The Doobie Brothers: Stampede

April 25, 1975 – The Doobie Brothers: Stampede is released.
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)

Stampede is the fifth studio album by The Doobie Brothers, released on this date in April, 1975. It reached #4 on the Billboard charts and has been certified gold by the RIAA. It was the final album by the band before Michael McDonald took over from Tom Johnston. 

With a former Steely Dan guitar wiz now a full time member of the band, the Doobie Brothers decided to branch out from their trademark West Coast pop/rock. This is a far more ambitious album than its predecessors. Many guest musicians contributed on the album including Maria Muldaur, Ry Cooder and Curtis Mayfield. 

The first and most successful single released from this album was “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” on April 23, 1975, a classic Motown tune written by the legendary songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Tom Johnston had wanted to record the song for several years. “I thought that would be a killer track to cover,” he said. “It’s probably one of my favorite songs of all time. I thought our version came out great.”

The next single, released on July 8, 1975, was “Sweet Maxine” which was more akin to the Doobie Brothers’ earlier hits style-wise. “Pat wrote the music to this and I wrote the words, ” Johnston recalled. “And Billy Payne had a lot to do with the sound of the song, because of his incredible keyboard playing.” The track stalled at #40 on the Billboard charts.

The third and final single was Patrick Simmons’ “I Cheat the Hangman”, released November 12, 1975. It is a somber outlaw ballad that was inspired by the story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce. “It’s about a ghost returning to his home after the Civil War and not realizing he’s dead,” said Simmons about the song. The album version of the song is a progressive rock-style composition ending in a twisted collage of strings, horns and synthesizers made to sound like ghostly wails. “We’d cut the track, and we kicked around how to develop the ending-I thought about synthesizers and guitar solos. Ted [Templeman] got to thinking about it, and he ran it past [arranger] Nick DeCaro for some orchestration ideas. ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Mussorgsky really inspired the wildness of the strings, and Nick came up with the chorale thing at the end.” The ambitious “I Cheat the Hangman” only managed to reach #60 on the music charts.

Stampede, the Doobie Brothers’ fifth album, finds the San Jose guitar band continuing to develop their style. One cut, a remake of Kim Weston’s Holland-Dozier-Holland hit “Take Me in Your Arms,” accomplishes the unprecedented feat of making a Bay Area rock band sound soulful. Even better, the song, despite Tom Johnston’s Marvin Gaye-ish vocal and all the Motown trimmings (baritone sax on the bottom, darting strings on the top), ends up sounding like no one so much as the Doobie Brothers.

Other standout cuts include “Music Man,” arranged by Curtis Mayfield, and “Sweet Maxine,” a more calculated variant on the Doobie style. By drawing upon artists like Mayfield and Holland-Dozier-Holland, as well as by adding guitarist Jeff Baxter (ex-Steely Dan) to their lineup, the Doobies have beefed up their attack and given it a sharper edge; in so doing, they have broadened their style, which becomes increasingly distinctive with each album.

But a style does not a vision make — or at least not a challenging vision. Lyrically, this band still seems plagued by the spirit of groovy vibrations that made “Listen to the Music” an endurance test for case-hardened cynics. “Neal’s Fandango” bumbles along to couplets like “On the hills above Santa Cruz/In the place where I spent my youth,” which doesn’t even rhyme, much less scintillate.
~ Jim Miller (July 3, 1975)

“Sweet Maxine” (Johnston, Simmons) – 4:26
“Neal’s Fandango” (Simmons) – 3:16
“Texas Lullaby” (Johnston) – 5:00
“Music Man” (Johnston) – 3:28
“Slack Key Soquel Rag” (Simmons) – 1:50

Side Two
“Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” (Holland-Dozier-Holland) – 3:39
“I Cheat the Hangman” (Simmons) – 6:38
“Précis” (Baxter) – 0:56
“Rainy Day Crossroad Blues” (Johnston) – 3:45
“I Been Workin’ on You” (Johnston) – 4:22
“Double Dealin’ Four Flusher” (Simmons) – 3:30

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s