August 1982: When Michael McDonald Went Solo with IF THAT'S WHAT IT TAKES

Wednesday, August 3, 2022
If That's What it Takes

By 1982, crooner Michael McDonald's tenure with the Doobie Brothers was (for the time being) over, and he was ready to strike out on his own. When it came time for his first solo single, the singer rolled out "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)," a McDonald original penned with Ed Sanford of the Sanford-Townsend Band ("Smoke from a Distant Fire").

Released in August 1982, the quietly stormy "I Keep Forgettin' (Every Time You're Near)" was a simmering radio hit. The song cruised up the charts for months before peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 for the week of October 23, 1982. The #1 song in America that week: John Cougar's "Jack & Diane."

The track's crossover appeal was broad, with "I Keep Forgettin'..." peaking at #7 on the R&B chart, and #8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was enough that McDonald is among the select few white artists invited to perform on Don Cornelius' legendary Soul Train.

The singer worked with a cavalcade of stars while crafting his debut solo album, with such heavyweights as Jeff Porcaro (Toto), Louis Johnson of the Brothers Johnson, Greg Phillinganes, and Steve Lukather (Toto) all playing on "I Keep Forgettin'." On backing vocals: his sister, Maureen McDonald. Other major players featured on the LP include Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins, Steve Gadd, Brenda Russell and Edgar Winter.

McDonald released debut full-length If That's What it Takes on August 3, 1982. Propelled by the momentum of its lead single, the album had an impressive chart run, reaching #6 on the Billboard 200 for the week of October 2, 1982. The top LP in America that week: John Cougar's American Fool.

While followup singles "I Gotta Try" and "Playin' By the Rules" didn't have the same stratospheric chart success of the lead track, If That's What it Takes established Michael McDonald as a solo artist truly ready to make his mark on contemporary music for decades to come. Exhibit A: "I Keep Forgettin'" was sampled by rapper Warren G for his 1994 #2 smash, "Regulate."

“I didn’t know what to think of that at the time,” McDonald told the L.A. Times in 2017. “I was like, ‘Is this gangsta music?’ But Warren came to one of our shows the other night — him and his wife, sweet as could be. We talked about our kids.”

“His singing is so specific, and it has so much depth,” electronic jazz artist Thundercat said after he recruited McDonald and Kenny Loggins to co-write and record the song “Show You the Way” for his album 2017 album, Drunk. “Michael is such a stark example of staying honest and open in your music. Sometimes these older cats get jaded — they start thinking kids are stupid. But the Michael I’m seeing is the same guy I would’ve seen 30 or 40 years ago if I’d been around.”

"On August 3rd, forty years ago, I released my first solo album, “If That’s What It Takes” for Warner Bros. Records," McDonald shared on social media on the LP's 40th anniversary. "It was a transition to say the least for me. It was the dawn of digital recording and I wasn’t at all sure of my capacity as a solo artist. It was just an opportunity that I felt I couldn’t pass up. I’ll be forever grateful for the support I received from my longtime friend and manager at the time Irving Azoff, producers Ted Templeman and Lenny Waroneker, promotion execs Ernie Singleton and Russ Thyrett, and Warner Records president Mo Ostin. Looking back I can’t help but feel extremely fortunate."