Notes on Popular Culture: The Pop Song Pantheon #15

Posted by Michael Borshuk On 9:29 PM

The Pop Song Pantheon, Vol. 15

"Minute by Minute" by The Doobie Brothers (1978)

Fans of this band fall, I think, into two chief categories: those who dig their sun-soaked post-hippie guitar rock of the early 1970s, and those (like myself) who feel the group did nothing of relevance until the ascension of Michael McDonald as their lead singer in 1976.  This song, the title track from their most commercially successful release, features everything I want in a good American pop song: a memorable hook chorus, a world-weary narrative voice, and a groove that stays with you long after its play has concluded.  McDonald's songwriting is key here--beginning with a tasty gospel vamp, and proceeding into an irony-laden verse, in which he tells us, unconvincingly, that he could live without the love of his life if he had to (he "might blink" and "find [her] gone" after all), but nevertheless, he'll keep holding on for her to come around by the minutes just in case she decides he's worth it.  Bittersweet and funky, and endlessly satisfying; unless, of course, you (unlike me) aren't much for so-called "blue-eyed soul." It reminds me how impossibly adult 1970s popular culture seemed to be in retrospect (songs like this, sitcoms like Taxi or Maude), before 14 year olds began to dominate the marketplace and things changed irreparably forever.

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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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