Earlier in the week we paid homage to the Doobie Brothers, Tom Johnston version. If you're the kind of person who thinks "What A Fool Believe" is superior to "Long Train Runnin'" or prefer One Step Closer over Stampede, well then, consider this installment of OTM a concession to you.
Because we're about to lay some praise on, yes, Michael McDonald.
The cool thing about writing about artists like McDonald is that I don't need to spend much time setting up the plot; everyone knows Mike's musical career that took him from Steely Dan backup vocalist, to latter day Doobie Brothers leader to solo artist to MCI/Verizon pitchman.
A lot of you may also already know that his slowly dwindling solo career got a shot in the arm from the adult contemporary crowd when in 2003 when he put out a collection entirely of familiar Motown covers called... what else?... Motown. It sold well enough to encourage McDonald to go to that well once again the following year with... you guessed it... Motown Two.
Now, this is the part where you might expect me to rip him for pulling a "Rod Stewart," but I actually applaud the move. Ol' Rod the Mod, God bless him, was hopelessly out of place playing the part of some latter day Sinatra. McDonald, on the other hand, is a natural when it comes to soul, because that is his calling card. He didn't blindly hand over all the instrumentation to a bunch of anonymous orchestral players and leave the vision for these projects to others. He played keyboards, surrounded himself with some crack sessionists and struck a nice balance between making the song sound familiar enough to be reverential to the originals and putting his own stamp on them.
If anything, Motown Two is better than #1, because Mike ventures off the path of the most obvious song choices a bit more this time and delights us with a few lesser-known jewels. It is one of the more obscure ones, Stevie Wonder's "Tuesday Heartbreak," that is the focus for this here article.
This song originally appeared in the first of Wonder's string of masterpieces, 1972's Talking Book. This was the blockbuster LP from which came "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition," but anyone who owns a copy of this record will tell you that there isn't a weak track to be found there. "Tuesday Heartbreak" is a jazzy mid-tempo number with straightforward lyrics about longing for a girl who just left him for another man. But the narrator tries to stay hopeful and it's hard to feel much sorrow from this song when Stevie's electric keys are so just deadgummed funky; almost as much as they are on "Superstition." And if that righteous saxophone wailing in the background throughout the entire track sounds familiar, it's because that was then-unknown David Sanborn.