What a Fool Believes

Album: Minute by Minute (1978)
Charted: 31 1
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • Kenny Loggins co-wrote this with Doobie Brothers lead singer Michael McDonald. Loggins put his version on his album Nightwatch, which was released in July 1978, five months before The Doobies included it on their Minute by Minute album. Loggins' version was never released as a single, but The Doobie Brothers took it to #1 in the US in April 1979.
  • This won Grammys for Record of the Year and Song of the Year. The album won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. These were the only Grammys the band ever won.
  • Producer Ted Templeman described this as a "floppy record" and wanted a "floppy feel" for the percussion. So he played drums alongside drummer Keith Knudson "to get the feeling right." They had been recording the song for five or six straight days when he made this decision.
  • This was the band's second US #1, after "Black Water." The Doobie Brothers took on a different sound when they lost lead singer Tom Johnston due to illness in the mid-'70s. Instead of the album rock they were known for, they had more of a soft rock sound with Michael McDonald as lead singer. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • Michael McDonald wrote the original version of this song. He presented a fragment of it to Templeman, who encouraged him to continue working on it. Kenny Loggins came in when McDonald got stuck on the bridge of the song. Bassist Tiran Porter had suggested Loggins to McDonald because the two were good friends.
  • McDonald's concept for the lyric was a scenario where two people meet in a restaurant - two people who had a passionate relationship long ago. To the man, the affair was the best thing in his life; to the woman, it was fun, but it was time to move on. In the conversation, the man makes a complete fool of himself. When the woman excuses herself to leave, he doesn't get the message, believing he still has a shot and that their affair was much more meaningful than it actually was. Love makes a man a fool, and even a wise one can't reason it away.
  • While he was waiting for Loggins to arrive at his home, McDonald played some of the songs that were "in progress" and asked his sister Maureen which she thought was best. As Loggins was getting out of his car, he heard McDonald playing a fragment of this. According to Loggins, he heard about three-quarters of the verse's melody (no lyrics), but McDonald stopped at the bridge. Loggins' mind continued without a break... and the song's bridge was born. Then Loggins knocked on the door, introduced himself to McDonald, and demonstrated the bridge that he devised before the two of them could sit down. The lyrics were finished over the telephone the next day.
  • Minute by Minute was the only #1 album the band ever had. It went to #1 in the US but didn't even chart in the UK.
  • The Doobies used an analog synthesizer called a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 on this song.
  • This was the 500th #1 song of the Rock era (taken from when "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley topped the US singles chart in 1955).
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Comments: 28

