"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!
William Keats says
I'm not terribly excited to hear 40+ year old quad mixes. Quad systems in the '70s were more of a gimmicky sideshow than an audiophile breakthrough, with quad hardware targeted to the low end of the market (Remember quad 8 tracks? Probably not, unless you lived through that bottom-feeder technology in real time). So if these Doobie mixes manage to display any actual artistic touches, it may have been lost on the ears of the original quad demographic way back when.
Richard Allen says
Dutton Vocalion have issued some great Quad titles as dual.layer SACDs which personally I prefer as a format (no messing around with on screen menus)
How about a Quad psych box? Some surprising titles came out in Quad such as Buffie Sainte-Marie's weird electronic Illuminations album, Country Joe and The Fish Greatest Hits and Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers. The album I would really love to hear though is Gandharva by Beaver and Krause which not only was a major influence on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon but was also the first commercial Quad recording..but it was never released in Quad. Now is the time ...
Joe Marchese says
While quadraphonic sound may well have been promoted as a gimmick, and some engineers might not have taken advantage of its capabilities, I don't find anything gimmicky about these mixes which (to these ears, at least) are some of the best in the format. These will certainly be my go-to listens for this part of the Doobies' discography.
Richard Allen says
Quad wasn't a gimmick. The priblem was the studio side was more advanced than the domestic equipment. The reel to reel tape format was the best but also very expensive. These Quad mixes are far more interesting and entertaining than many 5.1 mixes which are often pretty dull.
Eric Kalet says
It's also 40+ years later and technology is vastly improved from what you describe as "bottom-feeder technology." You might want to consider giving these a chance rather than automatically casting a negative opinion based on your experience 40 years ago with "gimmicky sideshow" products.
In my experience, the ‘70s quad mixes tend to make more interesting and creative use of the rear channels than most modern 5.1 mixes. There are far, far too many 5.1's that have all the instruments in the front channels and just ‘concert-hall’ style reverb in the back channels.
Case in point, compare the 5.1 DVD-Audio of Chicago’s self-titled second album to the 4.0 Blu-Ray in the Quadio set. The 5.1 has most of the instruments upfront and some suspended between the front and rear channels, but nothing is truly isolated in the rears. Compare that to the quad, which has the rhythm guitars and horns isolated in the rears while the vocals and drum kit are heard upfront. To me, it's no contest - I much prefer the 'middle of the band' perspective.
It sounds like you just haven’t heard enough ‘70s quad mixes to properly appreciate them. Many of them were absolutely incredible - just as accomplished as the best modern 5.1’s by engineers like Elliot Scheiner Or Steven Wilson. Listen to the quad mixes of Earth, Wind & Fire’s "Spirit" and Art Garfunkel’s "Breakaway" on the Dutton-Vocalion SACD reissues and try to tell me with a straight face that those are poor mixes.
There’s no reason to assume something is poor in quality simply because it’s 40+ years old.
John Haley says
Proper use of the rear (and/or side) channels depends very much on what the musical content is. So many rock and pop recordings are created in the studio anyway, so why not let the additional channels be "part of the act," carrying important musical information? However, for a recording that is meant to recreate a concert experience by, say, a classical orchestra in a concert hall, or a jazz combo in a club, ambience of the performing space is exactly the right thing to emerge from the additional channels. Some of the worst classical recordings I have ever heard were quad recordings that want to put the listener in the middle of the orchestra. But I expect the Doobies' use of all the channels, as described by Joe, to be pretty exciting. If it somehow isn't, well I still have the hi-def stereo mixdown there on the same Bluray disc.
John Haley says
Thanks for that great review, Joe. I immediately ordered this quad set when I saw it announced, and after reading you review I can't wait for it to arrive. Best, John Haley
Stephen Scheffer says
A West Coast box (Eagles, Joni, Jackson Browne) would be great. Also, I think there were quite a few of the James Taylor WB-era albums issued in quad. Maybe a singer-songwriter box would be nice.
The Chicago Quadio box was amazing, can't wait to hear this. As another comment above mentions, the Dutton Vocalion quad SACDs are fantastic as well. So glad that some of these specialty labels are resurrecting these quad masters.
As for what Rhino should do next....
** There were two Eagles albums released in quad, One of These Nights and On the Border. It is also rumored that their first two albums were mixed in quad as well but got shelved when the format met its demise.
** Two Joni Mitchell albums were released in quad, Court & Spark and Hissing of Summer Lawns. (It's also rumored that a quad mix of Blue exists in the vaults.)
** Two Randy Newman albums, Good Old Boys and Sail Away were released in quad. I have heard that quad mix of Sail Away, it's fantastic.
Keep up the good work Rhino!!!
Peter Leahy says
Totally agree with Rob's list of what ought to be next. Instant buys, all of them...
peter chrisp says
Could not agree more the Chicago Quadio box sets sounded amazing in 5.1 & 2 get 2 versions of each album is a blessing. Can't wait for the ooby Doobie Brothers box set to arrive, & what an excellent review
Larry Wisherd says
How about Blue Oyster Cult and Aerosmith. They each had multiple lps mixed to quad. Would love to hear them reissued. Also Mott the Hoople
Peter Leahy says
I wish those were Warner properties...
David B says
Great news on the Doobies .. would love to have Boz Scraggs "Silk Degrees" or Kansas "Leftoverture" .. both are crying out for a quad mix .. and what about S&G "Bridge over troubled water"- a missed opportunity on it's 50th anniversary .. if only ..
David B says
Just to add - we in the UK haven't been overlooked. Thankfully rhino.co.uk have the Doobies set on sale for £64.99. But we don't get a release until 18 Sept ..
Mark Zutkoff says
I waited until my Quadio box finally arrived today, as it was taking its sweet time between UPS and USPS. Sampled my favorite tracks and was very pleased. The "bass management" thing is a bit bizarre, as I haven't had to do that for any other digital quad releases. I do have a rather odd Santana Abraxas DTS CD which has pretty poor bass response, but even boosting the bass doesn't seem to help that one much.
And speaking of Santana, I'd like to see their early Columbia albums in a Quadio box. I have the quad SACD of their first album on order from Japan, but Blu-Ray would be better for me. (I also have Lotus in quad SACD, also from Japan, but I don't play that one often.)
Mark T. Weathersby says
I would love to see Rhino release everything listed above, especially The Spinners. That lush Philly Sound in Quad would be a dream come true!
I would love to hear Bread and David Gates in Quad
Richard Allen says
There was an SACD of Breads greatest hits in Quad. Sounds great.
Lee Bobik says
Zappa deep purple Joni Neil young ry cooder
Mark Winstanley says
Lots of gross generalisations about mixes here. there are some great quad mixes and there are some great 5.1 mixes, but there are some poor mixes in both formats also. to suggest one is better than the other, is simplistic and wrong.
Many quad mixes are musically unbalanced with not enough attention paid to the percussive elements or frequency elements of the music, and so one ends up with a lopsided mix that has a poorly developed soundstage.
Many 5.1 mixes have a good soundstage, but the mixer appears to be scared of taking elements out of the front channels, and essentially ruins the mix by being afraid to actually do it.
Thankfully there are many many fantastic mixes in both formats