“What the people need is a way to make ’em smile/It ain’t so hard to do if you know how,” goes The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music,” the opening song (and lead single) off the San Jose, California band’s sophomore album Toulouse Street. The Doobies knew how – and so does Quadio, the new, four-Blu-ray box set recently released by Warner Records and Rhino collecting the band’s second through fifth albums in their original quadraphonic and stereo mixes. Quadio follows Chicago’s box set of the same name. The four-channel quad mixes make listening to the music a fully immersive experience, with previously buried details so evident that even a familiar radio staple can be heard anew. The Blu-ray Audio discs, playable on all Blu-ray players, also offer the original stereo mixes, but the quad programs are the main attraction here. Unlike, say, a surround mix emulating the actual placement of an orchestra with the listener in the middle, there’s not one standard placement here for the vocalists and musicians; it varies from track to track, keeping the interest level high. Additionally, quad mixes often employed different takes or overdubs, and the Doobies’ releases in the format were no different. Longtime fans will savor the opportunity to “spot the difference” between these and the frequently-reissued stereo versions.
Toulouse Street, produced like all of these albums by ex-Harpers Bizarre member Ted Templeman, was the record that put the Doobies on the map, charting just outside the top 20 (at No. 21) and eventually going platinum. The 1972 LP welcomed bassist Tiran Porter and second drummer Michael Hossack (joining John Hartman who also played the distinctive percussion) to the lineup led by Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons. It reflected the band’s interest in a more aggressive southern sound but was influenced by an entire melting pot of musical styles including R&B, soul, bluegrass, jazz, gospel, country, folk, and reggae.
That these four-channel mixes add a new dimension to the album is clear from the very first notes of Tom Johnston’s “Listen to the Music,” with that crisp guitar startlingly entering in the right channels; subsequently, it’s easy to discern every note of the bassline on the right and the prominent electric guitar noodling on the left. The raucous “Rockin’ Down the Highway” begins in the rear right channel before the other instruments and vocals enter, enveloping the listener in the center of it all. Too often, modern-day surround mixes opt for subtlety; these vintage mixes are bold in showcasing the capabilities of the four speakers but not tasteless or egregious. The Doobies and Templeman used the studio as another instrument, and the quad mixes emphasize the production wizardry, whether the flanging on “Listen to the Music” or more subtly, the ethereal vocals on the haunting title track. The band’s double-guitar and double-drums lineup always made for an exciting Wall of Sound, but in quad, it’s even more forceful.
Latin percussion swirls from channel to channel on the swampy “Cotton Mouth,” one of two tracks on Toulouse Street enhanced by a dose of New Orleans brass. On “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’,” the horns surprise as they blast out of the rear right channel even as the piano part supplied by Little Feat’s Bill Payne shines in the rear left. The rears aren’t used here for ambience; they’re a full-bodied part of the four-channel experience. The additional dimension adds heaviness to the gospel-flavored hit “Jesus Is Just Alright” and the southern blues-rock workout “Disciple,” the latter of which favorably warranted comparisons to the likes of The Allman Brothers Band. Listen for the subtly different lyric in “Snake Man,” too.
The Captain & Me (1973) built on the success of its predecessor and kicked off a run of seven consecutive top 10 album smashes for the Doobies. This album has been previously available in 5.1 surround on DVD-A and SACD, but this release marks its quadraphonic debut on Blu-ray Audio. Those interested in surround are encouraged to track down that unique 5.1 mix from master engineer Elliot Scheiner, as well. (The 5.1 format adds a center channel and a subwoofer.)
The 2x Platinum album balanced Tom Johnston’s hard rock rousers with Pat Simmons’ more laid-back California grooves, all unified by Templeman’s clean and crisp but far from sterile production. It yielded two Johnston-penned hits in “China Grove” (No. 15 Pop) and “Long Train Runnin'” (No. 8 Pop) while the LP itself made No. 7 on the Top LPs survey. The instrumental separation of both singles is crystal-clear in quad but “Long Train” stands out as it captures listeners in the center of a diagonal, with drums in the front left and percussion in the rear right; the effect is powerful. Simmons’ “Clear as the Driven Snow” opens with a gentle acoustic lyricism and dreamlike soundscape redolent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash before kicking into high gear; the quad mix considers the dynamics of the track as it too shifts from subtlety to brashness. Nick DeCaro contributed string arrangements to three selections on The Captain & Me including the relaxed ode to a “South City Midnight Lady.” Instrumentation is discretely spread throughout the soundstage including Simmons’ eerily wailing ARP synthesizer, DeCaro’s dramatic strings, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s weeping pedal steel. Unexpectedly, many of the vocals of the jam-like “Evil Woman” (co-written by the whole band) emanate from the rear channels, allowing the edgy guitars to dominate the fronts.
The Captain & Me has been certified 2x platinum, as has its 1974 follow-up, What Once Were Vices Are Now Habits. Vices experienced one of the Doobies’ most unusual trajectories. The first single “Another Park, Another Sunday” fared moderately well on the chart, reaching No. 32, but the pretty, midtempo harmony ballad might not have been what listeners were expecting of the band. “Eyes of Silver,” while arguably a more commercial choice than “Another Park,” did less well, at No. 52. Warner Bros. almost lost faith, next reissuing “Nobody” from the group’s very first album. But when the label turned to the B-side of “Another Park,” a little song called “Black Water,” the Doobies struck gold. Pat Simmons’ New Orleans-inspired song became the band’s very first No. 1 on the Hot 100.