  • Daniel from CalgaryI was a young man when this song was popular. Past and present relationships were uncertain, when friends often wanted either much more than I was willing to give, or much less. This song touched my heart and my soul.
    When I discussed the tension and dichotomy with friends, they did not take me seriously.
    I identified as the "fool" whose heart was broken when I couldn't win love, and then I identified as the "wise man" who couldn't figure out how to live without love. I had these feelings for past romances, and current friends. It cuts both ways.
    All these years later, I've met up with a couple, one a grandmother and one a forever bachelor, and they've both drifted off into their own lives again.
    And the song is STILL working!
  • Doc423 from Huntsville, AlAlthough this song came out when I was 23, it didn't really describe my situation until I was 46 years old when I married the love of my life. Unfortunately, I was not the love of her life. She had a lot of Daddy Problems from way back until (then) the present day; we're talking about verbal, mental, physical and sexual (?) abuse for many years from her father. Don't get me wrong, she was gorgeous and very wealthy, although I'm a doctor, he didnt want her to get married; we eloped and got married, although of course, it didn't last. She broke my heart like no other. Although I've never seen her again (this was 2003), I'm sure if I did, it would go like this song.....so I've learned and matured and moved on. But until I die, she'll always hold a place in my heart. Such is life.
  • Jeanie from Carmichael, Ca.Sept. 2018
    I was in my early 20s when this song came out - and just loved Michael McDonald's voice, but I could never figure out what it is he was saying...All I remember hearing was, "What a fool believes, he sees..." "The wise man has the power, to reason away..." and "She came from somewhere back in..." That's about it. I loved the catchy tune and enjoyed it because McDonald has such a memorizing, bluesy voice. Now jettison to the present day...One day, with Internet at my fingertips, I thought I need to look up these lyrics (from a song and a voice I loved to hear) and there it was! ... I couldn't have been more surprised, but delighted...I LOVE THE STORY it tells! At last -- it makes sense and I enjoy hearing this nostalgic song even more now!
    Btw, I don't know whose hair-brain idea was to stick an advertisement in the center of this comment box, it is not only annoying, but darn near impossible to type this comment without the page jumping up and down!
    Back to this song...I loved it then and love it even more now.
    And just to add, the very first concert i ever went to was a Doobie Brothers concert. I was a teen and I don't believe McDonald was a part of it yet.
    I find it both interesting and amusing that McDonald, Ambrosia, Hall & Oats, Christopher Cross etc is referred to as Yacht Rock, or Light Rock. I guess I was a light-weight rocker...I lived in Long Beach, CA at the time and what a time to live. I recall actually going out on someone's yacht, sailing around Palos Verde Peninsula on a clear, sunny summer day and these dudes singing in the background from someone's FM.
    When I lived in L.A. I used to go to Greek for all concerts. We were so spoiled...while sitting out under the stars, midnight magic...what a hoot!
  • Tony from San DiegoTotally reminds me of a girl from 7th grade in 1979 named Michelle. I still have this 45
  • Babbling Babette from Tulsa OkBack in '78, this song was rising as I moved to a new job in Joplin, Missouri. It eventually became a big hit in several of the rock stations in Joplin and the stations in the suburbs. The tempo is definitely catchy & unusual. At the time, I learned that the Doobie's lead singer was seriously ill and McDonald was hired to fill in. Some of the rock magazines of the times had a lot of fan letters wondering who the heck McDonald was. The song certainly made Doobie fans turn sour because the song was not rock. But it became a #1 hit anyway. I was never really a Doobie fan anyway, but loved this song for its complexity. I was into hard rock back in those days. I certainly never heard that Michael Jackson was in the backing vocals on the song from living during those times & reading some of the bands' bios.
  • Lynda from CambridgeshireMichael Jackson did backing vocals on this track...and Minute by Minute....so he told....
  • Markantney from BiloxeSep 2014,

    Though I prefer the McDoobies over the prior Doobies, they had/have some pretty good hits prior to Big Mc(Donald).

    China Groove, Long Train Running, Listen to the Music, Black Water,..are some of the best songs of their day.

    You can categorize them as two different groups but it's a losing argument to try to discredit one over the other.

  • Tim L from San DiegoDon't listen to Haters Michael. You brought soul to a pretty backwoods, good ole' boys band. If they don't like what you added, they should just stick with country music. Also the haters of this song are not real musicians. They don't understand how complicated this song is to play, let alone sing.
  • Mark from Jefferson City, MoScrew you, McDonald. You took a rocking band and turned them into the backup group for your lounge act.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhI'm not a fan of Michael McDonald. These lyrics are a bit of a jumble and difficult to make sense of. This song doesn't impress me in the least. Yep, "Why Don't We Steal Away" does sound very similar.
  • Robert from Chicago , IlEventhough though this song is great the best song on this album is the title song
    Minute by Minute
  • Brian from Boston, MaThe song Why Don't We Steal Away by Robbie Dupree which came out a year after this song sounds almost identical to this.
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxA guide to all #1 albums in America I once read said that the group recorded take after take of this song and didn't fully like any of them. They finally decided to splice the first half of one take with the second half of another, creating the released version.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdMichael Jackson said in a telephone interview with Elizabeth Taylor that he sang vocals on both this song and Minute By Minute. Of course it's just a rumor.
  • Sara from Pasadena, Caits about 2 people breaking up but he can't belive it's really happening. Always better that nothin. and shes really going away. like when Sara left Jim...thinking i would come back was better than nothin.
  • Jeff from Boston, MaWhether or not it was intended, this song seems to perfectly describe the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby", and that's what I always think of when I hear it.
  • John from Peoria, AzGreat vocals and some of the most amazing lyrics ever. i feel like just about everybody can relate to the lyrics in this song.

