Listen To The Music: Toulouse Street Turns 50

Reflecting on the album that catapulted The Doobie Brothers to superstardom

The Doobie Brothers original photo from the cover of Toulouse Street (Image: Facebook)

The Doobie Brothers made the leap to superstardom with their second album Toulouse Street.

Certainly no small accomplishment for a band that famously took their name from their penchant for smoking reefer and whose initial audience consisted of outlaw motorcycle gangs in the mountains of Santa Cruz. Although they were a disparate bunch, drummers John Hartman and Michael Hossack, bassist Tiran Porter and singer/guitarists Patrick Simmons and Tom Johnston managed to hone their chops as part of the burgeoning Northern California music scene. In short order, they came to the attention of Warner Bros. Records, who signed them at the behest of Ted Templeman, who would go on to produce the group’s string of successful albums.

That said, their eponymous debut attracted only mild attention. However, its follow-up, released in July 1972 and named for a street in New Orleans’ French Quarter, saw their fortunes change for the better, putting them well on the way to becoming one of the biggest American bands of the ‘70s and well beyond.

The Doobie Brothers Toulouse Street, Warner Bros. Records 1972

That success was hardly surprising, given that it contained one of the biggest hits of the band’s 50-plus year career, “Listen to the Music.” It served as an unequivocal anthem, an open invitation to celebrate the sound in true communal fashion. Even now, its irresistibly infectious refrain serves as a rallying cry that’s all but impossible to resist. Johnston, who was credited with composing the song, described it as a plea for world peace, one that invoked the possibility of turning aside politics and polemics and simply embrace the music through utopian ideals. 

The other track that helped lift the album to the top of the charts was a take on “Jesus Is Just Alright” a song that had actually originated as a gospel standard. While it might have seemed sacrimonious for a rock band to declare their unfettered devotion in such a rambunctious way, they weren’t the first outfit to do so. They learned the song from the Byrds, who had included it on their Easy Rider album in 1969. (It ought to be noted that thie Byrds were the band that had included another religious paean, “The Christian Life,” on their groundbreaking Sweetheart of the Rodeo album four years before.) 

Not surprisingly then, the Doobie Brothers version borrows the Byrds’ arrangement. Given that same insistent refrain, it could have actually made believers of the skeptics. If any evidence is needed, one need only refer to the fact that as the album’s second single, “Jesus Is Just Alright” followed its predecessor to the top of the charts.

Back cover of Toulouse Street (Image: Discogs)

The album’s other highlights included an eclectic array of tunes — a reggae-flavored original titled “Mamaloi,” a cover of Sonny Boy Williams’ “Don’t Start Me To Talkin’” and a reboot of an early Seals and Crofts composition titled “Cotton Mouth.” Nevertheless, it was still clear that the Doobies were still in their formulative stages. It marked the start of their trademark double drum sound, and along with Tiran Porter making his recording debut as a Doobie, the rhythm section was solidly in sync. 

Nevertheless, greater glories were yet to come courtesy of succeeding offerings — The Captain and Me, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, Stampede and, ultimately, the album that brought Michael McDonald on board, Takin’ It To The Streets.

Just don’t forget it was Toulouse Street which paved the path forward for the Brothers Doobie. 

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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