Michael McDonald is one of the greatest songwriters, composers and singers in America. His husky multi octave baritone stands out in the soulful Rhythm and Blues songs that he creates. The five time Grammy winner was born in Missouri on February 12, 1952 and grew up loving the music of the 1960’s. He performed with several bands while in school.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1970 to pursue his dream of becoming a musician. Michael toured with Steely Dan in 1974 playing the keyboard and performing back up vocals. He appeared on several of the band’s studio albums including “Aja” and “The Royal Scam”. In 1975 Michael was hired as a temporary keyboardist for The Doobie Brothers and ended up staying with the band composing, playing keyboards and eventually taking over as the lead vocalist.
Some would argue that Michael McDonald made The Doobie Brothers more mainstream, but what’s wrong with that? He also helped the band get number 1 hits and awards. In 1982 Michael McDonald started his solo career and would become one of the biggest chart toppers of the decade.
He collaborated with several musicians including Kenny Loggins, James Ingram, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Toto, Joni Mitchell, Paul Carrack, David Cassidy and Van Halen among them. In 2020 Michael was inducted with The Doobie Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Michael lives between Los Angeles and Tennessee with his wife of almost 40 years, Amy Holland. They have two grown children.
10. This Is It
Michael McDonald collaborated with Kenny Loggins several times even when he was working with The Doobie Brothers. Michael wrote “This Is It” with Loggins and recorded it in 1979. While writing it McDonald and Loggins were frustrated because it wasn’t working as a love song. At the time, Loggins’ father was ill. Loggins realized that it wasn’t a “love song” but a “life song”. The soulful ballad became an inspiring and chart topping song.
9. I Can Let Go Now
“I can let Go Now” is one of Michael McDonald’s best 10 songs. It appears on his first solo album. It’s an emotional ballad about a doomed love affair. McDonald’s soulful voice lends perfectly to the subject matter. It’s also a song about hope. The song was recorded later by Dionne Warwick and Alison Krause.
8. Bad Times
“Bad Times” appears on Michael McDonald’s 2nd solo album “No Lookin’ Back”. He wrote the song and co-produced it. It harkens back to some of McDonald’s work with The Doobie Brothers with its social conscience. Jeff Porcaro plays the drums. Joe Walsh plays the slide guitar. Nathan East plays bass. David Pack plays guitar, and Michael Hanna plays the synthesizer.
7. If That’s What It Takes
Unlike the majority of Michael McDonald’s songs, “If That’s What It Takes” isn’t really a soulful ballad. It actually has an upbeat tempo. The song was on McDonald’s 1982 solo album of the same name. It was co-written with Jackie DeShannon. Steve Glad plays the drums. Willie Weeks plays bass. Dean Parks and Robben Ford play guitar.
6. Love Can Break Your Heart
“Love Can Break Your Heart” is a popular single from Michael McDonald’s third studio album “Take It To Heart” which was released in 1990. McDonald teamed up with Paul Carrack for this track. The song features Jeff Pocaro, Michael Landau and Michael McDonald’s wife Amy on keyboards. The jazzy song featured horns and topped the charts.
5. On My Own
“On My Own” was written by Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager. The song about break up and separation was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick. When Patti LaBelle recorded the song, it didn’t seem to work for her. She instantly realized she needed to do the song as a duet and wanted Michael McDonald. The music video shows LaBelle and McDonald singing on split screen, each living separate lives on different coasts. They actually recorded their parts separately on the east and west coasts. The song went gold and spent three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts.
4. Yah Mo B There
Michael McDonald and James Ingram co-wrote the catchy 1983 R & B, synth pop hit “Yah Mo B There” which was produced by Quincy Jones. Recorded on Ingram’s album “It’s Your Night”, Michael did vocals with Ingram and plays the synthesizer. The spiritual song about calling on God in times of trouble and despair won the 1985 Grammy award for Best R & B Performance by a Due or Group with Vocals. It is on Michael’s Greatest Hits album.
3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Michael McDonald recorded three cover albums celebrating Motown music, the music he grew up with. His version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is on the first cover album “Motown” released in 2003. Michael brings his own style to the Ashford and Simpson song originally recorded in 1966 without changing its essence. It shows his detailed production and of course his passionate and powerful voice. Michael’s version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” can be heard in an advertisement for MCI and in the film “40 Year Old Virgin”. Also on “Motown” are Michael’s covers of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”.
2. Sweet Freedom
“Sweet Freedom” was made for the movie “Running Scared” starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in 1986. It also appeared on the on the re-release of Michael McDonald’s second solo album “No Lookin’ Back”. Michael appears in the music video of “Sweet Freedom” which shows clips from the movie. “Sweet Freedom” was co-written with Rod Temperton. Siedah Garrett sings backup vocals. The song is upbeat and features flute, trumpet, saxophone, trombone and horns.
1. I Keep Forgettin’ (every time you’re near)
The best Michael McDonald song is the soulful ballad “I Keep Forgettin’ (ever time you’re near)”. It is a single off his debut solo album “If That’s What It Takes” and remains timeless today. Michael wrote the song with Ed Sanford and recorded it with his sister, Maureen, on back up vocals. Members of Toto, Greg Phillingaines, Jeff Porcaro and Steve Lukater appear on the track as well as Louis Johnson on the song’s significant bass. The song has been sampled by many artists over the years.
You can also read:
- The 10 Best Songs about Being Cold
- The 10 Best Juan Gabriel Songs of All-Time
- Ranking the 20 Best John Coltrane Albums of All-Time
- 20 Awesome Songs about Equality
- The 10 Best 80s Power Ballads of All-Time