    i must say, though, i wish the song was longer than 2 real verses. the song ends and i wish it hadn't stopped.
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcThis song was originally supposed to be run over the opening credits for film The China Syndrome but the director chose to use a Stephen Bishop song instead.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdSeveral artists have covered this: Aretha Franklin did a funky version featuring the guys from Toto, Peter Cox and Self a group that plays on toy insturments also did it. But no one can beat Mr. Mike McDonald's soulful singing voice and keyboard playing on the original. In fact
    NO ONE SHOULD BOTHER SINGING THIS ANY MORE IT IS MICHAEL's song period!
  • Dc from Kansas City, MoDirk from Nashville, I both agree and disagree about this song being beautiful. The music is wonderful and the story is very true to life, but despite how catchy it is, I find it very bittersweet since it's about a poor guy getting blown off by a gal with whom he thought he shared something special. - Awfully flattering for Michael and Kenny to summarize my entire social life in a song 6 years before I was even born.
  • David from Youngstown, OhThis is a great, great song even though it's nearly impossible to understand what McDonald is singing.
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdIronically Mike McDonald sang a Loggins Christmas
    song... okay so in the Internet series Yacht Rock there is a fictious account of houw the songs were
    written. McDonald says "You're a fool Kenny, you think you can come out of someone else's long ago
    and go around mustering smiles for... That's
    what a fool believes Kenny!"
  • Guy from Wellington, New ZealandHey, Nashville Dirk. What do you mean the lyrics don't make any sense? It's quite simple, isn't it? The guy is deluded. He can't imagine he doesn't still have a chance with this woman but she is too kind or hypocritical to put him out of his misery so he wallows on in his delusion. How does the saying go? -- 'love makes fools of us all'. It paints a powerful picture of pathetic devotion. Anyone who's loved someone unrequitedly can relate very easily to this song, I suspect.
  • Andy from Portland, MeA song like this one will play forever. Sure I can't say I know the facts, I just feel the feeling. you know how when you open up to a new sound, you sometimes let it in. Then you turn it up louder. This song doesn't wait for you to let it in. It makes you knock on it's own door. And when you're in, you can't find the out door. But who would want to!
    -andy,portland,ME
  • Dirk from Nashville, TnThis is a beautiful little song. Catchy. Great vocals. But the lyrics seem to have been written by a drunk. Is it me? They make no sense whatsoever. They SEEM to make sense, but they don't actually add up to anything. It's like a conversation with somebody on cocaine. What were you talking about, Mike?
  • Ryan from Brentwood, CaI have been trying to figure out what this song is called for SO LONG!!! YES, I finally know :)
  • Mike from Fort Worth, TxWith McDonald, the Doobie Brothers had their greatest success. He sort of came in the middle of their run, and left before it ended. During the many reunion tours of the 80's and 90's, McDonald is usually not with them, having carved out a successful solo career of his own.
  • Kei from Salem, OrThis was not the last time that songs co-written by Loggins and McDonald would appear on both artists' albums. Their respective albums in 1982 - Loggins' High Adventure, and McDonald's If That's What It Takes - featured "I've Gotta Try", albeit in rather different forms. Ditto for "No Lookin' Back", off of both Loggins' Vox Humana and McDonald's No Lookin' Back. In addition, songs written by the two were featured on Loggins' albums - "Only a Miracle, off High Adventure; "She's Dangerous", off 1988's Back to Avalon (a duet between Loggins and McDonald); and "Now or Never", off 1991's Leap of Faith (I think...)
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