Michael McDonald is a five-time Grammy winner who’s had a career as a singer, songwriter, keyboardist, and producer for over 40 years. In the ’70s, he brought his inimitable soul vocals to the bands Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. In the ’80s, he launched a solo career, with hits like “I Keep Forgettin.” Decades later, he’s still going strong, collaborating with indie acts like Grizzly Bear and Thundercat.
His latest solo album, “Wide Open,” comes out on September 15. Michael dropped by our studio recently to craft playlist that’ll take you back to the soul of his youth.
The Impressions – “I’m So Proud”
Michael McDonald: My friend… he said he remembered as a kid sneaking with his brother to the top of the stairs and watching his parents dance to that song by candlelight. This song always took on a new meaning to me just having that story behind it.
And I realized so much of this music that we play or that we remember and reminisce with, it was the expression of everyday people and how it makes it important to us all these years later.
Stevie Wonder – “Maybe Your Baby”
If there’s any one singer who is emulated by almost every R&B singer there is today, it’s Stevie Wonder. No one had created melody the way Stevie Wonder did. He had his signature kind of way of ending a phrase and falling off of a melody that was very much a kind of a jazzy influence, but he brought it to the pop/R&B mainstream and made it his own.
I remember my friend and I [were] listening to [this album] and he said, “Twenty years from now there will be all kinds of different music, but we’re probably never gonna hear anything hipper than this.” And in that moment, I realized he was absolutely right.
Aretha Franklin – “Ain’t No Way”
What really impressed me most in the ’70s, as far as R&B was, is how it really seemed to repossess its original roots and seemed to become more comfortable with its African-American heritage. Whereas in the early ’60s the records were tailored to a mainstream audience in the hopes of getting onto pop mainstream radio.
Right away when I heard this record, you really picked up on the fact that she was really translating her gospel roots and it had that power that gospel music had that always somehow got diluted when those singers became pop artists.
Michael McDonald -“Find it in Your Heart”
Pretty much a straight, R&B dance groove. It’s funny, in many ways it reminds me of growing up in the ’70s.
In terms of the lyric, it’s that message I always try to remind myself of when you’re living this life, you have to frequently have to try to get out of your head and follow your heart a little more.