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  • Writer's pictureTony Harris


Updated: Jun 12, 2020

For those of us who would describe themselves as 'hopelessly romantic and yet romantically hopeless' our national anthem is surely and forever will be "What A Fool Believes" by The Doobie Brothers. Written by Michael McDonald with Kenny Loggins, few lines will touch the hearts of the above demographic more than "trying hard to recreate what had yet to be created".

This has always been just about my favourite single ever not just for the cupid's arrow its lyrics are capable of shooting right through my own foot but because it has a silky bounce that was the absolute paradigm of the Doobie Brothers sound during the Michael McDonald years, making something so utterly tragic seem relentlessly upbeat.

Whilst it was not a huge hit in the UK, it has still managed to become a familiar favourite. It is a staple for those of us who enjoy what is somewhat scathingly referred to as Yacht Rock - referring to the mid-late 70s genre of light sophisticated rock with escapist romance as its theme (think Toto or Christopher Cross or even Boz Scaggs).

The Japanese, who are still crackers for it, call it :"City Pop" and it is hugely popular on the airwaves. And it is there that I came across a fascinating musical conundrum that I thought I would share. City Pop fans in the US and Japan will probably know of this particular Soft Rock controversy but it has fascinated me ever since I first came across it digging through the crates of Disk Union in Shimokitazawa.

Whilst in the UK "What A Fool Believes" was not a huge hit, it went on to be a deserved number one in the US and then went on to win the Doobie Brothers Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year at the Grammys in 1980. It is an immaculate performance and you know it is because even, when you hear versions by both George Michael and even more surprisingly Aretha Franklin, both normally faultless interpreters of other's work, they simply pale.

It was the third single to be released from the album, "Minute By Minute" but neither of its predecessors "Depending On You" or the title track even scraped into the US top 10 but then "What A Fool Believes" is released and the album hits the top of the album charts for 5 weeks throughout 1979.

Basically, you could not miss the song, it was everywhere. Which makes what happened next all the more bizarre.

An until then little known male vocalist called Robbie Dupree released his first single from his eponymous album in the summer of 1980 called "Steal Away". It raced up the charts to number six on the Billboard Hot 100.

If you haven't heard it perhaps you should listen to it now.

You be the judge.

Such was the similarity that the LA Times called it "a blatant wimpy rip-off" while other papers (and that's how big an issue it was because the major press covered it) were able to draw similarities between the backing keyboards and the vocal harmonies. It was even suggested that McDonald sang back-up on the record - he didn't.

Clearly, something seemed off and the accusations were that Dupree had 'stolen away' with a lot more than he should have done. His response has always been that he only wrote the lyrics and that the rhythm for both records borrows from city pop staples such as "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tennille (originally written by Neil Sedaka). He would also (rightly) say that in terms of production, music and lyrics the initial record was a far more sophisticated recording than his own simpler 45.

incidentally, if you really want to muddy your yacht's waters try "He's So Shy" by The Pointer Sisters that came out around the same time.

This was a time of famous litigations such as the long-running court case for George Harrison over "My Sweet Lord" which he lost. Randy California of Spirit had already started up his whispering campaign against Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" and both Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks were caught knee deep in their own court battles There was money to be made (and lost) for sure and, as George Harrison could testify, a lot of it.

However, whilst McDonald's lawyers certainly made some initial pre-litigation inquiries, both McDonald and Loggins chose never to follow up on it as they trusted in the integrity of Dupree.

Dupree would have one more Top 20 hit. "Hot Rod Hearts" and The Doobie Brothers one more studio album but by 1982, both he and the Doobie Brothers were done as the glory of Yacht (and its often unprepossessing figureheads) crashed on the rocks of MTV and its more photogenic protagonists.

You can still catch an unrepentant Dupree touring happily with other City Pop acts to audiences that still love his big hit single while the Doobie Brothers finally in 2020 were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, with a reunion tour of which the highlight of the setlist will undoubtedly be...

My hypothesis...

Sometimes a song is just so good the public have to buy it all over again...

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May 30, 2020

Another fine piece, Tony. I am an unrepentant supporter of much of the type of music others sneer at by referring to as "Yacht". That includes this-era Doobies (don't love all their earlier stuff, mind you) and Mr Dupree, who had a fine voice and made good albums (I have several). Michael McDonald is the man born with the voice I was supposed to have until God fumbled the serial numbers. Christmas and Praise albums apart, he can do no wrong for me. If you don't know it, he made a brilliant unsung album called Blue Obsession during his fallow years. He's also a splendid producer - as you can hear from the album Be Here Soon by Jeff Bridges…

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