“What a Fool Believes” by The Doobie Brothers
On “What a Fool Believes”, the narrator tells the story of a meeting between a man and woman who may have had some sort of relationship in the past. From the perspective of this man, he intends to use this meeting as an opportunity to recreate old feelings so as to return to his love interest’s life, meanwhile this lady was never interested in him.
As the story unfolds in the lyrics, we see that this woman possibly honored their meeting out of mere respect and not because she also had feelings for him. She makes it clear by offering an apology but it appears this man refuses to admit that the reunion he is longing for is impossible.
The truth of the matter is that he may well be aware but would rather deceive himself into thinking that the feeling is mutual instead of rationally acknowledging that she has no feelings for him. Throughout the song, the man lives in denial and continues to maintain a desire that may never be fulfilled. It is for this reason the songwriter labels him as a fool.
This song speaks to what may be a common male experience in the modern world but still one that no dude actually wants to go through. And that’s when, at least in your mind, you’ve had a meaningful romance with a lady alright. But for whatever reason the two of you part ways.
However, it’s just your luck that one day you happen to run into her just like that. So based on the above assumption, you try to spark things back up, confident you will prevail. But upon doing, so you abruptly come to realize that said past relationship obviously did not mean as much to her as it did to you. And that is the narrative upon which this song is set.
But underneath all the poetic metaphors, this isn’t about the embarrassment one would feel in such a situation per se. Rather the overarching theme is centered on the classic ‘everybody is somebody’s fool’ motif. For instance, the second verse implies that even after being promptly rejected, the subject of the song is still under the impression that he and said lady may one day get together.
But even beyond that, the implication (considering that the vocalist refers to him as a “fool” and all) is that he should have known better than to think that what was obviously a fling in her eyes was rather something special to them both.
And it’s like the lyrics of this song are very deep, reading like sort of a proverb in the chorus. But what it seems to be ultimately saying is that people tend to prefer a pleasant fantasy in place of nothingness.
In other words, a “fool” like the narrator would rather cleave to an ideological image of a past romance than to accept the fact that, in reality, he has “nothing at all” as far as a significant other goes.
So what The Doobie Brothers are basically saying is that the subject dumbed out, as illustrated above, due to the fact that he’s lonely.
A really-deep sounding song (“What a Fool Believes”) ultimately points to the idea of people lacking proper romantic reasoning when they are lonely.
The Doobie Brothers
The Doobie Brothers are a crew originating from San Jose, California. And whereas technically they are still around even as of the writing of this post in 2021, their heyday was definitely back in the 1970s with their sole Billboard 200 chart topper, Minute by Minute, coming out in 1978.
That is also the album upon which we find What a Fool Believes, one of two songs (the other being 1974’s Black Water) the crew ever put out that topped the Billboard Hot 100.
The Doobie Brothers are not actually siblings. In fact the members of the band who participated on this song all have different last names. And their designations on Minute by Minute, are as follows:
- Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitarist)
- John Hartman (drummer)
- Michael McDonald (vocalist/pianist)
- Tiran Porter (bassist)
- Patrick Simmons (vocalist/guitarist)
- The late Keith Knudsen (drummer)
However to note, it is Michael McDonald who held down lead vocalist on “What a Fool Believes”, having become the frontman of the band in 1976.
Judging by their discography, The Doobie Brothers were one of the hottest bands of the 1970s, in addition to dropping a hit here and there during the 80s. But what many people rather know them for is being featured on a couple of episodes of the popular African-American sitcom What’s Happening, most notably the one when Rerun (portrayed by the late Fred Berry) tried to bootleg some of their music.
Facts about “What A Fool Believes”
The aforementioned Michael McDonald, who was concurrently down with Steely Dan, wrote “What a Fool Believes”. And he did so in conjunction with Kenny Loggins, with the two of them subsequently penning another hit, 1979’s “This Is It”.
Warner Bros. put “What a Fool Believes” out during December of 1978. And as noted earlier it was a hit, not only reaching the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 but also doing the same on the Cash Box Top 100 and also Canada Top Singles.
The song also charted in a few other countries, including the UK and Australia, on top selling in excess of 1,000,000 copies stateside.
There was also a disco remix of the tune, as rendered by producer Jim Burgess, that made it onto a different Billboard list known as the Disco Action Chart. And it has been noted that the original was one of only a handful of non-disco songs to top the Billboard Hot 100 during 1979, an era in which disco tunes dominated.
Technically speaking The Doobie Brothers’ rendition of “What a Fool Believes” would be a cover, as Kenny Loggins came out with his own solo version some months prior on his 1978 album entitled Nightwatch (though he never released it as a single).
Some time later, he also dropped a live version on the tune on his 1980 project Kenny Loggins Alive. And he and Michael McDonald teamed up on another live take in 1993 as featured on a different Loggins’ album, Outside: From the Redwoods.
Other artists who have covered this song throughout the years include Aretha Franklin (1980) as well as George Michael (1991). And The Doobie Brothers re-recorded it 2014, that time around with a female vocalist, Sara Evans, as a feature.
However out of all of the aforementioned, it was definitely The Doobie Brothers first take that proved the most-successful. For instance it accounted for the only Grammy Awards the crew ever took home for a track, having won both Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1980.
Michael McDonald also individually won a Grammy – Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocals – for serving as the arranger of the tune.
Additionally “What a Fool Believes” contributed to the only Grammy The Doobie Brothers won for an album – that being Minute by Minute of course, which emerged victorious in the category of Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus that same year.
In claiming the award for “Song of the Year” at the Grammys, the song beat several other hits, including Kenny Rogers’ “She Believes in Me“.