Rest assured there’s nothing random about Michael McDonald’s decision to release live covers of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and the 1965 Burt Bacharach-Hal David penned Jackie DeShannon hit “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” the latter of which is premiering below.
“We always end our evening with one of those two songs, or both,” McDonald — who’s slated to inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Doobie Brothers on Nov. 7 — tells Billboard from quarantine in his home near Santa Barbara, Calif. “We’ve tried to make our live shows leave people with a sense of community and a little something more important than just all of us getting together to hear some live music. That’s certainly a wonderful thing…but nonetheless we take the opportunity to say something beyond that to all the people who are nice enough to come hear us that points to the fact we’re a community. And the mindfulness of being a community is always important — especially now.”
McDonald’s version of the song was recorded during 2019, and in addition to sharing a poignant sentiment for the time it’s also helping him achieve some recording ambitions. “For a long time I thought about taking some live shows and making use of that stuff,” he explains. “I’ve always thought people should have it made available to them if they want to check it out. Over the years the record companies would always say, ‘Oh, nobody buys live records’ and I never thought that was true. So this just seemed like an opportunity to get some live music out there and let people check us out as a band.”
McDonald says there will be more music coming, too — much of it original. He’s been working on a new studio album, his first since Wide Open in 2017. But before that he’s planning to release an EP of material he’s been working on with local musicians in a converted barn studio on a ranch his friend owns north of Santa Barbara. Intended to be a merch item for the Doobie Brothers’ 50th anniversary tour this year, the set combines “some songs I’ve written over the years I thought I might never record” — including a composing collaboration with David Crosby — as well as a “very broke down” version of Neil Young’s “Helpless” and renditions of some of McDonald’s previous material, including the Doobies’ “It Keeps You Runnin’,” “What a Fool Believes” and “You Belong to Me” done in samba and bossa nova styles.
“It turned out to be a California kind of project,” says McDonald. “We just kind of hang out at the barn and jam, and we started doing some of these songs and this is what it turned into. It was originally going to be something I did just for the tour but it’s turned into something a little more than that.”
The Doobies tour, with McDonald joining the existing lineup of the band, is slated to kick off July 9 in West Palm Beach, Fla., and has not yet been postponed or canceled. In the midst of the pandemic McDonald says that “I can’t imagine we’ll go out this summer or any time soon” but is awaiting word on what will happen. “I have yet to hear about the summer dates as far as anything official,” he notes. “I think everybody’s waiting to hear what happens before they make any announcements, even to us as a band. So we’re all in limbo wondering, ‘Well, what’s gonna be the plan?’ I know they have all kinds of formulas in place.” McDonald is, nevertheless, hoping that the shows do happen — as well as the Hall of Fame induction, which was moved back six months — even if they’re moved a year or more after they were initially planned.
“We’re all pretty geared up to go do it — but such is everybody’s fate these days,” he says. “I know I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope all the other guys are up for it come next year.”