One of the most soulful sounding voices in Rock n Roll, Michael McDonald, can be recognized within the first few notes of any song he sings. Even if it’s one you’ve never heard before.
Some know very little of McDonald, aside from the fact that he was a member of both the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. While in The Doobie Brothers, McDonald wrote some of their biggest singles with them. As a solo artist, he has released nine studio albums that have enjoyed major success.
A Seasoned Musician…
Michael has performed as a prominent backing vocalist for Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, and Kenny Loggins. He’s also collaborated with a string of artists like James Ingram, David Cassidy, Van Halen, Patti LaBelle, Lee Ritenour, Aretha Franklin, Toto, Grizzly Bear, Joni Mitchell, and Thundercat.
McDonald has five Grammy’s and has been inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Doobie Brothers. So, here are my picks for the best Michael Mcdonald songs of all time, starting with…
- Sweet Freedom
- This is It
- All I Need
- If That’s What It Takes
- No Lookin’ Back
- I Can Let Go Now
- Bad Times
- Heard It Through The Grapevine
- On My Own (feat. Patti Labelle, Michael McDonald & Burt Bacharach)
- Yah Mo B There
- I Keep Forgettin’
- Love Can Break Your Heart
- Looking for Some Incredible Songs?
- Best Michael McDonald Songs Of All Time – Conclusion
Album: Running Scared (OST)
This one should be no stranger to fans. It has become one of Michael McDonald’s greatest hits as a solo artist all these years later. It was released as part of the “Running Scared” motion picture soundtrack.
The film starred the late great Gregory Hines as well as comedian Billy Crystal. “Sweet Freedom” was a smash hit, peaking at #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
This is It
Album: Keep The Fire
A collaboration between Michael and Kenny Loggins was nothing strange by the time “This Is It” jumped out of their collective minds. The two had regularly collaborated in the past, even in the Steely Dan days.
More than a love song…
Originally, the song was supposed to be a traditional love song. But, for some reason, things were just not gelling while they were writing it. Loggin’s later realized that the song wasn’t meant to be a love song but something deeper.
It was inspired by the fact that his father was going through tremendous illness at the time. The resulting ballad became an endearing and inspiring piece of music.
“This Is It” was a chart success reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #17 on the Adult Contemporary Chart, as well as #19 on the Hot Soul Singles Chart. It also won a Grammy for Best Male Pop Performance.
All I Need
Album: Blue Obsession
This emotional opener for McDonald’s Blue Obsession album had a bit of a different sound when it came out, as did the entire album. Many fans may perhaps have found it alien at first. This is because Michael teamed up with Tommy Simms for “All I Need.”
The song was co-written by the Grammy-winning writer and former bass player for Bruce Springsteen. There was a modern tone to the mixing and arrangement, which added freshness to Michael’s sound. And, putting it as the opener on the album was a brilliant choice.
If That’s What It Takes
Album: If Thats What It Takes
Many people like to bring up McDonald’s time in The Doobie Brothers as a negative, accusing Michael of making the band sound more mainstream than they were used to.
Much of his solo career material also reflects a more mainstream sound. However, it is worth noting that a lot of the writing he did then suffered from super-cheesy early 80s production.
This up-tempo thumper that served as the title track to his solo debut was a stark reminder that while his talent for ballads is undeniable, he’s by no means a one-trick pony.
No Lookin’ Back
Album: No Lookin’ Back
Of all the solo material that Michael McDonald has produced, it could be said that 85’s “No Lookin’ Back” is the one that suffered the most from the early 80s synth-laden and weak drums production.
Although, the title track from the album could be seen as the exception. It has a low-end that still contains a good measure of that Rock n Roll oomph needed to give a song like this power.
I Can Let Go Now
Album: If Thats What It Takes
As many know, Michael knows his way around the heartstrings of his listeners. He seems to have an uncanny ability to lay down ballads that simply cannot be ignored. And few can come close to this beautiful track that closed the A-side of his first solo album.
The song looks back with nostalgic grace at a doomed love affair that is now long passed. The piano and strings are arranged and written in such a way as to represent the two parties in their brief tangle and slow coming apart.
Likewise, the lyrics and vocal performance can easily be ranked amongst Michael’s best. All told, it’s one of the greatest Michael McDonald songs, full of powerful emotion.
Album: No Lookin’ Back
“Bad Times” features such a great ensemble of fantastic players that it drips with sonic appeal. The song could be interpreted as a bit of a harkening back to McDonald’s days with the Doobie Brothers. But, there is a liveliness to it that comes from such a talented group playing together.
