Michael McDonald

Band members                             Related acts

- Michael McDonald (aka Mike McDonald) -- vocals, keyboards




- Artists United for Nature

- The Del-Rays

- The Doobie Brothers

- The Guild

- The New YOrk Rock and Soul Revue

- Steely Dan





Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  That Was Then, The Early Recordings of Michael McDonald

Company: Arista

Catalog: ABM-2006

Year: 1982

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: minor edge and ring wear, small cut out notch along lower edge

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4134

Price:  $25.00

Cost: $1.00


In the wake of Michael McDonald's late-1970s/early-1980s commercial successes with Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and as a solo act, it  wasn't a major surprise to see someone exploiting the market with a quickie set of pre-fame releases.


Having acquired the Bell Records catalog in a corporate takeover, Arista Records took advantage of the market releasing 1982's "That Was Then, the Early Recordings of Michael McDonald."  As far as I can tell most of the songs stem from an early-'70s deal with producer Rick Jarrard and Bell Records.  Jarrard had seen McDonald playing with the St. Louis-based, 13 piece soul band Blue.  Impressed by the 18 year old McDonald's voice, Jarrard signed him to a contract, flying him to Los Angeles where they recorded a series of demos. Several promotional singles were released, but their lack of success saw a planned album shelved, with McDonald turning his attention to sessions, before hitting the big time via Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, and a solo career.  


The album was apparently released against McDonald's wishes, but given that most retrospectives of this nature are pretty lame, this one wasn't all that bad.  While he was only in his late teens/early twenties when he recorded these songs, McDonald's expressive voice was already instantly recognizable.  (How does an eighteen year old sound like a grizzled seventy year old blues man?)  Depending on your perspective, this was going to be an album you treasured, or it was going to have as much appeal as a case of the black plague.  So I'm a big McDonald fan, but there were simply way too many heartfelt ballads on this compilation.  Taken in small bits, tracks like 'Lord I Felt', 'It Don't Matter Now' and 'I Think I Love You Again' were all pretty good, but lumped together they started to blend together into a sound-alike collage.  Still most of these eleven tracks were at least mildly entertaining.  So what were the highlights?  The LP kicked off with a kick ass cover of 'Drivin' Wheel' - McDonald's seldom rocked as hard.  Almost as good was the other true rocker - an all too brief cover of The Allman Brothers' 'Midnight Rider'.  Shame there weren't more rockers and fewer ballads.  


Probably not of interest to a casual fan, but it's something dedicated fans would want to own.  



Interestingly, as an early retrospective the set wasn't exactly complete.  Probably a result of contractual issues, missing in action were McDonald's pre-fame work for RCA Victor, including the 1970, Motown-flavored dance-ready single:


'God Knows (I Love My Baby)' b/w 'If You Won't I Will' (RCA Victor catalog number 74-0405).





"That Was Then, The Early Recordings of Michael McDonald" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Drivin' Wheel   (Roosevelt Sykes) - 3:35   rating: **** stars

One of the tauntest rockers McDonald ever recorded, 'Drivin' Wheel' could have easily fit on an early Doobie Brothers LP.  Loved the multi-tracked vocals.  The track first saw the light of day as a 1972 promotional single for Bell.


- 1972's 'Drivin' Wheel' b/w 'Where Men Don't Care' (Bell catalog number 45,259)

2.) Lord I Felt   (Michael McDonald) - 4:08   rating: **** stars

I'll be the first to admit that McDonald's patented vocals can become irritating, but there's something quite touching about the Gospel-tinged ballad 'Lord I Felt.'  The tune got even better when it hit the refrain.

3.) It Don't Matter Now   (Michael McDonald) - 3:44   rating: ** stars

Admittedly a pretty ballad, but this was one where the track never made it past background music status.  To be honest, Alison Krauss' fragile, country cover is better.

4.) When I'm Home   (Michael McDonald) - 4:25  rating: ** stars

Another track recorded for Bell Records and shelved ...  another heartbreak ballad.  Just McDonald and piano with a bit of orchestration added, this one sounded a bit like a demo.

5.) I Think I Love You Again   (Tony Wine - Irwin Levine) - 3:24  rating: ** stars

McDonald's first single for Bell, 'I Think I Love You Again' captured what was to become McDObald's patented keyboard-propelled power ballad sound.  Interestingly while it sounded like a typical McDonald power ballad, it was a cover written by Tony Wine and Irwin Levine.  Producer Rick Jarrard all but buried McDonald under waves of shrill female backing singers, leaving him to fight for the spotlight.  Yeah, it was kind of a mess. 




- 1972's 'I Think I Love You Again' b/w 'Dear Me' (Bell catalog number 45,182






6.) Melodic   (Michael McDonald) - 4:56  rating: ** stars

Hey, why not end side one with a ballad?


(side 2)

1.) Midnight Rider   (Gregg Allman) - 3:07   rating: **** stars
To me the cover of The Allman Brothers classic track was the album's biggest surprise.  Yeah, McDonald upped the song's funk quotient, but his gravelly voice was a perfect fit for the song's gravitas.  Shame the song faded out so early.

2.) Billy   (Michael McDonald) - 3:10  rating: ** stars

McDonald's anti-war song ?  Sad, perhaps a over-sappy ...

3.) Dear Me   (Michael McDonald) - 5:01  rating: ** stars

Prototype McDonald sound ...  He may have recoded it while in his twenties, but it would have fitted on any of his post-Doobie Brothers solo albums.

4.) Where Men Don't Care   (Michael McDonald) - 3:37

5.) A Good Old Time Love Song   (Michael McDonald) - 4:32   rating: *** stars

Funny, but every time I hear the Gospel-tinged ballad 'A Good Old Time Love Song' strikes me as a roadmap for what would be McDonald's recording catalog for the next fifty plus years.  This one was another track Bell floated as a promotional single:





- 1972 'A Good Old Time Love Song' (short version) b/w 'A Good Old Time Love Song' (long version) (Bell catalog number 45,219)








As mentioned, the album didn't collect all of McDonald's RCA and Bell recordings.  There's a least one single that wasn't included on the Bell album:


- 1971's 'Where Do I Go From Here' b/w 'It Don't Matter' (Bell catalog number 45,308)