its Memphis Horns was another crack at the pop charts, but fell short. A shame, because it contains some of the DB's distinct ensemble rhythm guitar playing and some fine vocal harmonies.

But among the single-less tracks are some real gems. "You Can't Stop It" boasts a real funky shuffle and bass player. Tiran Porter, a criminally underrated bassist, propels the rhythm in perfect sync with the band's two percussionists, Keith Knudsen and John Hartman. It's followed by another Simmons-penned nugget, the mellow, soulful "Tell Me What You Want (And I'll Give You What You Need)". That's soon-to-be-full-member Skunk Baxter providing the pedal steel on the final chorus. Patrick Simmons' full set of stellar tunes is completed by his vaguely progressive, "Daughters of the Sea", and it shows off a depth in his songwriting not often seen in later years.

The Johnston partisans like this version of the band because they could rock more convincingly, and WWOVANH doesn't disappoint with TJ numbers like "Road Angel" and "Down In The Track." His "Pursuit on 53rd St." picks up where "China Grove" left off. Johnston's "Spirit," which has a melody that sounds like a close cousin of "Eyes Of Silver," shows off the band's bluegrass side without losing any of its soul.

So no, this album won't ever be put alongside the widely acknowledged rock classics of that time like Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, or Steely Dan's Aja. It's just a consistently good-to-great, entertaining album by a successful mainstream rock band hitting its stride. If that's the kind of forgotten treasure you're looking for, you'd want to know about What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. There's gold between them there hits.

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About Pico

  • This cracked me up — I was just looking this album up on iTunes. My mom had this on vinyl when I was a kid and I remember the cover art. It is forever linked to that time for me.

  • My own exposure to this record came from an older brother’s vinyl copy (the “Another Park/Black Water” single was mine, though). He played it around me so much that three decades later I still remember every song on it from way back then. Probably could have written this review entirely from old memories.

    In a twist of irony, that same brother eventually went to work at a bakery in tiny China Grove, Texas. Yep, that China Grove.

  • Mark Saleski

    this is a great record. i played the hell out of it and The Captain and Me for many years.

  • The Haze

    Spotted this review and couldn’t wait to add in: These guys do not get the props they deserve!Their diverse course through music not only helped to build their skills as song writers and musicians it proved that with the right combinations of producer(Ted Templeman)and promotions a group can have a long and endearing career.I would support any push to see these guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame(although the hall is a joke!)The Doobs and Steely Dan! God! The 70’s rocked!There will never,ever be a decade like that again!

  • Thanks for this, Pico, as usual it’s a comprehensive look at a classic.

  • Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the Advance.net websites.

  • I have always kind of dug Tom Johnston’s voice and some of the defining riffs of rock and roll came from that band, yet I have no DBs in my collection. Like I said, I have been thinking about them these past few days and I think I am going to have to rectify that.

  • Great to see all the Doobie Brothers fans show some support for a classic band that actually deserved its popularity, IMO. Not mentioning producer Ted Templeton was a bad whiff on my part; he was as key to their classic sound as George Martin was for the Beatles. Vices holds up well to close listening and you can hear each part come together well partially because of Templeton.

    Thanks for your comments, everybody.

  • ron l

    eyes of silver what agreat song flew under the radar screen nobody played it on radio.