“Bad Times” features Jeff Porcaro on drums, David Pack on guitar, Nathan East on bass, Michael Hanna on Synthesizer, and the legendary Joe Walsh on slide guitar.
There’s almost an overdose of star musicianship, but it works perfectly. As a result, it’s one of the best Michael McDonald songs of all time.
Heard It Through The Grapevine
As one of the most soulful voices around, it made a lot of sense for Michael McDonald to immerse himself in one of the most soulful genres. This was the opener to the very first of three Motown-inspired cover records that McDonald started releasing in the early 2000s.
As far as covers go, it’s one of the favorite renditions of this monster classic written by Norman Winfield and Barret Strong. This song speaks to Michael as an artist, but it also speaks to him as a student of the music he loves.
When you listen to him sing this song, you can hear the hours he’s spent listening to all his favorite versions of it. And how desperately he seeks to imbue the song with as much of his soul as the artist who came before he did. In my opinion, he passed with flying colors.
On My Own (feat. Patti Labelle, Michael McDonald & Burt Bacharach)
Album: The Ultimate Collection
Once again, we have a song that is seeped in star power. Written and produced by two of the greatest songwriters of all time, Burt Bacharach and his former wife Carole Bayer Sager, “On My Own” was originally recorded by Dione Warwick for one of her albums.
Strangely, the recording process of “On My Own” reflects the subject matter quite well. The two singers recorded their parts on separate coasts, and these were then “married” during the mixing process.
And boy, did it pay off…
The song revolves around two lovers who are in melancholy states as both realize that things need to come to an inevitable end. However, the option for occasional hellos still exists.
The song was a massive chart success, climbing to #1 in Canada, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Also, it reached #1 on no less than five US charts, including the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for three weeks straight. No doubt, one of the most successful Michael McDonald songs ever.
Yah Mo B There
Album: It’s Your Night by James Ingram
This ranks as one of Michael’s most catchy performances. Even if he is just being featured by another artist. This classic R&B synth-pop hit was co-written by James Ingram and Michael for Ingram’s 1983 album, It’s Your Night. “Yah Mo B There” was produced by the living legend Quincy Jones.
This fantastic spiritual song about calling to God in times of trouble features Michael playing the synthesizer. The two voices are melded to the rest of the mix so that you can’t imagine it sounding any other way. No doubt thanks to the magic of Mr. Quincy Jones.
“Yah Mo B There” was nominated for two Grammy’s, of which it took home one for Best R&B Performance by a duo group with vocals. It broke into the top twenty in the US and was a top 50 hit in the UK.
I Keep Forgettin’
Album: If Thats What It Takes
What would a list of Michael McDonald songs be without this monster hit from his debut solo album? This track perfectly illustrates the entirety of Michaels’s songwriting and singing ability.
Not only that, it has a beautifully endearing message and also features a couple of great musicians, including three members of the band Toto and Michael’s sister, Maureen, on backup vocals. The song was co-written by McDonald and Ed Sanford.
“I Keep Forgettin” was a chart success breaking into the top ten of the US Billboard Hot 100, Adult Contemporary, R&B, and Cash Box charts. It was also a top ten hit in Canada. All this easily makes it one of Michael McDonald’s biggest songs.
Love Can Break Your Heart
Album: Take It to Heart
This one has a bit more of a jazzy sound to it but still has enough pop flair to make it appealing to most ears. “Love Can Break Your Heart” was also a high charter and probably one of the most popular tracks from Michael’s 1990 album, Take It to Heart.
The song was co-written by McDonald and Paul Carrack. It features Michael’s wife, Amy, on the keyboards, as well as contributions from Jeff Pocaro and Michael Landau.
Looking for Some Incredible Songs?
We have you covered. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Fleetwood Mac Songs, the Best The Guess Who Songs of All Time, the Best Chicago Songs of All Time, the Best Cat Stevens Songs of All Time, and the Best Maroon 5 Songs of All Time for more great song selections.
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Best Michael McDonald Songs Of All Time – Conclusion
Picking the best Michael McDonald song is impossible. But, because of its importance in showcasing him as a serious solo talent, I have to say it’s got to be “I Keep Forgettin’.”
This song contains all the things you need to know Michael as a composer and musician, plus it’s sure to tug at the heartstrings.
I’ll end on that, but since Michael has shown no intention of slowing down, who knows what else is to come?
Until next time, happy listening.