The intricately-arranged “Black Water” inspired one of the most vivid four-channel mixes on Quadio which takes the song to a near-psychedelic level. Its opening shimmer effect emanates from the rear channels as if on a light breeze; the lead vocal by Simmons travels around the speakers, going front and center for the most intensity. Perhaps the most thrilling moment is the beguiling a cappella section, influenced by the tight harmonies of Harpers Bizarre. The individual vocal parts can be heard distinctly as separated in the individual speakers.
With the exception of “Black Water,” there’s a certain similar quality to the uptempo songs comprising Side One of What Once Were Vices including the urgent “Pursuit on 53rd Street” (which is a slightly longer version than on the standard stereo LP) and “Road Angel,” but these tracks gain added muscularity in surround. The Memphis Horns also add a forceful component to much of the LP. Side Two offered more of the band’s varied sides, with Simmons turning in the soft country-rock of “Tell Me What You Want (And I’ll Give You What You Need)” and Tiran Porter composing the seemingly made-for-quadraphonic cosmic instrumental “Flying Cloud.”
The fourth and final album included in Quadio, 1975’s Stampede, would also prove to be the final album of The Doobie Brothers’ first era before Michael McDonald replaced Tom Johnston as lead singer and main songwriter. The Gold-certified album also welcomed Jeff “Skunk” Baxter as a third guitarist and Keith Knudsen replacing Michael Hossack. Guests included Bill Payne, Ry Cooder, Maria Muldaur, Bobbye Hall, Venetta Fields, Sherlie Matthews, and Victor Feldman as well as arrangers Nick DeCaro, Curtis Mayfield, and Paul Riser. Its three singles weren’t able to build on the success of “Black Water,” though a delicious cover of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Motown staple “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)” peaked just out of the top 10.
A full-bodied, urgent album, Stampede was built for quadraphonic. “Take Me in Your Arms” places horns in the rear left and strings in the rear right, supporting the rhythm section work up front. “Sweet Maxine,” jointly written by Johnston and Simmons, is pure adrenaline in four channels, taking advantage of the mix with each instrument discretely entering and building to a big blast of sound. Its tasty horns, searing guitars, and Bill Payne’s nimble keyboards all stand out on this often unjustly-overlooked rocker. Johnston’s country-flavored “Texas Lullaby” is one of the most engaging tracks in quad, with surprising moments throughout; the same goes for the swirling sound of “Music Man” with its all-encompassing, altogether funky mélange of strings, horns, organ, guitars, drums, bass, and percussion arranged by Chicago soul legend Curtis Mayfield. The guitars on the brief, acoustic instrumental “Slat Key Soquel Rag” wash over the listener. The elaborate, ambitious “I Cheat the Hangman,” with guest background vocals from Maria Muldaur and an ending chorale arranged by Nick DeCaro, uses the capabilities of four-channel to create its eerie atmosphere with voices creeping in from the rear channels. As it adds musical layers to culminate with a ghostly, cacophonic climax, all four speakers get a workout. Keen-eared listeners will also notice that “Neal’s Fandango” is slightly longer than on previous CD issues of the stereo album, with a brief instrumental passage between the end of the vocal and the beginning of the guitar solo reinstated.
The Blu-rays have been mastered and authored by Craig Anderson for terrific sound and increased clarity in both stereo and quadraphonic. Both mixes are encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio. One can easily toggle between the two audio tracks with the red and yellow buttons on the Blu-ray remote control: red for quad and yellow for stereo.
Each album in Quadio is housed in an oversize, Japanese-style mini-sleeve with a spine, all but one of which (Vices) is presented as a gatefold. The Blu-ray discs are beautifully emblazoned with the famous Warner Bros. palm tree label, unfortunately but necessarily rebranded with the new Warner Records logo. (The text describing the home of the label has also been accurately amended now that Warner is no longer based in Burbank.) The discs are stored in both a plastic protector and an inner sleeve. Three of these replicate the original “Quadradisc” informational insert with diagrams and text by Ivan Berger, while Stampede has song lyrics. Vices additionally includes a foldout poster. The set, produced by Rhino’s Steve Woolard, is attractively housed in a sturdy box with a flip-top lid rather than a slipcase. While no liner notes are included, there is a brief insert explaining the basics and also offering instructions as to how to set your receiver’s Bass Management option for optimum sound quality.
The Doobie Brothers controversially but successfully shifted to sleek blue-eyed soul with 1976’s Takin’ It to the Streets, their first album in four years not to be issued in quadraphonic. Michael McDonald would remain with the band for four studio LPs plus a document of their 1982 farewell tour. In 1989, the 1974 line-up of the group (Johnston, Simmons, Porter, Hartman, and Hossack) reunited – and The Doobie Brothers have been going strong ever since. They reunited with Ted Templeman for 2010’s World Gone Crazy and with Michael McDonald for 2014’s Southbound; Simmons, Johnston, and McDonald were all set for a 50th anniversary tour in 2020 until COVID-19 postponed those plans. Rhino’s long-awaited Quadio box set should ramp up excitement for that eventual tour, proving once again that surround sound – when mixed well, as is the case for this quartet of albums – isn’t a mere gimmick but an exciting and involving way to listen to the music.
The Doobie Brothers’ Quadio is available now exclusively through Rhino.com, with a general release to all retailers set for November 6.
Might Rhino consider Carly Simon, Bread/David Gates, The Spinners, or perhaps even a various-artists Quadio collection for those artists with smaller but significant quad releases? Sound off below on which titles you would like to see get the Quadio treatment next!