that covered the mike. I was startled by this intimate picture. It reminded me of seeing Billie Holiday on film for the first time and discovering that she wasn't a fancy, heavy-lidded crooner but a fragile creature with wide eyes and a musician's alertness. Instead of a jaunty pop star exploiting a sensually gruff baritone, McDonald suddenly seemed like a seasoned stage actor, a passionate Romeo pouring out his heart to a Juliet conjured from thin air. He was caught up in his imagination and oblivious to the world.
"Real Love" is not only one of the great pop songs of the year but probably the best record the Doobie Brothers have ever made. Every time I hear it, I can't help thinking about that indelible image of McDonald's furry face cozying up to the microphone. The terse drumbeats, delicate guitar notes and electric keyboard chords that start the track cast a spell, whilein suspended time, like that moment when sex begins and clocks stopMichael McDonald spins out a tale of romantic pathos: the struggle to recapture one's first dream of love, the inevitable series of unfulfilling encounters "grindin' down a secret part of you," the willing self-deceit ("Let me hear you lie just a little/Tell me I'm the only man/That you ever really loved"). It's an old story, yet McDonald's emotional reading makes it immediate. He projects the kind of heart-rending vulnerability stereotypically ascribed to women. "When you say comfort me/To anyone who approaches," he sings, with enough feeling in "comfort me" to suggest he's said it plenty of times himself. And the way he limns "Well we've both lived/Long enough to know/That we'd trade it all right now/For just one minute of real love" unexpectedly conveys the romantic's conviction that in the instant when love is most real, it's already fading.
Not surprisingly, "Real Love" overwhelms everything else on One Step Closer. It's the only cut that fully uses McDonald's talent and, in terms of talent, McDonald towers above the rest of the Doobies like a giant among dwarfs. The Doobie Brothers have a long history first as a semiacoustic bar band, then as an extremely popular touring act, now as one of the top-selling groups in Americabut many people don't realize how profoundly the character of the band changed when Michael McDonald joined in 1975. It wasn't so much his songwriting, though he's writte