Takin' It To the Streets

Album: Takin' It To the Streets (1976)
Charted: 13

Songfacts®:

  • This song was written by Doobie Brothers keyboard player and lead singer Michael McDonald, who joined the group when Doobie guitarist Tom Johnson fell ill in 1975. The words were partly inspired by a college essay McDonald's sister Maureen wrote, hence the line, "Take this message to my brother."

    The song is written from the perspective of someone growing up amid poverty and despair in the inner city, addressed to an audience that has no idea what it's like to live there ("you don't know my kind in your world"). McDonald fleshed out the lyric after a conversation with Maureen where they talked about how society was letting poor people fall through the cracks.
  • The chorus is almost a chant, with the group singing "takin' it to the streets" as Michael McDonald ad-libs underneath. This gives the song a church feel, which was intentional: McDonald thought the melody evoked gospel music, and wanted it to sound like a gospel song. This meant delivering a powerful message in the lyric and having lots of people sing on the chorus as the spirit moved them.
  • Michael McDonald got the idea for this song while driving to a Doobie Brothers concert in California, where he'd be playing with the band. The intro music came into his head, so when he got to the gig he quickly set up his piano and started working on the song. He chipped away at it until they had to start the concert, then kept working on it that night after the show. The lyrics he wrote later.
  • This song popularized the phrase "taking it to the streets," which means bringing a message directly to the people. It's often used in politics to describe grass-roots campaigning. Prior to this song, the phrase was rarely seen in print.
  • When Michael McDonald joined the band for the Takin' It To The Streets album, the plan was to have guitarist Patrick Simmons handle the lead vocals, which he did quite capably on their #1 hit "Black Water." McDonald was expected to play keyboards and sing backup, which was his role in Steely Dan. It was Simmons who pushed to get McDonald out in front, telling their producer, Ted Templeman, they had a great singer sitting right there in the studio. So Templeman asked McDonald to sing one of the songs he had written, and McDonald belted out "Taking It To The Streets." That was all Templeman needed to hear to instill him as lead singer.
  • The Doobie Brothers took a stand against bootlegging, which is the practice of illegally taping concerts. In 1978 they appeared on the TV show What's Happening!! in a two-part episode ("Doobie Or Not Doobie") where the rotund character Rerun gets coerced into bootlegging one of their shows. At the concert, the group is playing this song when Rerun starts dancing and his tape recorder falls to the ground, exposing his transgression. It ends well though, as they catch the bad guy in the end.
  • The song was re-recorded by The Doobie Brothers with Nashville duo Love & Theft for their 2014 Southbound album. The record is a collection of the band's greatest hits featuring lead and backing vocals from a multitude of country artists. The group's Tom Johnston told Rolling Stone that the mixture of country and rock is a good fit for collaboration. "Country has changed since the days of Hank Williams," he said. "It's taken on a rock tinge. Truthfully, the traditional style of rock and roll has kind of gone away. No one is representing it the way it used to be represented. Country music has sort of picked up the slack. That's why those artists are huge right now."
  • 2006 American Idol winner Taylor Hicks performed this on the show and recorded it for the B-side of this first single, "Do I Make You Proud?" >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Sara - Silver Spring, MD
  • The Doobie Brothers closed out the 2014 CMA Awards with a performance of this song. They were joined by a collection of Nashville stars including Brad Paisley, Sugarland and Hunter Hayes.

Comments: 9

  • Phil from New JerseyWhat an utterly beautiful double entendres to start the first single off the first new album with a new singer. I agree with a lot of people that this has political overtones but that first line, while fitting with the theme, breaks the forth wall. ‘Hey man, I know we don’t know each other, but...but we do. My name’s Michael...now check out these smooth as ice pipes of mine.’
  • Mike Asbury from Las VegasThis is a protest song about political unrest. Don’t like what you’re government is doing? “Takin it to the street”
  • Gil from Dublin, GeorgiaI totally agree with Bruce-San Jose. I heard it today and was moved by the seemingly Spiritual emotion of the song. Micheal McDonald is a rare incredible talent.
  • Bruce from San Jose, Calif.Just my own interpretation here, so please indulge me ...

    Ever since I first heard the song as a kid ( I was in jr high at the time the song was released), to me the lyrics seemed like the Lord (or one of His Angels visiting incognito to survey things here) coming back to earth and seeing the wretched mess that we humans have made of things here in mortality...

    "You don't know my kind in your world..." ( this world certainly isnt heaven)

    "I ain't blind and I don't like what I see..." (we humans try to justify our sins, but the Lord sees through our excuses)

    Sounds like the Lord/Angel has performed his inspection of the current sorry state of the world, seeing how the people have taken their sinning all full-blown and "takin' it to the streets" — and so NOW, the Lord is going to take his Gospel message out to the streets to remedy that, to save the wretched world...

    (Since this song came out after "Jesus is Just All Right with Me", it seemed that "Takin' it to the Streets" was an appropriate followup song to that...)
  • William from Birmingham, AlSounds almost political to me, but I suppose anything could....very vague and up from the bottom everywhere kind of thing, and now we have to take it to the streets
  • Jorge from Bronx, NyThis band rocks Live,sounding great,and Black Water was my only favorite,when they were together
  • Robin from Rockville, MdThe original lead singer of the Doobies who fell ill was Tom JOHNSTON, not "Johnson."
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaThis marked a shift in the doobie Bros music at the time a more R n B, soul feel, which was a great change..
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcThe LP Taking it to the Streets is excellent. It marked a new sound for the Doobies with McDonald's R&B keyboard style and vocal stylings. Johnson and bass player Tyran Porter also contributed memorable cuts.
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